20 Jan 2017

Leading for peak performance

Leading for peak performance

In a previous blog post I focused on what anyone can do to increase positivity in order to boost productivity. In this post I approach the question of how to really excel. How can we reach our full potential? How can we lead ourselves and others for the peak level of performance and flow that many companies so desperately need?


Massive academic study has lately developed in the area of positive psychology and emotional intelligence. When it comes to leadership this research clearly shows that in addition to business acumen, experience, goal orientation and for example analytical skills, it is the soft skills – the skills we often dismiss as less important for driving results, that really drive people to excel and on average reach much better business results. It is all about creating a strong and positive work climate and strive for a state of flow.

Flow is when a person is so caught up in what she is doing that she loses self-consciousness and track of time. To reach this state you need to have the right skills and experience, the right tools and motivation, the right team around you, and a sense of security and self-confidence to do the task. In a state of flow is how a person or a team really performs at his or her best – and enjoys the moment while doing it.

So what can we do to lead ourselves and others for better achievements and performance, and to reach a state of flow?

5 suggestions to lead yourself and others to reach a state of flow

  1. Connect with people. Social bonds and trust are key to creating the commitment and engagement you need to get your team to excel. It increases information sharing, creativity and collaboration. The need to be included and the sense of belonging to a group is a strong motivator, even a basic need for humans, and that drives performance – you don’t want to let your group down. Use warmth, small talk, social gatherings, joint coffee breaks – anything you can come up with to connect with your team and create a sense of community and belonging within and between your team members.
  2. Focus on strengths and be aware of your weaknesses. Ask yourself and your team members what you are best at doing and what you like doing the most – in line with the goals you or the company is trying to achieve of course. To really excel, it is crucial that there is a good fit between the person and the job. To reach peak performance and excellence you need to be passionate about what you do. However, to find ways to compensate for them and minimize their negative effects, you also need to be aware of your weaknesses.
  3. Acknowledge achievements. We often forget to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements, big or small. This is a real pity, given the boost it has on motivation and performance. Create a positive circle by acknowledging any achievements, even when you think there is virtually none – look closer until you find one. Give praise and positive feedback to boost positivity and pride that will lead people to want to succeed, which in turn gives more reason to acknowledge achievements.
  4. Challenge yourself and your team to grow. How far can we go? Take on challenges as a means to grow and develop. Constantly ask yourself and your team: did we reach our goals, can we do things a little bit better, smarter, faster? Make change and renewal a routine. This requires time for taking stock and reflecting with the team, how did we do, what went well, what did we learn, what could we do better next time?
  5. Give helpful feedback. In order to improve, negative feedback is better than no feedback, but the balance between positive to negative feedback should be 5 to 1 in order to create the strong encouraging climate necessary to excel. By constantly noting things that are going in the right direction and reinforcing that by giving positive feedback, you create a “buffer” for also intervening when things are not. When giving critical feedback, ask for permission: “Would you like me to give some feedback?” That helps the receiver adjust into a receiving mode instead of raising their defences.

Practising at least a couple of these for at least three weeks in a row – the minimum time it takes for a new habit to really stick, will most certainly lead to better performance in your team.

Hanken & SSE Executive Education incorporates this topic in many tailored executive programmes – contact us if you want to find out more.


To find out more on this topic, see for example:

Cuddy, Amy J.C., Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger (2013): Connect, Then Lead: To exert influence, you must balance influence with warmth, HBR, Jul-Aug 2013.

Goleman, Daniel, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee: (2001): Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance, HBR, Dec 2001.

Hallowell, Edvard H. (2010): What brain science tells us about how to excel, HBR, Dec 2010.

Rock, David (2009): Managing with the brain in mind, Strategy+Business, No. 56, Autumn 2009.

Losada, M., & Heaphy, E. (2004). The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 740-765. (or in brief)

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Pernilla Gripenberg
Director, Design and Delivery - Ph.D.
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