Four Factors That Drive Up Performance in Leaders and Employees

Bringing the Best Out of Your Workforce

Effective employees demonstrate these performance factors as they succeed at work.
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What differentiates extraordinary performers from everyone else goes deeper than simply better performance. It’s a shock to some people to learn that high-performance factors seldom have to do with superior talents or skills, and have much more to do with the simple act of making choices.

It’s about being focused and working with the intention of creating results that benefit the stakeholders in any given situation, creating value through accomplishments. There are four main factors that set extraordinary employees—and leaders—apart.

Courage to Think Outside the Box 

This may seem incredibly counter-intuitive, but top performers are the ones who seem to act bravely, making choices that others don’t make. They try things without knowing whether or not they’ll work. They often refuse to play it safe.

It takes a willingness to let go of what used to work; what has always worked; and everything that made you successful up to this point. It means acting with an attitude that says, “I don’t know what works, but let’s find out.”

Mark Twain once said, “I knew a man who picked a cat up by the tail. He learned 40 percent more about cats than the man who didn’t.” Sometimes we have to pick the cat up by the tail. You may get scratched up, but you’ll gain information that will set you on the right path to success.

Relentless Improvement

Tiger Woods was the top professional golfer when this piece was written. He was at the top of his game, and was touted as one of the best of all time. Now, consider this: Tiger Woods had a coach.

That fact alone should be enough to make the point that you should never consider yourself to be as good as you’re going to be. Inside every top performer is a better performer waiting to get out. Tiger Woods wanted to become a better golfer, so he hired a coach.

Every company gives lip service to the idea of constant improvement. Every company will agree that to stay competitive they must be better tomorrow than they are today. Many people will not rise to this expectation so when someone does, they stand out. For top performing individuals, relentless improvement is part of what they do every day.

We all constantly talk about thinking outside the box. That’s fine, and you most certainly should think outside the box. But another approach is to first reimagine the box you’re already in, making it better. There is nothing wrong with returning to and mastering the basics before demanding more from yourself or your organization.

Always Planning for the Unexpected 

Leaders thrive on the unexpected. It’s the essence of grace to perform well when under pressure. They research, forecast, and consider every contingency. These individuals are completely at ease with the reality that something totally unexpected will happen. This is the key to moving forward versus being frozen with uncertainty, embracing the unknown.

It used to be that the way to succeed was to make the right choice. To succeed today means making the right choice and then making the next right choice quickly enough. Regardless of what’s going on in your world right now, get ready to switch gears. You may think you understand the situation, but the situation is in a state of constant flux.

Top performers accept that stuff happens. You must always factor in that however carefully you plan your work and work your plan, the unexpected will inevitably rear its ugly head and throw a wrench into your carefully constructed scenario. The beginning step in creating opportunity from change is to always expect the change. Whatever happens may not be what you wanted, but it truly is normal. Respond accordingly.

Aspire to Show Off

Showing off, despite the negative connotations, can sometimes be a good thing. Showing off is a mindset. The true show-offs in any organization are often the quiet ones. It does not mean being boisterous about achievements, but being unafraid to tout what you've accomplished.

They’re the ones that perform with consistency and even a certain sense of style. They’re like the old saying about the duck: Above the surface, be calm and elegant. Below the surface, paddle like crazy.

The Bottom Line

When I ask executives and managers to rate desired attributes in employees, almost invariably consistency of performance, performing under pressure, and delivering results are the top three. It’s about choosing how we come to each and every situation, challenge, and opportunity in our work and in our lives.


Joe Callaway is a coach at Next Success, an organization that facilitates retreats and career coaching.