After years of study and research, I created a leadership model. I wanted to answer the question: what separates excellent leaders from the not-so-stellar leaders? I learned from the highest and lowest performing managers. I discovered that it comes down to nine inter-related strategies that the top leaders-I call them superstar leaders- tend to understand, grasp and implement better than others.

Based on the research and experience working with top leaders in companies around the globe, what do managers need to do to excel? Each strategy, research citing and potential performance improvement are listed.

  • Clear Goals and Expectations: Lock and Latham Study-16% improvement.
  • Training: ASTD Study-Companies in top quarter of training expense ($1,500 per year or more) average 24% higher profit margins.
  • Communication: Wyatt Study-30% increase in market value.
  • Coaching: Personal Management Association-88% impact.
  • Leadership Flexibility: Blanchard, Hersey, Goleman-15%-20% more results.
  • Recognition: Jackson ROI Study-triple return on equity for companies with more recognition than those companies who do less.
  • Promotions/Incentives: Performance Improvement Institute-22% impact on results.
  • Customer Loyalty: Bain Research-5% improvement in customer retention improves profit 25% or more.
  • Hiring: Personnel Policy Service-the right hire saves 3x the annual salary.

Notice the potential performance gains. Wouldn’t you want to achieve these kind of results? Contrast this to the fact that management derailment studies indicate 50% of managers fail today. The Gallup Group reports that 70-80% of employees are disengaged. An enterprising manager can buck these trends and learn to lead a high performing team.

The key to superstars’ success is that they use these strategies in tandem. The point is not to master one and abandon the others – the goal is to become proficient in all nine. Let’s start with the first strategy. (Other articles will cover each of the above strategies.)

Excellent Performance Management: Setting Clear Goals and Expectations

First and foremost, all great performance begins with clear goals and plans. Without direction, how can dedication even be possible? Without clarity, how does a team know how to commit? Now, this idea isn’t new, but it isn’t well-practiced the way it currently stands. Presently, a lot of work is done to create strategic plans in companies, but very rarely is work updated as time progresses. Secondly, the goals that are made at the top of an organization or team don’t always trickle down to the individuals that are actually responsible for executing the plans – in other words, there is a disconnect between those making the plans and those executing the plans. Next, even when goals are identified, very rarely do managers maintain their commitment; instead, their plans, ideas and strategies ride any wave that comes their way. Finally, some research suggests that less than one-third of managers have clear goals and expectations in writing with their employees.

To overcome these unnecessary obstacles, try taking a few small steps:

  1. Review and update plans on a regular basis so that they are relevant, appropriate and effective.
  2. Ensure that everyone affected by the plan is informed about the plan’s purpose, strategy and connection to their job.
  3. Sustain the progress of a plan by remaining focused on it and dedicated to it by daily managing performance of the team and individuals.
  4. Provide timely feedback to your team to recognize progress and to deal with sub-par performance.

I’ll conclude this first concept with a quote by Theodore Hesburgh that captures why clarity is so important to our plans, “The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”