(Part one in a three-part series)
Over the past three decades observing and serving on dozens of high-performing teams in high-pressure environments from aircraft carriers to combat to TOPGUN to the business world, I’ve learned that the keys to leading a high-performing team can be distilled into a basic framework comprising three essential focus areas: culture, people, and mission. I call this framework The Leadership Triad, and I’ve found it extremely useful in helping leaders learn where to focus their time and energy to maximize their leadership effectiveness.
Here in part one of this three-part series on The Leadership Triad, we’ll unpack the basics of how to develop a high-performing culture.
One of the questions I frequently ask business leaders is, “How would you describe the culture in your organization?” Often their response is, “How do you define culture?” It’s a fair question, and one that every leader who aspires to lead a high-performing team should ask.
Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” That definition resonates with me, because it describes how the mindsets of your team members intersect with their behaviors to define the essence of who your team is.
Culture is the first essential focus area for leading a high-performing team because it forms the lens through which your team members view each other and your team’s mission. If you get it right, your people will do extraordinary things for each other to accomplish your mission, because they trust each other and don’t want to let their team down.
If you asked me how I would describe the culture in every high-performing team I’ve been privileged to be a part of, I could summarize them in one word: trust. In each case, personal and professional trust formed the foundation for total commitment to operational excellence that resulted in everyone on the team doing everything they could do to keep from letting their teammates down.
To effectively lead a high-performing team, the first question you should ask yourself is, “How can I create a culture of trust?” In my experience, the answer can be found in what I call “the three C’s” of a high-performing culture: character, competence, and composure. These three leadership qualities define the quality of your culture. In other words, the quality of your culture starts with you.
To build a high-performing culture centered on trust, focus on the content of your character, the caliber of your competence, and the capacity of your composure.
The first culture-defining leadership quality is character. I believe the most important aspect of character is integrity. I’ve always translated integrity simply as doing the right thing. Integrity is critical for building a high-performing culture because it’s the foundation of trust – and trust is the glue that holds a high-performing team together, especially under pressure.
The second leadership quality that’s integral to a high-performing culture of trust is competence. I’ve always described competence as doing things right. Competence is crucial because people tend to trust and follow other people who “know their stuff,” work hard to improve, and lead by example.
The third vital leadership quality is composure. I’ve always explained composure as setting the right tone – specifically an enthusiastic, positive tone that sees problems not as annoyances, but rather as opportunities to lead. Bad things will inevitably happen, but how we respond in those situations is critically important because true character is revealed under adversity, and how we as leaders respond to adversity will significantly affect how our team responds.
When you as a leader demonstrate strong character, I as a member of your team can trust your intentions, knowing that you are committed to always striving to do the right thing. When you are competent, I can trust your actions, knowing that I can depend on you to always aim to do things right. And when you are composed, I can trust your emotions, knowing that I can count on you to always try to set a calm and positive tone.
When you as a leader do these three things right, you inspire your people to do the same. This creates a culture where the members of your team can trust each other at all costs. And when this happens, they will do almost anything to keep from letting each other down.
Stay tuned for part two – “People” – in this three-part series on The Leadership Triad. To dive deeper on the subject of how to build a culture of trust, check out chapter 1 in my new book, The Substance of Leadership: A Practical Framework for Effectively Leading a High-Performing Team, available September 21st on Amazon. In the meantime, if you want to find out if you are leading your team to consistently perform at a high level under pressure, take my five-minute Performance Pressure Test.