How to: Three tips for improving your leadership performance

BY Rob Neal


A senior vice president for a mid-size logistics company I was coaching last year asked me, “What's this executive leadership coaching really about? Sum it up for me.” No pressure there, knowing his boss, the CEO, wanted me to help this VP greatly improve his leadership performance. I simply said, “It all boils down to your level of self-awareness in three key areas.”

Every leader who strives to become a top performer needs to understand the nature of his or her personal presence. As an executive coach I often ask leaders, “What's it like for other people to be with you? How do you demonstrate your core values to your co-workers in this organization? If I asked people who work with you to describe your best and worst qualities, what would they say?”

The qualities demonstrated most often by high performers include authenticity, an open mind, personal warmth, integrity, humility, courage, passion, caring for others and a vision for where to go. Great leaders consistently show these and several other qualities, but the ones listed here are essential and very difficult to fake.

Highly skilled and experienced executive coaches will help aspiring leaders develop these qualities to a higher level, and not simply focus on concrete performance goals. Too often leaders who have outstanding technical skills and content knowledge within their fields have been promoted into leadership roles primarily for this expertise, plus their record of hitting goals and generating revenue. That does not mean, however, they also have the ability to lead people.

Becoming a great leader requires understanding and accepting the impact of one's decisions and behaviors. Which is very different than understanding one's intentions. People usually act with positive intentions, but we all have our moments when we're not at our best and our actions and words have an unintended negative outcome.

I always ask leaders to talk about specific examples, positive and negative, of how they impact other people in the workplace. Their ability to talk about these experiences, and their willingness to understand how the impact they have ties directly to their level of self-awareness, usually indicates how successfully they can improve their leadership performance moving forward.

Reaching a more senior level of leadership can be a great accomplishment. Once there it becomes increasingly hard to admit to mistakes or to having a negative impact. That's a normal human response to being in a high level position, but if leaders want to perform well they must find a way to be open and honest with themselves. A skilled executive coach can offer guidance as a leader looks in the mirror.

This builds on the first two elements; the very best leaders continue to learn and are open to receiving feedback. This openness demonstrates their willingness to keep improving and to take full responsibility for their actions even when the outcomes are negative. Continuous improvement is essential to becoming a great leader.

To be a successful person in life, and a skilled leader, requires the ability to accept the areas where we could perform better, then working hard to make improvements. This also means recognizing when our performance works well and building on those successes.

No one reaches the highest level of performance by themselves. We all get help along the way from teachers, coaches, mentors, trainers, counselors, ministers and parents. Greatness in any field also requires talent, incredible effort, a strong drive to keep improving, plus a high level of self-awareness in the three areas described here.

Rob Neal, president of Rob Neal Consulting in Yarmouth, coaches leaders and also helps organizations build healthy cultures. Website: