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The Challenge of Leading a Team of Talents to Maximum Performance

The challenge for people leaders who have responsibility for delivering results through a team of diverse talents is keeping them all fully engaged and productive.

Most organisations endeavour to develop the highest levels of leadership capability from their managers. They recognise that leadership affects their firm’s performance (Freed & Ulrich (1).They need leaders who are capable of getting the best out of their people and the best way to way to enthuse workers is to give them what they want (Sirota (2). This requires the team leader to understand the unique motives of each person by demonstrating a high level of empathy. Motivational theory (McClelland (3) can help our team leader to identify the dominant motivators of people on the team and then use this information to influence how to set goals and provide feedback, and how to motivate and reward team members.


How does a leader know what makes a person tick? The answer is to talk to them, engage with them in critical conversations at regular intervals. When employees have high levels of engagement this has a significant, measurable and transformational impact on organisational performance (Cowley & Purse (6). This means understanding a persons’ motivational drivers, the nature and level of their ambition (or lack of it), the confidence and self-esteem they demonstrate compared to how they really feel. These are the details that make a difference. How flexible and agile is this employee?, do they have a positive attitude to learning new ways of working? , do they take a negative attitude and resist attempts to change? If our team leader can establish this level of understanding then they have a sound basis for building engagement in an employee.

Great leadership works through emotional connections. Daniel Goleman(5) calls this resonant leadership. I call it engaging leadership. How employees feel about their job starts and ends with their direct supervisor and smart leaders engage with employees in person to person conversations that are fundamental to the performance of the employee and the team (Cowley & Purse (6). These conversations are critical for understanding what makes the employee tick.

The next skill required by our engaging team leader is to critically evaluate; that is to accurately and objectively assess the performance of the employees in order to differentiate good from poor performance and to understand what great performance looks like. This allows our leader to set and expect high standards of performance from the team members. The same can be said for competence standards. Once the leader can evaluate performance and competence against the requirements of the current role, they can assess an employee’s growth potential against the requirements of the next level or higher level roles. This is the key to establishing a growth agenda that fits with the motivation of the employee.

A happy employee is a productive employee according to Daniel Kahneman (4). We know that emotional mood impacts results and that an upbeat mood enhances the neural abilities crucial for doing good work (Goleman et al (5). Each interaction with a team member creates an opportunity for a positive connection that enhances their job satisfaction. When people feel good they work at their best and will likely go the extra mile to please customers. High customer satisfaction drives an increase in revenue. Empathy is crucial for creating resonant, engaging leadership, it allows our team leader to connect with the employee and make intelligent decisions that keep them on track.

Having established the motivational driver and evaluated the employee’s potential it is time for our team leader to focus on developing the employee. The development agenda creates a ‘route-map’ for the employee’s growth. Holding the critical development conversation provides a basis for creating the right agenda. It is about gaining access to the employee’s insight on their job and how they see their future – where they want to be in three to five years’ time and the development opportunities and experiences they need to get there (Cowley & Purse (6). Better to have that conversation with our team leader than an external head-hunter – right?

Now that our team leader knows what development is needed they need to establish how it can best be delivered. The 70:20:10 learning model (Faragher (7) dictates that our leader needs to issue work according to the defined outcomes determined in the employee’s development agenda. The model suggests that the majority (or around 70%) of learning comes through work based experience, around 20% comes from social learning with colleagues and just 10% through formal learning such as classroom training or online courses. The conversation allows an accurate focus on the employee’s specific needs and training requirements.

Communication is vital in order to connect at an individual level. People are different and it is harder to get through to some people more than others. How people accurately or inaccurately convey information to others has an impact on our ability to connect and make an impact and the more you know about people the better able you are to tailor what you say and how you say it in order to match what is important to them (Vickers et al (8). This matching of communication style is intended to improve rapport by adopting the other person’s approach and style. The goal is to understand and be understood. Our team leader must match the communication style preferred by the team member.

The final step for our team leader is to supervise each employee according to their fit to the role. According to Hershey and Blanchard (9), there is no single “best” style of leadership. Effective leadership is situation-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the maturity of the individual employee they are attempting to lead or influence. Effective leadership varies, not only with the person that is being influenced, but it also depends on the nature of the job that needs to be accomplished. Our team leader must adjust their level of supervision accordingly.TTCMedicsDiagram

The MEDICS© Model of Leadership

Our leader is embarking on the team talent challenge using the MEDICS© model of Leadership – to achieve maximum performance from the diverse set of talents in the team. How can a leader train for this? Is it just a case of trial and error?

Not any longer.

Introducing the Team Talent Challenge

Companies are increasingly turning to simulations to help build strategic alignment and execution capability. Within minutes of being placed in a simulation, participants are grappling with issues and decisions that they must make – NOW.

The primary purpose of these simulations is to use the software to translate leadership decisions into tangible figures and measures which can then be analysed in review sessions where feedback is given directly by the facilitator referencing the figures as well as matters of style. The debrief sessions run in parallel to the action and also during the coaching sessions that follow completion of the event.

With the Team Talent Challenge a year of experience can be compressed into one or two days. If run with groups, competition among teams spurs engagement, invention and discovery.

Read more 

Author: Paul Tuck, see more about him here


1. Allan Freed & Dave Ulrich; Calculating the Market Value of Leadership, APRIL 03, 2015,
2. Dr David Sirota; The Enthusiastic Employee, 2005, Pearson Education.
3. McClelland, D. C; Power: The inner experience, 1975, Irvington.
4. Daniel Kahneman; Thinking Fast and Slow, 2011, Penguin Books.
5. Goleman, Boyzatis & McKee; Primal Leadership, 2013, Harvard Business Review Press.
6. Cowley & Purse; 5 Conversations – how to transform trust, engagement and performance at work, 2014, Panama Press.
7. Jo Faragher; 70:20:10 – a model approach for learning?, 2014, Personnel Today.
8. Vickers, Bavister & Smith; Personal Impact – what it takes to make a difference, 2009, Pearson Education.
9. Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H; Management of Organizational Behavior – Utilizing Human Resources, 1969, Prentice Hall.

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