The High Potential Zone

The baseball season is winding to a close, and for this Cubs fan, the close of this season is both exciting and excruciating. What will happen next? I almost can’t look. So, in this particularly compelling season as a former Chicago northsider and in honor of my Chicago Cubs, Voltage Leadership brings you this baseball themed set of Peak Performance tips:

Welcome to the High Potential Zone!

The High Potential Zone is a ballfield where, with all the right moves you can advance your team across home plate by hitting all the bases: Roles, Recognition, Review and Refine.

 1.       Roles: Define Expectations

2.       Recognition: Appreciating Effort

3.       Review: Giving Feedback

4.       Refine: Teaching and Coaching so that the team achieves its next level of performance.

 We begin with the pitch across the plate.

 The first thing every employee or team needs is a clear role to play.

·       What is the assignment?

·       What is the objective?

·       Who do you need this person to be to get the job done successfully?

These are the questions your employees are asking when they step up to the plate.

Leaders: Are you delivering a clear understanding of your employee’s role today?

Tip: Ask!

Does your team know what they need to do to succeed in this season of your company’s life and leadership? Do they understand their Roles?

And have you asked yourself this question: Are they in the right Role in the right season?

When leaders ask their team members to describe their strategic role within the organization or project leaders discover the missing links in their own communication and can make course corrections early.

In baseball the batter needs to know if they need to bunt, hit a grounder to third, or swing for the fences. A good manager will send their player off to the batter’s box with a clear idea of what the assignment is and how it fits into the overall game strategy.

I recently met with a team that was not clear about the purpose of the game they were playing. That lack of clarity was slowing them down. People knew what the assignment was, but they did not understand why. After meeting with the team I immediately signaled the leader and let him know the problem: The team needed to understand their “Why?” They needed to know why they were doing what they were doing.

A lack of clarity about strategy (Why are we doing what we are doing?) can create a lot of unnecessary resistance.

The leader’s response was swift: he course-corrected, shared the vision for the future and the specific why for this assignment. The next time I was onsite the team was clipping around the bases at their normal speed.

To get the runner on base, Clarity Counts.

Once you have a batter on base, it is time for Recognition.

It is a big achievement to get on base. Now you don’t have a batter, you have something more: you have a runner! Celebrate the success, and keep them focused on the next goal: rounding the bases.

Recognition keeps things moving and lets your people know what to keep doing.

To continue to advance the runner, it is time for Review.

At second base the runner watches for signals from the third base coach so they know when and how hard to run. Even the best employees need to know how they are doing and what they need to do next to keep succeeding. One easy tool to use is a quick “Start, Stop, Continue” conversation. What do I need to start doing, what do I need to stop doing, and what do I need to continue doing to be successful and stay in the game?

Finally, we get to third base. It is time to Refine the skills.

At third base the player and the third base coach are together. It is a time for clear, specific coaching on how to cross home plate and score. It is time for direct one on one conversation that is specific and succinct. Refining skills means learning something new, taking a different approach, and preparing for the final stretch. The team is in scoring position, and all you need is for a couple things to go right and you can score another point and get ready for another trip around the bases.

Roles. Recognition. Review. Refine. When you are in the High Potential Zone, you get to do great work with great people and get great results.

Once you get around those bases once, keep it up! Leadership never stops, so keep going. Get better and better. Cheer for your team. And for this baseball fan that means: Go Cubs!



Relationships have value.  They add value and they cost us, depending on the quality and the character of the relationship.  It is true in both our personal lives and at work.  The quality and character of our relationships can make the difference between wanting to come to work and dreading getting up in the morning.

When we genuinely like the people we work with, we bring something extra to the table.  The extra might be extra time, or an extra measure of zeal for a project, or an extra idea, or going the extra mile.  These extras come more easily and frequently when we are engaged with and actively care about the people we work with.

As William H. Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers observed, “If we leave the human factor out of our business calculations we shall be wrong every time.”  My colleague Mary learned this lesson early in her career, and her story brightly illuminates this point:

 “It was early in my career and I was still learning about leadership and executing business expectations with ease, but it wasn’t long before I discovered that I had something that many of my colleagues did not have.  I had the X Factor:  people who cared about each other and who cared about me.

One of my strongest leadership memories comes from this time.  I was a young leader and it was the week of my first corporate visit.  We had been working hard that week getting ready for this visit, but there was more to do.  One by one these people who had families and responsibilities and lives outside our workplace came to me and said,

‘I am coming back after dinner to get this done.’  

‘I will stay tonight so we can have this just right.’ 

‘Why don’t we order pizza so we don’t have to leave to eat?’

‘I will call my husband and let him know it will be a late night.’

Hours later, I looked at my watch as we got ready to walk out the door.  It was 2 AM.  I looked around at this incredible group of people that was gathered.  None of them had been asked to stay, but each one had offered to go the extra mile.  I remember the feeling of both gratitude and joy.  We were laughing and tired and we were something more:  we were a team.  Not in name, but in spirit.”

What does it take to build a great team?

T            time,

E            effort,

A           appreciation and something more,

M          a sense of mission.

When people gather around a common purpose; when they care about getting the same result, having the same outcome; amazing things happen.  Mission is a great motivator.

So how is your team?  Here are some questions to ask that will help you build a winning team:

·       When do you give your team your time?

·       What effort do you make to cultivate their relationships with one another?

·       Do you regularly appreciate and acknowledge your people and their work?

·       Is your team on a mission that matters?

Teams do not happen by accident. They are shaped and formed over time, with effort, appreciation and a common mission.  Asking yourself these questions regularly will ensure that you have a team, not just a group of people, when the stakes are high and the outcomes matter.