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How to be an effective leader: The 4 practices of High Performing Leaders

Updated: May 5, 2023

High performing leaders embody the 4 A's of leadership


What makes a great leader?

You know how there are some people you like immediately when you meet them? What is it about their interactions that make you want to work with them again, or spend more time with them?

Let's face it - working with other people can be hard. We can all think back to that feeling the first day on the job when we start somewhere new, trying to figure out our new office, new position, and what our co-workers personalities are like. We are a nervous mess, and someone comes along and makes us feel like one of the team. Some people just have that Je ne sais quoi, which literally means “I don't know what” in French. I heard from a physician friend of mine and saw that the Internal Medicine World Report said that there are the 3A's of practicing Medicine - being Available, Affable and Able. I would argue that there is one more A that can be applied to leadership - Authenticity - and that these 4 A's hold true for high performing leaders also.

The traits of high performing leaders are:

  1. Being Available

  2. Being Authentic

  3. Being Affable

  4. Having Ability

Why are these A's in order? Because they are like building blocks, you can't have one without the others. These traits aren't hard to master, but they can be hard to remember in the moment.

1. High performing leaders are Available

Some leaders talk about an open-door policy, and some leaders actually live this philosophy. I used to have a boss whose door was literally always open, and he would manage by walking around. He was a very senior executive, and sometimes I wondered how he got his work done between all the people who would come to talk to him in his office and his touring the facility! I used to joke with him that he needed a deli numbering system outside his office because more often than not there would be so many people waiting to speak with him.

Your team can't know you are authentic and affable if you aren't available.

He was the most effective, high performing leader I ever worked with. The reason was that it was clear that he was there for people. He made it known that he was available to others, and really was. I never remember him getting annoyed or frustrated with the amount of people in his office. Obviously, this type of dedication takes time out of your day, but you are making great strides with your team because they will work harder and be more engaged because they know you have their back. Knowing you have a resource or advocate goes a long, long way in culture.

2. High performing leaders are Authentic

Authentic people ask you questions and want to get to know you better. They know your family member's names and remember facts about them. They don't have an agenda for wanting to get to know you better, they are simply interested in you as a person. Those people who connect well with others have a way of not making you feel judged. They do this by talking to you like a real person (see above) and allow themselves to be vulnerable with others. People admit that they don't know everything and can also take responsibility when things go wrong. You aren't perfect and neither are they.

If you are like most people, we have trouble remembering names and facts of other people, especially as our network grows, or you are in a position where everyone knows you, but you don't know everyone. When I worked in retail, we would walk the store with the president, and he would greet everyone personally and discreetly look at their nametag so he could call them by name. Did he know everyone's name and facts about all 30K+ team members? Of course not. But he had a way of making you feel as though he did. He spoke to all people the same, and that is what made him a great leader. He was authentic.

3. High performing leaders are Affable

The word affable essentially means likeable - and likeable people are high performing because they show genuine interest in YOU and what YOU have going on. Affable people make you feel like you are the most important person in the room. In turn, you want to work for these people and feel more engaged in your work.

Affability is the quality of being friendly, good natured, a good listener, and someone people want to be around.

In healthcare, we talked about how it takes less than 1 minute to create a connection with someone. A good way to do this is start meetings or conversations by getting to know people - asking what they did that weekend, how things are going with their house, whatever it is. It doesn't take a lot of time but yields great relationships.

Getting to know people is even harder today when we all work virtually. How do you get to know someone that you haven't even really met in person, and you can't have conversations before the meeting, in the hall, or have lunch? It is more challenging for sure. However, making the space to know each other is worth it for you as a leader, and as a co-worker. I challenge you to know 3 interesting things about each of the people who report you.

4. High performing leaders have Ability

Finally, you can't be a high performing leader unless you know what you are doing and have *some* skills in your field. Fortunately, my experience is the high performing leaders that I've worked for have been pretty awesome at what they do. And there is always something to be learned from them. Always. Even if the thing learned is that you don't want to be anything like that person!

How can you harness your ability even more as a leader? Start listening to others' ideas and be open to new ways of doing things. As per the first few A's - by being available, authentic and affable - people will be more open with you and you might learn a thing or two. Of course, there are classes and as I have found out, there is a TON to be learned online. Ability comes in many different forms.

Being a high performing leader takes some practice, but by remembering these 4 A's you can be on your way to being the leader that everyone wants to work for.

Suzanne Olson, MA, CCXP, CPXP is the Owner and Chief Experience Architect of Brilliant Workplaces. She loves great leaders who inspire and embody the 4 A's, and would like all workplaces to shine with their kindness and efficiency.

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