Fast Company

WorkLIfeSuccess: 5 Keys to Sustained High Performance

High-performers are experts at sustaining a constructive frame of mind, a clear vision, and a continuous supply of personal energy.  It's a tall order. Here's how it's done:

  1. Improve your health - your body is your instrument. I spent 10 years producing and performing street theater. When you are expressing yourself to a divergent group of people, you have to draw on everything you have to get your message across. This includes full body movement, clearly articulated voice, solid and well-chosen emotional response, physical control.  Street theater is a great metaphor for life. If you want to capture people's attention and move them to action, you need full capacity of your instrument, your whole body. Develop it. Tune it. Have fun with it.  Optimize your primary tool of expression. 

  2. Pour yourself into worthy causes, with your change agenda foremost.  High-performers reserve their time, attention, and energy for those initiatives that bring out their best. This happens when they deeply care about their work. When you are involved in an effort that matters to your heart and soul, it will pull on resources you don't even know you have taking your performance to a level beyond what you think is possible. Why do anything else?

  3. Build real and deep relationships with close family and friends. This is the foundation for all activity, creating the platform that supports you when you need that something extra and providing a rejuvenation nest when you need to recover or refuel. The effort relationship building requires is significant, and the payoff is extraordinary. Many leaders skimp on their family, yet it is in these highly intimate relationships that the very skills you need to drive change person-to-person are sharpened.  Focus on this and you will find a source of great inner renewal and a proving ground for building the soft skills required to succeed.

  4. Engage your soul.  Spiritual development is unique to each person. It ranges from time spent in a faith-based community to personal pilgrimages to sacred places, from meditation to prayer, from long walks in the wilderness to ministering to those in need in the city. This deep well is intensely personal and yields strength unmatched. Experience the joy of being connected to something greater, the most profound source of inner vigor and stamina. Enter into life's greatest mystery and most intense reward, the world of your spirit.

  5. Develop your mind. The quality of your consciousness, the caliber of your character, and the capacity of your acumen determine your impact. Keep your mind in shape. Read news and fine literature. Debate your opinions and reshape them as you learn from your jousts. Talk regularly with people who are smarter than you. Participate in intellectually alive communities. Go to museums, theater, and live concerts. Study music, mathematics, and history.  Apply everything that is relevant to your next challenge. Raise the bar on your cerebral prowess, take on extraordinary cognitive challenges, and surprise yourself with your mental achievement.

These five activities make it possible to rise up and meet challenge after challenge, prevailing to see results achieved, and that is the very definition of high performance.

- Seth Kahan, VisionaryLeadership.com

Seth Kahan is a Change Leadership specialist. He has consulted with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps, Marriott, Prudential, American Society of Association Executives, International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association, Project Management Institute, and NASA. He is the founder of Seth Kahan’s CEO Leaders Forum, a community of CEOs working together to innovate through the current economy. His next book, Getting Change Right: Creating Rapid, Widespread Engagement will be published in spring 2010.

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