What Does It Mean to be a High- Performance Individual?

Skill Sets Versus Traits

High performance is the delivery of results time and time again. It is when people and employees are consistent and reliable. The building blocks of high performance include:

Traits are not the same as skill sets. These two terms are often conflated and although they resemble each other, there are key differences between them. Traits are characteristics that are intrinsic to a person (specifically speaking about a leader), whereas skill sets are abilities that a person can learn and acquire over time. There is some aspect of “innate talent” in skill sets. But unlike traits, hard work is also a key determent of a leader’s skill sets. There are some foundational traits that all high performers possess; while there are other more contextual traits necessary to achieve high performance in a specific area.

Contextually based high performance traits can be illustrated by comparing a high-performance medical doctor versus one in the biomedical research field. The doctor needs to have more patience with people and their different reactions to bad news. They need to help patients and their families think through the best among bad options for treatments. They need to compassionately guide patients through their decision-making process to make the optimal decision when there is no clear right answer. On the other hand, the researcher needs to have more patience with experiment outcomes that may not be what he or she hypothesized. He or she needs to have the ability to tweak experiments, then try and try again without giving up or growing frustrated.

It is observed that there are key traits and skill sets shared among all high performers. These traits and skill sets include persistence, consistency, discipline, follow-through, flexibility/agility, and appropriate risk taking, among others traits. Some people may think that risk taking and consistency are opposites—the idea that one cannot be a risk taker and be consistent at the same time. However this is simply not true. These two characteristics are compatible in a certain combination and it is that combination that is critical for high performance. That combination is deploying risk taking strategy thru a consistent decision making process.

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here can be a strategy used by high performers of pushing the boundaries and innovating to make sure that they are leading trends. When they include discipline into the mix, it allows the risk-taking process to be rigorous with research and planning before taking prudent risks to ensure highest probability of reward. A large part of what is the right skill set has to do with context. But there are still some foundational skill sets such as time management the all high performers need to master, regardless of context.

High Performance Within Context

High performance within the right context allows a person to achieve consistently positive results and outcomes. The entire point of high performance is seeing results or outcomes. In order to do so, an individual must be clear as to what his or her purpose for high performance is? Is the goal to achieve individual gratification, or be recognized as successful by others? The first part of the question is measured by the metric of the person being at his or her personal best. The second is measured by he or she being the best among all the very best of the best in a group that the person has defined as important to him or her. Positive results and outcomes are determined by high achievers setting their own goals. For example, if a person has a short stature and wishes to become a basketball player he or she would set his or her stretch performance goal to the top performing level of someone with the same physical attributes. Otherwise, that person is always going to think that they are a low performer instead of a high performer even when achieving the top of what someone with identical attributes can perform.

Luck has a lot to do with the outcome of a particular occurrence. Therefore, don’t equate high performance with success.

In order to be recognized by others as successful, you must first define the group of peers that you want to compare yourself to for you to feel successful. If you want to be the elite of the elite, be very realistic about if you have the innate capacity for that. Then set your goal compared to the top performance within that group. If you care about being recognized for success, you have to put yourself into a context that is a cross section of strong personal interest, great individual talent, and positive resources available to you. That provides you with the internal motivation, innate capability and a favorable external environment to optimize your success. It is important that you do not measure or define your success by one time only success or failure. Your success should be measured by whether or not you deliver results and/or positive outcomes over and over again. Keep in mind that luck has a lot to do with the outcome of a particular occurrence. But having a strong desire to achieve, (internal motivation) and becoming deeply skilled through intense, disciplined training will enable you to take advantage of favorable environments to achieve record-breaking results repeatedly. In summary, put yourself into the right context with the right goals in order to achieve great results (and be realistic).

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Next on the high performance pyramid is judgment. This is the ability to deal with the ever changing context within an environment where you are trying to achieve great outcomes. There is never a perfect environment and there will always be uncertainty, but make sure that you have the right judgement to shape your environment to meet your needs in order for you to have the highest probability of achieving your great outcome. For example, if you want to take on a high risk-high reward project, the right judgment will guide you to determine the profile of partners, find them, and learn how to work with them in order to minimize risk and maximize reward.

Spotting and Creating Opportunities

At the top of the high performance pyramid is the ability to take and select the right opportunities or create the right opportunities for yourself. Enterprising people often create their own opportunities and high performance is about knowing when to embrace opportunity and when to decline opportunities in order to deliver consistent results at minimal risk.

How To Become A High Performer in the Business Family Context

There are obvious tricky terrain challenges within the context of family wealth as we are all influenced by our family of origin. For business families or with family controlled operating companies, that influence is magnified. The performance metric is a difficult concept to grasp. Your family members have achieved great success in the view of society and this often leaves you feeling like you can’t achieve what they envision. You may feel inadequate and as a result, you have to have a clear idea of what your definition of high performance is (goals and metrics for measuring performance) and then set out to achieve it. Figuring out your own definition will take a lot of time and hard work, but it will be totally worth it in the end.

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Within a family wealth context, there is often pressure to take on a role in the family organization. Naturally, family will pressure you into taking on roles in the family organization, especially if you are talented and motivated. It is important to be clear in what you want for yourself. If you want to be at your personal best without care of societal standards, set those goals and tell your family that is your desire. If your version of success is to be socially recognized as a part of feeling fulfilled, it is up to you to find the right context for that goal.


Advantages of families of wealth is that they have a lot of resources at your disposal. Use a personal balance sheet to assess what resources you have at your disposal and create a strategy to access those resources in order to maximize the probability of achieving your goals.

Systems View:

If you are a family enterprise leader, your goal is to cultivate all family members to become high performers. You need to set up a process and structures for your family members to achieve that. Here are the key elements:

  1. You need to set up a structure where the family enterprise has the capacity and the capability to help individuals design development plans then set performance goals. Thereafter, create opportunities to achieve results. This system needs to be encouraging and allow freedom for the individuals to take their own initiatives. Agency is key here. It would help if individuals set up their own performance goals that combine (1) personal interest (internal motivation); and (2) skills building thru intense, disciplined training. This will help them craft and/or select the right opportunities and favorable environments to achieve record breaking results.

Works Cited

  • Tsai, Florence C. “Longevity DNA” Phoenix Rising – Leadership, Chapters 2, pp. 55-61 
  • Cerami, C. A. 2004. Jefferson’s Great Gamble. Naperville: Sourcebooks.
  • Krinsky, C. H. 1978. Rockefeller Center. New York: Oxford University Press.