Business leadership can be just as challenging as elite athletics. In both, strategic performance relies on mindset and personality characteristics.
Recently on The Science of Personality, cohosts Ryne Sherman, PhD, chief science officer, and Blake Loepp, PR manager, spoke with Barry Roche, founder and CEO at RSG Consulting, about the role that personality plays in strategic performance.
Barry’s service in the British Royal Marine Commandos taught him the value of adaptability, physical and mental resilience, and a sense of humor. It also gave him his interest in psychology. With more than two decades of experience building organizations across industries, Barry has seen how important human performance is to business success. “The big problems in businesses always come with people attached,” he said.
Let’s dive into some components of strategic success, performance, and the dark side of personality, and the dos and don’ts of strategic performance.
A Mindset of Strategic Success
Experiencing stressful environments, undergoing physical challenges, or enduring hardships improves confidence. Elite performers, whether in athletics, business, or other fields, have a clear mindset about challenge and failure. Having handled past adversity, elite performers are confident in the face of present adversity.
As challenging as elite individual performance is to attain, corporate strategic performance can be even harder. “Strategy is just a plan to deliver a long-term outcome,” Barry said. “It needs to be really specific so you can align people behind it to achieve it.”
Clarity, effective communication, and execution are all essential components of strategic success. Depending on whether an organization is a startup, small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME), or a large enterprise, strategic success will vary according to size and need. Broadly, large companies can struggle with communication and building teams, SMEs can struggle with growth and succession planning, and startups can struggle with liftoff.
The mindset of learning from failure, however, remains central regardless of size. “Failure is not failure. It’s an opportunity to learn. Mistakes are only mistakes if you make them twice,” Barry said. He suggests analyzing failures to search for ways to improve and successes to learn what has been effective. Referencing his training in martial arts, he added, “It’s that white-belt mentality of thinking you’ve got something to learn no matter what level you’re at.” The elite performer, the person who attains strategic performance, is driven by a hunger for improvement. This type of high performer is constantly refining the strategy. Comparing an amateur’s eight-minute abs program to an Olympian’s detailed two-year training plan shows the necessary difference in mindset.
Performance and the Dark Side of Personality
Barry uses Hogan personality assessments in his business practice, calling them the bedrock of his recruitment and team programs. Hogan’s tools are reliable, valid, and simple to understand while being nuanced. To become high-performing leaders, individuals must understand their bright side (strengths), dark side (potentially overused strengths), and inside characteristics (values).
“The dark side is where the rubber hits the road for me,” Barry said, adding that adversity brings out a person’s true character. When he designs strategies, he focuses on how to recover from hardships and challenges. Self-awareness can help a person respond well during tough times. With it, elite performers can modify their behavior to benefit themselves and their teams.
Often our strengths can get us into trouble by derailing our behavior, sometimes to the point of career failure. The dark side, which is assessed by the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), measures strengths that might go into overdrive during times of stress or adversity. On an individual level, identifying these potential derailers is the first step to strategic self-awareness. On a team level, considering everyone’s scores can predict what they will find challenging and prepare them for enduring difficulties. Team reporting can also reveal team members who have useful skills outside their initial job scope or who have combinations of personality characteristics that might facilitate solving specific problems.
The strategic success of a high-performing team relies on the shared understanding of one another’s personality characteristics. Barry said that a high degree of respect was a necessary part of the culture of an elite team: “Emotional safety and inclusiveness are a participant in every high-performing team that I’ve looked at. Creating that is not easy because the trust has to be built.”
The Dos and Don’ts of Strategic Performance
To paraphrase Charles Darwin, the species that survives is not the most intelligent but the most adaptable. Strategic performance relies on knowing what to do, what not to do, and when to act.
What Not to Do
Don’t ignore your people. Most businesses invest a lot of time into financial strategy, but they don’t direct equal care and attention toward developing the people who will execute that strategy. Failing to factor in the human component of strategy is a harmful omission. “That goes back to creating high-performance individuals who can then participate in a high-performance team that will then deliver the strategy,” Barry said.
Don’t rely on luck instead of a sound business model. Throwing talent and money at a problem and hoping for the best leads straight to downsizing and bankruptcy. “The new survival is purpose and meaning,” he said. In a reliable business model, clarification means refining what your people understand about the plan. Prioritization means creating time for them to work on what matters. Execution means setting milestones so they can track their progress.
What to Do
Focus on teams. “Leaders now need to focus on developing high-performing teams. No leader is inherently good enough to do it by himself, and no team is inherently good enough to do it without creating that high-performance culture and being led appropriately,” Barry said. The strategy is simple but hard: define, prioritize, execute, and refine.
Know your purpose—and prepare for it. Barry compared elite-performing organizations to martial artists who train constantly and rigorously with a clarity of focus. “The people who invest in a clear understanding of the people they’ve got who execute plans will be the ones that enjoy strategic success in the future,” he said.
Listen to this conversation in full on episode 65 of The Science of Personality. Never miss an episode by following us anywhere you get podcasts. Cheers, everybody!