Leadership Advice

How do you define ‘high performers’?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

I asked a recent class of managers to think about some high performers on their teams. One of the participants asked: “How do you define a high performer?”

Her question was driven by a concern that managers may have very subjective views on performance. For example, she said, what about bosses who judge people by their willingness to put work above all else, even to the detriment of their personal lives?

Good point. Flawed managers make flawed assessments of performance. So let’s do a quick checklist of what good managers should consider hallmarks of high performers:

  • Exceptional craft skills: Their work sets the standard for others.
  • Mastery: They possess deep, specialized knowledge, which may come from study, professional or life experiences (or all of them); they are continuous learners.
  • Initiative: They are intrinsically motivated, often a step ahead of others (including their managers) with ideas and plans.
  • Integrity: They demonstrate commitment to ethics, diversity and inclusivity; they inspire trust.
  • Collaboration: They work as respected and respectful teammates; the work’s more enjoyable when they’re on the team.
  • Work ethic: They carry their fair share of the load; they reliably make deadlines (and on those rare occasions they might miss, they send an alert.) 

Please note that nothing on the list says that high performers suck up to their bosses, make no mistakes, accept every assignment unquestioningly, cheer for corporate mandates, or happily  work ungodly hours. In fact, they may be people who question and challenge, especially on behalf of teammates who have less tenure or influence.

What earns them high esteem is their ability to make the work and the workplace better by the gifts they bring to the party, day after day. They deserve to be reminded by their supervisors just how valuable that is — and how valued they are.

That, by the way, was my purpose in asking my management class about their high performers. As admirable as those A-players are, we may miss opportunities to tell them how much they’re appreciated. They’re so self-directed and reliable that we may take them for granted. We might assume that good people know they’re good and don’t need to be reminded.

Don’t make that assumption. Believe instead that they deserve to know they’ve made your list, exactly why, and how much it matters. 

After all, high performing employees deserve high-performing managers.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments