Coaching Tip – Discover How Smart Leaders Develop High Performers

Coaching Tip – Discover How Smart Leaders Develop High Performers


As any experienced leader knows, top performers are essential to a company’s success because of the quality of their work. It’s not surprising that many leaders make it a priority to prevent their most successful people from being poached by headhunters.

Yet, these high performers can also present challenges for leaders because they often act as lone wolves and sometimes require kid glove treatment.

One of the things leaders can do to earn their high performers’ loyalty is to help them do even.  Since high performers are typically results driven, this gives them a reason to stay.

How can a leader support its top performers to get even better results while also addressing the issues they pose?

Part of the solution lies in coaching, but with a difference.

Traditional coaching methods often don’t work with high performers which can cause both leaders and high performers to avoid coaching. The result is their coaching relationship can dwindle and, in many cases, cease. Beware of this as it becomes fertile ground for headhunters.

Getting the most from your high performers while being cognizant of their challenges is a three-part process:

1. Do a Reality Check about Your High Performers

High performers are usually quick thinkers. This may seem to be great for engaging others, but it comes at a cost.

Because high performers think quickly, their fast brains limit their ability to adapt their communications to others who may not think as fast as they do. The result is holes in their communication — they may think that the people they speak with “got it” when in fact they didn’t.

Misunderstandings created by this dynamic can create a ripe environment for unsatisfactory interactions, and as a consequence, you may be spending more time than you want cleaning up the fallout left by your perpetrating high performers.

How do you work with these potential challenges?

2. Be Different When Coaching Your High Performers

The secret is to stop focusing your coaching on the behaviors of your top performers. Instead, focus your coaching on the thinking behind those behaviors.

Set your sights on being the catalyst of your top performers’ thinking. An improvement in their behaviors will naturally follow, which will result in their further improved results. This way, you coach to their strength of being quick thinkers.

As their leader, your role is to not to try to do the thinking for them. Instead, your coaching role is to improve your top performers’ thinking. They’ll then apply their new and improved thinking to their work and their conversations.

How do you provide them with feedback so they can improve?

3. Match Your Feedback to Your Top Performers 

Most people like to receive accolades. Yet, positive feedback isn’t always what high performers want to hear. There is a place where positive feedback is helpful when coaching top performers and there’s a place where positive feedback can be unproductive.

When top performers try new approaches, they usually appreciate and desire positive feedback.

But once top performers develop a level of skill or mastery in a particular area, research (Finkelstein, S.R., & Fishbach, A.) indicates that they want “negative” feedback. Top performers want to know what they did that didn’t work and figure out how to do it even better next time.

Knowing when to provide positive or “negative” feedback is essential when it comes to coaching your high performers.

Reality is: You really don’t know when or with whom to use positive or negative feedback. It can be a crap shot. The best way to go about it is to ask each of your top performers how they prefer their feedback. And then get feedback on your feedback so you know if what you are doing is working for your top performers.

When you are looking to retain your top performers, focus on understanding them better, coaching their thinking and providing them the “right” kind of feedback. This way, you’ll keep the headhunters at bay.

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