Spotlight on Performance

We are fortunate to work with visionary business leaders, top athletes, and diverse and talented individuals who are committed to achieving excellence in all aspects of their lives. In our work, we are not just sharing our knowledge, but also always learning and growing through the process ourselves.

This is my place to share my views on sustainable high performance with you on a quarterly basis.

Q3 · 2023
Don’t do it alone – building support networks is key

In various previous editions of Spotlight on Performance, I have shared some of the key insights and learnings from working with world-class performers that are relevant for outstanding executive performance. One of these factors is the support an individual gets from people around them. I’ll use this edition to explore this in more detail and explain what you can do to create great support networks of your own.

It’s tough at the top

First, it’s important to recognize the full scale of the challenges you face as an executive, business leader, entrepreneur or someone about to get to the top in the corporate world. Your role is anything but easy. If it were, many more people would be capable of stepping up to become a senior executive or CEO. These challenges typically include:

  • A highly competitive business environment
  • Constant commercial and technological change
  • Adverse economic circumstances
  • High pressure to perform
  • Intense stakeholder scrutiny
  • Enormous workload

And this is just the start! I’m sure you can think of even more challenges, including some that are specific to your own industry or organization. With so many obstacles to overcome, many leaders reveal to me that their lives can be lonely because they feel that very few people, if any, share their heavy burden or face their challenges.

The truth is that “doing it alone” is indeed very tough. I am not saying that you cannot get to the top and achieve great things alone. It is possible. But the price can be high. Sooner or later, it will probably take its toll in the form of diminishing personal energy levels, lack of shared (emotional) rewards and the feeling of isolation.

It will be much easier to deliver high performance sustainably if you are inspired and backed-up by a diverse range of people who believe in you, who are fundamentally on your side and want you to succeed. It will be healthier and less exhausting if you have people “in your camp”. The good news is that there are steps you can take to make sure you are not on your own.

Here are some ideas on how you can systematically build a strong support system to help maintain excellence over the long term. To start, I recommend that you take a piece of paper to visualize the following four key areas of support – put yourself in the middle and then write down the names of supporting people in separate boxes around you:

1. Team support

This applies, of course, to the direct teams that you assemble and lead. You will derive great personal benefits from building and maintaining high-functioning teams. First and foremost, it is key that your direct team, your Team #1, is highly functional. You need to deliberately invest time and effort in:

  • Building trust – be a role model of both vulnerability and resilience
  • Mastering conflicts – embrace the diversity of team members and define conflict norms to co-create great decisions
  • Achieving commitment – engage everyone to emotionally buy-in and own decisions to ensure executional discipline
  • Embracing accountability – address difficult conversations early, providing regular feedback and support for each other
  • Focusing on results – making collective success the absolute priority.

Commit to providing each team member with your maximum support. This will generate motivation, teamwork and, above all, trust from your teams. This, in turn, will maximize the chances of them returning their support and loyalty to you, which are essential for you to lead successfully.

2. Home support

Beyond the teams you lead, I recommend taking a deliberate approach to invest in and build up strong support at home. Clearly, “home” can be very diverse, from single people to couples and families. But whatever your personal situation, creating a supportive and trustworthy environment among partners, family and friends requires some specific actions too. I go into a lot more detail about this in my book More Life, Please! including the following:

  • Having a large network of many people is great but having strong trust and real support from a few people is more critical. Make sure you have at least one person with whom you can be completely yourself and share the stresses you are under
  • Prioritize family and friends who you want to stay connected to over the long term
  • Think of the specific needs of others. There is no better way to build trust and support than to give to those around you
  • In times of stress or need, instead of reaching only in, don’t be afraid to reach out to your most trusted family and friends
  • Ritualize meaningful interactions that will ensure strong bonding and great moments together. It is not the amount of time we spend with each other that matters most, but the quality of the moments we experience with each other.

Having a network of people outside work who support and love you unconditionally is immensely important to feel safe, protected and at peace. It will allow you to let go and recover more efficiently in periods of massive stress. Furthermore, very often you can rely on the “home” people for honest, constructive feedback that will help you keep things in perspective. They will fuel your life, your heart and your confidence.

3. Professional support

The third key area is your extended professional network. The demands you face will only get greater as your career takes off, with increasing pressure to deliver, so it is vital to establish strong relationships with a number of people beyond your direct teams who can:

  • Guide you with specific expertise, knowledge and insights
  • Be a great sparring partner for you to “bounce ideas”
  • Inspire and motivate you
  • Fuel your creativity
  • Embrace your vulnerabilities
  • Go the extra-mile for you if needed.

This network can include experts in your field, mentors and coaches – people who will challenge you, in a supportive way, to think differently or “outside the box”. Again, here, it’s crucial to recognize that you need to invest time and effort to build up the extended professional support system and expand it as you move into new roles.

My advice on how to cultivate such a network starts with keeping a list of people outside your workplace and home life who inspire you most. Make it part of your routine to look at the list every second week to plan one or two actions: going for lunch, scheduling a call, keeping in touch. Deliberately take time out to interact with these people to gain fresh perspectives.

4. Support from your leaders

Finally, I would like to encourage you to invest and build a strong relationship with your own leaders. Especially your connection with your direct leader is one of the most important relationships. Having your leaders fully on your side and backing you up is a key foundation for your success. The quality of the relationship you have with your leaders will significantly influence your levels of confidence, courage and determination. Understand the challenges and stresses that your leaders are facing and show empathy over their human strengths and vulnerabilities. Do everything you can to help your leaders be successful. Be trustworthy in your interactions and reliable in your actions.

Responsibility brings rewards

At the core of all your support networks is your passion, commitment, honesty and desire to make a positive impact. It is your own positive characteristics that will attract amazing people to support you and share your journey. And remember, to maintain the highest level of support, you must always take full responsibility and be accountable for actions and outcomes – especially when things don’t work out as expected. Nourish your key relationships and never take them for granted. Keep investing in them, help and support the people in your support networks and regularly express your gratitude to those around you. In return, they will always respect, trust and share the journey with you. They will always be on your side.


All the best,