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How to Lead High Performing Teams

The leadership topic of high-performing teams is timeless. Leaders that focus on building high-performing teams reap significant rewards and return on their investments. There is much that can be learned from the coaches of teams playing at the world's highest levels of athleticism. José Mário dos Santos Mourinho is widely considered one of the greatest football team managers, winning league titles in four countries. In the Netflix series, The Playbook, Mourinho points out that the hidden talents of exceptional players such as football great Cristiano Renaldo can never be revealed without great teams. Mourinho makes a powerful yet subtle point that great teams and leaders are not selfish. This article explores the current research into the importance of a selfless leadership style and presents questions for any leader to consider that is looking to build a high-performance team.

"The concept of a team is one of the most beautiful things." Jose Mourinho

What are High Performing Teams?

Team potential is more than the sum of the individuals on the team. The value of high-performing teams is widely understood. McKenzie & Company found that a high-performance management team working together toward a common goal is 1.9 times as likely to have above-average financial performance. Leadership guru Ken Blanchard said it this way, “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”

What team would you think of if asked to name a high-performing team? Living south of Chicago during the 1990s, my thoughts immediately go to the Chicago Bulls and their domination of six National Basketball Association championships. While there is much debate over the greatest of all-time teams, there is little debate that the 1990's Chicago Bulls were a high-performing basketball team.

There is a clear difference between a team and a high-performing team. High-performing teams outperform other teams by consistently having better morale and collaboration and delivering better results and innovation. The following short video provides some valuable insights into high-performance teams through reflections from the Chicago Bulls Last Dance Netflix mini-series.

What is Leadership Style?

Leadership is a system increasingly impacted by technology and consists of the leader, followers, the situation, and time. Effective leadership is one of the critical qualities of high-performing teams. Leadership style is how the leader influences a team to accomplish a common goal and consists of both the leader's attributes and behaviors:

  • Leadership Behavior – is how a leader responds within the leadership system. A behavior is something that can be seen and described.

  • Leadership Attribute – is an inherent quality of a leader as perceived by others.

In today’s turbulent and fast-paced digital marketplace, leaders are challenged to quickly discern and apply an appropriate leadership style that brings out the best in followers. Servant leadership, transformational leadership, authentic leadership, and spiritual leadership are four emerging leadership styles gaining increased attention globally for their proven benefits. While similar, these leadership styles are not the same, and often each leadership challenge requires a blended style approach. To learn more about how these leadership styles compare, check out this article on 4 Emerging Leadership Styles and Why You Should Care.

Selfless Leadership and High-Performance Teams

Leadership is difficult. Shifting the focus from individual performance to collective team performance among talented individuals will unlock what Jose Mourinho described as hidden talents.

Several research studies have linked a selfless leadership style (altruism) with high-performing teams and organizational citizenship behaviors. Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is considered in organizational development to be the most prized treasure of performance management. It is a term used to describe positive employee behaviors that are not a part of an employee's formal job description. An example to illustrate this behavior in the workplace is to consider two retail employees working at the same store with the same job description. One employee pushes a cart in the parking lot into the store on their way into work, and the other does not. Neither of them has this behavior as a requirement of their job description; however, the benefit to the business's customers is clear. This is the idea of organizational citizenship behavior. When employees go beyond what is expected, it unlocks performance potential and enhanced results.

Knowledge sharing within a team is vital because no one’s knowledge is perfect. In the modern workplace, where employees' jobs involve handling or using information, knowledge hoarding behaviors are incredibly damaging to the individual, team, and organizational performance. How a leader chooses to lead is proven to influence a team climate of knowledge sharing. In one study of more than 1,800 employees across 67 sales teams, it was discovered that leaders applying a selfless leadership style positively influenced knowledge sharing and, ultimately, the team's performance and organization.

Leaders that display a selfless leadership style are viewed as positive role models by followers.

Selfless leaders show a high degree of moral behavior, virtues, character, and work ethic. According to Jose Mourinho, an example of selfless leadership in Portuguese professional football is that they “sweat their shirt.” They work so hard that they are drenched after playing.

Selfless Leadership Development

Leaders looking to build high-performing teams require leading the team from being selfish to selfless. The following are a few questions for leaders looking to build high-performance teams to consider:

Selfless Behaviors

  • Have I talked about my most important values and beliefs with my team?

  • What have I done to communicate the importance of team trust?

  • What steps can I take to reinforce the importance of purpose?

  • How can I reinforce the need for teamwork and make the possibilities real for others?

Selfless Attributes

  • What actions can I take to infuse pride in others?

  • What personal sacrifices am I willing to make for others?

  • How can I demonstrate respect for others?

  • What can I do to create hope for the future within others?

If you are interested in learning more about selfless leadership, you will want to check out one of our upcoming webinars on Servant Leadership: Skillsets and Mindsets for Success and Significance. Also, if you are interested in better understanding your leadership style? Contact Organizational Talent Consulting to learn more about a leadership style inventory assessment and personalized executive coaching to elevate your potential.


Scott Keller and Mary Meaney, Leading Organization: Ten Timeless Truths, New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Song, C., Park, K. R., & Kang, S. (2015). Servant leadership and team performance: The mediating role of knowledge-sharing climate. Social Behavior and Personality, 43(10), 1749-1760.

Sosik, J. & Jung, D. (2018). Full range leadership development: Pathways for people, profit, and planet. Routledge.

Walumbwa, F., Hartnell, C., & Oke, A. (2010). Servant leadership, procedural justice climate, service climate, employee attitudes, and organizational citizenship behavior: A cross-level investigation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(3), 517-529.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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