High performance and humanity

What is healthy peak performance? In recent years, some top performers at company tops have committed suicide, one suspects, because their relationship between high performance and their humanity was fatally out of balance. Let’s look at how we can maintain balance and enable healthy peak performance. The image of the scales is central: If the side of high performance is heavily burdened and one wants to keep it high, then we have to put just as much emphasis on the side of humanity in order to maintain balance instead of reducing performance in order to seek relief. In this article I refer to the work of management trainer Frank Breckwoldt. His book  «Hochleistung und Menschlichkeit» is freely available in stores. Frank Breckwoldt divides his management concept into three areas: internal management – how do I manage myself / the implementation – what tools do I manage with / external management – how do I interact. As an insight into the concept, I have put part of a podium interview on paper which revolves around external management. The interview was conducted by Jörg Haupt.

Jörg: Esther, you decided to work with Frank Breckwoldt’s pragmatic leadership concept: “High performance and humanity” – why?

Esther: The book is an extract of common sense for good leadership work. I am fascinated by the simple language, the comprehensibility, the doer quality. It is from the SME for SMEs. That makes it so accessible, especially for younger cadre people. Because 80% of our employees are led by basic managers. The core of this work comes from Switzerland. This is an important cultural component for our SMEs. Frank Breckwoldt – a Hamburg native – developed his management concept as head of his company Ryf Coiffeur. This is a Swiss company with over 100 branches and over 1,000 employees. Eric Bättig developed the system of Jaagou Talent & Team Profiles as well as the comprehensive accompanying and training material in Switzerland and made “High Performance and Humanity” widely applicable as a training concept with learning materials regardless of the author.

Jörg: Let’s get into the subject matter. The first of the principles for team leadership is: “Communicate overarching goals”. This is a truism: you have to know where you want to go in order to take the right direction! But what is behind this simple formula?

Esther: It’s about the big goals, the goals that create the sense of organization and the sense of cooperation. Those goals that align teams and organizations and answer the famous question of meaning. In this context, the term “inner compass” is used elsewhere. In English we also speak of “purpose driven organizations” and their power. This sense can be found, for example, in the vision of the company, in the brand core or in the mission statement. Unfortunately, many of these statements are paper tigers and are not really lived. Making a profit, wanting to be the best, the biggest or the first are probably good goals for ambitious owners. For many employees, these goals remain empty of content, they need orientation, a substance that nourishes their own sense and a sense of the world, creates meaning.

For example the Swiss company Wildbiene + Partner:

Their actions are geared towards providing sustainable food for the world by ensuring pollination in agriculture. They do this with a business model that uses wild bees as pollinators. They do not make honey. Therefore, they are not commercially interesting for the time being. They are also not threatened by bee mortality, which makes them valuable. The company has found a sensible, economical way to work with wild bees. You really want to participate, it’s about something earth-shattering and important. Well, that’s where the sense is obvious. Let’s take another example, a less obvious one: fashion – it is disreputable as superficial, hollow and commercial. There are certainly reasons for this, but I have a useful example: the Swiss clothes maker Ida Gut and her team live fully for the moment when the customer discovers something new about herself in her clothes, which seems beautiful to her and conjures a ray of joy in her face. Working towards these moments of appreciative self-knowledge again and again and then consciously and enjoyably perceiving them is something deeply fulfilling. It is real and it is honest. On both sides. One of my favourite areas for meaningfulness is the basic supply. It forms the foundation for quality of life in our society. Electricity, water, refuse collection, a warm home, mobility, food, education. Can you imagine how much energy can unfold in these companies if all employees are inspired by the sense they create with their work? We still have enormous development potential!

Jörg: Oh yes, and that raises a question about another principle of external management: “Believe in your employees”, or even shorter: “Trust leads”. But a popular wisdom says “Trust is good – control is better”. How much trust is good and what role does control play?

Esther: The magic word that connects and resolves this supposed contradiction is “personal responsibility”. If as managers we believe in our employees, if we really believe in them, then we give them full personal responsibility with our attitude. Then control is an ongoing comparison of the common understanding, a dialogue about the corrections that are made in this agreement. A manager who gives full confidence is gladly consulted when uncertainties and questions arise and is left alone when everything is clear. Cooperation develops effectively and efficiently. However, if we do not believe in our employees, mistrust comes into play. Mistrust is like a cloud between cooperation and casts its shadows. Control with an attitude of mistrust becomes a drudgery, it becomes demotivating and finally offends. Trustworthy employees who are managed in a culture of mistrust are under constant pressure to justify themselves and are under pressure to perform. It is never good enough. In clear cases, they will constantly protect themselves and gain recognition, but avoid uncertainties and questions. Cooperation is complicated and unproductive. This is also the case when distrustful employees come into a culture of trust. That is very difficult!

Jörg: When an employee starts anew, as a manager you don’t know yet whether you can trust the person. How do you build trust?

Esther: Trust is a basic attitude that is nourished by a positive image of people. A new employee receives full trust from the very beginning because it is worth it in the absolute majority of cases. We hire people because we trust them to do the job, don’t we? The central question is: where do we direct our attention? To the trustworthy – the majority – and behave with trust and appreciation from the very beginning, or to those few who abuse our trust and thus treat everyone else unworthily?

Jörg: And what if they make mistakes after all?

Esther: Frank Breckwoldt’s book contains an extremely important statement on this subject, which I would like to quote: “Often mistakes and risks that have occurred are lumped together. If an employee tries something new, goes a new way and thus takes a risk, and the “case of damage” occurs, then this is not a “mistake”, but a risk that has occurred. This distinction is central to a healthy risk culture that is so fundamental to innovation and development. In my opinion, the more common term error culture is too imprecise a word, and I prefer the term “risk culture” – which excludes irresponsible errors.

Now to the mistakes:

It depends on how much personal responsibility is used to deal with a mistake, because it can be deduced from this whether lessons have been learnt from the mistake. This can be seen from the degree of concern: If he has happened “ooops” thoughtlessly and somebody is going over it “ooops” succinctly, then the degree of concern is small. In this case, as a manager, you have to go back to the issue and create concern in order to help avoid repetition. Other people, on the other hand, are very affected by their own mistakes. Sometimes too much, then guilt comes into play. Consolation and support help to keep self-esteem high. In this context, I find the distinctions between trust, concern, responsibility and guilt incredibly valuable – if you can leave guilt out of the equation, then many things go much easier and better.