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How to Get Top Performance from Your Team

Written By: Jessica Farquhar Campbell

As a leader, some of my most nervous moments are when my team members are out there representing me and our team. What if they make a mistake? What if I’m not there to step in and help? Sometimes my palms sweat when they give a presentation, speak up on a call, or send out an email I haven’t reviewed. Even though I want to see my team members shine, it's hard to let go of control. I know I need to get out of the way, but I still get the urge to intervene and “correct” them.

Luckily, I have learned a few ways that we as well-intended leaders can get top performance out of our team members and feel relaxed and confident about their work. It starts with creating psychological safety, the sweet spot between expecting high-quality output and making it safe to try new things.

One of my favorite tools for leaders is the personal user manual (PUM)—a document that proactively sets expectations upfront—which is best used when you acquire your team or hire a new person. Often, leaders are skilled at setting goals or 90-day plans for their employees, but they overlook the how. We love to say things like, “I don’t care how you get it done, just get it done”, and that can be true to a point. The truth is that we all have personal preferences, leadership styles, and even fears. And the sooner and more clearly we communicate them, the safer our teams feel. And the better they perform.

A user manual can be a great way for team members to get to know one another by sharing work styles, personality types, work hours, and more. But when you are a leader, there’s another dimension that can make a big difference. A leader user manual will let your team members know what is important to you, and because it is in concrete form, you are giving them a reference, not just dropping hints here and there.

Common elements that everyone should consider putting in their user manual include a brief profile/experience summary, functions, certain personal details, daily routine, projects, skills, how they like to work, and energy drains. Additionally, top strengths (from Core Strengths or other assessments), things they love, favorite foods, and hobbies can add a little depth. I find a visual version stored in a common place to be effective for initial presentation and for jogging memories.

For leaders, adding two sections can go a long way to communicate up front your expectations:

  • How I Like to Lead: List your approaches and/or philosophies

  • To Get the Best of Me: Detail your expectations of employees, which gives them a clue about what to prioritize.

For example, under “How I l Like to Lead,” my user manual states, "I commit to creating a work environment where you can bring your whole self to work; 1-x-1 meetings are yours to own and drive; and I heart career conversations.” In my “To get the best of me” section, I lay out the following: create success metrics, ask for feedback, and hold me accountable. When we were onboarding a new team member, we held an in-person team forming session, where, among other activities, we all shared our user manuals. They were a hit!

Once I had taken the time to articulate my commitments and expectations, I felt a lot more confident as a leader. I was less nervous in real time knowing that I had shared with my team members what was important to me. When I press them on something, such as success metrics, I know they aren’t caught off guard because I am clear that those are important to me. During feedback sessions, my team reinforces my leadership approach by reflecting back to me the parts I am doing well. For example, I often hear how much my team members appreciate the career conversations we have. But they also know I want to hear what I can do better because I have set that as an expectation in my user manual.

If you want to create your own user manual, it can be as simple as putting the headings listed above in a document or presentation format. I like the template Mural offers and customized it to make it my own. Whether you have a formal people leadership role or are leading through non-positional power, letting people know how to work with you creates true collaboration and better outcomes for all. User manuals are a fun way to get to know yourself and others but are not the only way to communicate your needs at work. What opportunity do you have this week to get clear about your needs, and what’s one action you can take to speak up about them? If you are a leader of a team, which element of your user manual could your team be reminded about? This post supports the Kentucky Health Justice Network.


Meet the Author

Jessica Farquhar Campbell

Jessica Farquhar Campbell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Purdue and is the author of the poetry chapbook, Dear Motorcycle Enthusiast. She has completed executive education on positive leadership through the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and is a Certified Core Strengths facilitator partner. She writes on Substack about wielding power at work and offers services through her consulting firm, Frittata.


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