Managing for Peak Performance


“Put simply, the best managers bring out the best from their people. This is true of football coaches, orchestra conductors, big-company executives, and small-business owners. They are like alchemists who turn lead into gold. Put more accurately, they find and mine the gold that resides in everyone.” ~ Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

Most managers want their people to achieve excellence at work. We really can’t ask for more. In fact, peak performance can be defined as a combination of:

  • Excellence
  • Consistency
  • Ongoing improvement

To achieve peak performance, each person must find the right job, tasks and conditions that match his or her strengths. Facilitating the right fit therefore becomes one of a manager’s most crucial responsibilities. While every employee has the potential to deliver peak performance, it’s up to the manager to find ways to make it happen.

It’s easy to spot peak performance when it happens. It’s what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008). Employees who work at optimum levels experience a state of “flow,” typically losing themselves in a project, meeting or discussion. They may lose track of time or where they are.

Each of us has relished such moments, but it’s hard to purposely replicate “flow” experiences. Many managers struggle to find the right words to rekindle motivation in people who have lost their enthusiasm.