Leadership: What Does It Take To Generate Impressive Performance?

What Do You Make Of The Following?

Recently, Richard and I (along with another colleague) took part in a sales discovery workshop.  This is the feedback our colleague (the ‘sales guy’) got from the ‘client’:

Hi …….

Thank you for coming to …….. yesterday. I think we all agree that it was a very positive and useful workshop, which was run extremely well by Maz and Richard (Maz in particular is a very impressive facilitator – we could use him on other projects!)…….

What do you make of it?  Did you attribute the success of this workshop to Richard?  Did you attribute the success of this workshop to me – the “very impressive facilitator”?  Did you attribute success both to Richard and me, yet put me at the front of the stage and Richard more towards the back of the stage?  Allow me to share with you how almost all of us would interpret the situation:

Nice job all – particularly Maz Iqbal that is GREAT feedback!

Distinguishing Between A Statement-Description That Is Accurate And One Which Is True

Whilst the client’s statement is accurate it is not true.  Why?  Think of it this way, the client only got to see-experience the show.  The client did not get to see-experience all that occurred.  His position to some extent was that of a spectator in the stands watching the play occurring on the pitch.  And as such he is not in a position to know-experience the play occurring on the pitch and all that it takes to generate a high performance play.

Why am I pointing this out to you?  It occurs to me that there is a profound difference between observations and statements made by those in the stands (‘spectators’) and by those on the pitch (‘players’).  Given that almost all that you/i hear-read is spoken-written about is written by spectators. So whilst what they speak may be accurate it is never true.  Which means that almost all leadership-management-business advice that you/i are exposed to is misleading at best and damaging-destructive at worst. Why? It gives the illusion of answers whilst hiding that which is hidden in the background and which truly shapes that which occurs.

Who Creates-Shapes Performance?

Take a look at the following video:

I ask you, who-what created the context-space for the performance of the expert?  Was it the expert – as an individual?  Or was his performance shaped by the context-space created from him by the ‘sales guy’ and the project manager?

Now zoom out and look at the bigger picture: the bigger conversation that is occurring in the room and the performance of the whole group.  Didn’t the client also play a crucial role in generating the kind of performance that occurred in that meeting?

Let’s switch back to my very impressive performance as a facilitator. What was my response to this feedback:

@…. It occurs to me that I showed up as an impressive facilitator because the space for me to show up that way was created by @RichardHornby and @……. and the client. The folks from [the client] were great. We were able to co-create a great meeting as there were no egos in the room…..

Am I being modest?  No.  It occurs to me that I am simply stating what is so: the truth of high (impressive) performance.  The truth is this:

The ‘sales guy’ was big enough to let Richard and I shape-lead the workshop. At one point, I told the ‘sales guy’ that I was taking away his right to speak as his speaking, whilst necessary at some point, was inappropriate at that workshop given the challenge we were addressing and the time that we had. The ‘sales guy’ took it as it was meant and did what he was asked.

The ‘project manager’ Richard and I have shared history that goes back to the year 2000.  Richard listens to me as a skilled facilitator. In his listening it is simply not possible for me not to show up as a skilled facilitator.  He creates the context-space for me to show up that way AND his listening of me also ensures that it is simply not feasible for me to allow myself to let him down. Richard and I are friends! We designed the workshop together – collaboratively and iteratively.

By the time we got to the workshop Richard and I knew exactly who was doing what. And this is important: I got up to facilitate that workshop knowing in my very being that I was totally safe (Richard was holding the safety net) no matter what.  And in that space I was prepared to shine.

Ultimately I showed up as a “very impressive facilitator” because all members of the client team sitting around the team allowed me to show up that way. How did they do that? They left their egos outside of the room, the workshop. And as such there was all the space to work collaboratively on the challenge at hand.

The Challenge of Leadership: Creating The Context-Space For Impressive Performance To Show Up

I say that:

  • impressive performance shows up when you create the context-space for impressive performance AND only impressive performance to show up; and

  • leaders are those people who create the context-space for impressive performance and only impressive performance to show up at the individual and ‘team’ levels.

Shining Example Of A Servant Leader
Shining Example Of A Servant Leader


I dedicate this ‘conversation’ to my friend Richard Hornby.  Richard shows up for me as a shining example of a servant leader.  I owe him more than I can ever repay.  And I am clear that this world is a richer-better place for Richard being in it.





Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

4 thoughts on “Leadership: What Does It Take To Generate Impressive Performance?”

  1. Maz, I absolutely underwrite your position. I would use ‘service’ rather than ‘servant’ but I guess that is a fine point, just as I would use ‘caring’ where you use ‘love’ in many places. I am less flowery in my prose.

    Great leaders always look for people who are better than they are and then facilitate an environment in which all these people can deliver their best. It usually means to work out of the background and/or backstage. Those who lead by standing in front are obviously standing in the way of these others being successful. That means the overall outcome is limited by that persons limitations. But standing back that not mean that there is no guidance and chaos will prevail. As long as there are clear goals and the means to achieve available then there is no problem to hand over authority to those excellent people. If you can’t trust them with the authority then you have not chosen the right people.

    Too often in large corporations the goals are fuzzy and the means are withheld and therefore authority is not given either as the people actually have no opportunity to do what they are supposed to do.

    Another aspect of this is something you pointed out in another post. Clearly, those great people you chose also must be able to perform free of fear. If they have to worry that they might be punished for actions that don’t work out then they will simply not act.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Max,

      I find myself to be in agreement with you. And I thank you for sharing your perspective.

      It occurs to me that there is one dimension that I failed to sufficiently convey. That we too often give too much, and sometimes, all the attention to those on the stage and thus in direct contact with the audience. And, in so doing are simply not present to all those on the backstage, and the critical importance of their contribution. Where would CEOs be without all the staff? Where would the sales guys be without the product specialists working away on developing new products? Where would the marketing guys be without the product guys? Where would actors be without those who prepare the stage, provide the lighting …….? I call it the Jobs-Ives phenomenon. Jobs got pretty much all of the credit-press. Yet, Ives was essential-critical player. And Jobs-Ives went together as one relational entity.

      I hope all is well with you. Forgive my delay in responding; I have been going through some challenges recently and they have taken up much of my time.

      At your service


    1. Hello James

      I find myself in agreement with you. It occurs to me that what makes me ‘dangerous’ and a maverick is that I have been gifted the gift of indifference to monetary incentives. Perhaps, that has been because my base salary has always been enough for my lifestyle.

      At your service


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: