What Does it Take to be a High-Performing, Conscious Leader

By Silke Zanker | Jul 19, 2018

In this third episode of the Conscious Conversations series, Silke Zanker and André Hartwich discuss five questions about high performance for conscious leaders.

We will dive deeper into some of the key aspects on how high performance for conscious leaders is the foundation of creating impact.

To achieve sustainable success, you need to focus on the I, We and It levels, and the way you show up is critical to achieving those.

We will also explore how, as a leader, you can approach your own performance in a way that you enjoy the ride, the people around you really benefit from the way you show up, and you stay healthy and happy at the same time.

Below you can listen to the full conversation.

Or you can skip ahead to any of the questions.

Why is high-performance a topic for conscious leaders?

How do you define high-performance for conscious leaders?

What are essential components of high-performance?

What are some practical ways to increase energy?


Speaker: Welcome to the Conscious Conversation Series. This is Episode Three, and today I’m speaking with Silke Zanker Head of Impact Creation, Delivery Excellence at Axialent University and André Hartwich, Director of Digitalization.

Speaker: Silke enjoys working with leaders to create cultures of excellence and compassion that have a positive impact in the world. As an entrepreneurial woman in business in key leadership roles have taught her the demands of our complex and disrupted world. She advises start-ups and profit for purpose organizations, has been a faculty member of various business schools, and enjoys her time mentoring young leaders.

Speaker: André is a transformational coach, facilitator and high performance expert who works with leaders and their teams to improve their leadership, impact and performance.

Speaker: In today’s episode, we talk about high performance for conscious leaders.

Speaker: Why is high performance a topic for conscious leader.

Silke: In a world where there is very high demands on everyone really, but particular on leaders, high performance for a leader is literally the baseline, it’s the foundation for creating impact. Within conscious business when we look at impact and sustainable success, we look at having success on the task level, on the organizational level, on the level of results, on the level of the team and building cultures of trust and collaboration and compassion. Also, on your personal level. How do you feel? How happy are you with what you’re doing? How do you feel you’re really making an impact in the world around you? When you look at these three levels, the way you show up is something that a conscious leader defines and does by choice. It’s not something you just leave to chance, whether you feel well, how you wake up, how you go into a meeting, how you go about a conversation that may be a difficult conversation that you have.

André: There’s quite a demand to be aware of all these different dimensions, so to speak, and like Silke said, that’s not by design, it requires planning. It requires preparation and a lot of awareness. So especially as a conscious leader I would say that high performance is a real must. It’s basically the foundation on which conscious leadership can be adequately executed.

Speaker 1: How do you define high performance for conscious leaders?

André: High performance for conscious leaders is about really living and leading from your best self. With the highest positive impact at any one moment. The whole thing is really about the question: How do we or I achieve sustainable success? How can I generate design and accomplish extraordinary results over prolonged periods of time? And that requires a holistic approach where the various dimensions of what it means to be a human being are optimized. So, I’m very aware of how do I show up physically, how do I take care of my body, so that my body is my best friend in that moment. And how do I take care of my mindset.

André: So, let’s say I’ve got a meeting and I want to have the high possible impact in that meeting, ideally as a leader I show up.  I invigorate my team. I inspire and empower my team. It requires a lot of energy. And it requires me to know who are the key players in this team who need information, from whom do I need information. So, it’s really a lot about preparation and having a very clear idea of what is the outcome that I’m after and how can I apply myself to my best ability to achieve that. A lot of leaders are very focused on the task, and let’s say getting the outward result.

André: To be able to maintain high impact and purposeful impact over prolonged periods of time, I need to take into account how long can I sustain my concentration? How long can I focus for? How long can I keep my mind present and focused? What about my body? If I got meetings that go on for a long time, and I’m not hydrating myself. If I skip breakfast, how am I going to avoid that I have an energy dip? We want to be ahead of that curve and be sure that I’m optimizing everything that I can within my sphere of influence so that I can perform at my best.

Silke: High performance is not only performing high at one moment in time. Let’s say you have a project to finish and then you’re just giving your best until the end of the month, and then you collapse. That’s not high performance, that’s just having a peak performance for a moment, and then you go back down a level or a couple of levels. So, what we think is: How can you approach your own performance in a way that you enjoy the ride? That the people around you really benefit from the way you show up and that you stay healthy and happy at the same time. Those are not exclusive to one another you can be really successful in your professional environment as well as enjoy your free time, enjoy time with your family, and be healthy at the same time. We want to bring that to the forefront to say to leaders that its part of your job to also be a role model around how to live a conscious life as you are engaging being in conscious leader in a business that is successful on many different levels.

André: I would add to that high performance is very much about making the right choices from moment to moment. That’s of course also where proper knowledge and self-awareness come in. Like discernment, what would be the right choice in this moment to have the highest possible outcome. It also requires, especially from a leader, is to have vision. A visionary person has basically a gaze into the future looking at the possibility at what’s possible. Having a plan of design or just this let’s say background intention of being able to make the most of this present moment, but at the same time also being very aware of what’s lying ahead and making sure they still got the stamina and the mental agility to be able to show up tomorrow and like Silke said, a month now and two months from now.

Speaker: What are essential components of high performance?

Silke: High performance is not something that you have or that you don’t have. Kind of that you’re born with or you’re not born with, but it is something that you can create and that you can consciously develop. Whenever we want to make a change in our lives that is a sustainable change with Axialent we say you look at the underlying part of the iceberg where you say: What is the mindset with which I look at the world? What’s the perception I have of a certain situation? What are the beliefs I hold? What are the values I carry?  Because those inform how I behave, which skills I want to develop, and ultimately the results that I will have on different levels. So, when we look at high performance, the components of high performance are on the levels of mindsets, of habits, and then of course, of skills as well.

Silke: Some practical examples or some skills and habits that we can look at is first one of course is the mindset of knowing that you have a choice at every moment that you’re not the victim of the circumstances. That’s really where it starts. That you have that vision and that clarity of where you want to go. Then when you look at a team or a culture of a company, how you can influence and communicate and positively influence people to achieve a certain vision to work toward a certain vision and be productive as a team. Those are certainly habits and skills that you would define as high performance skills and habits.

André: How do I assess as a human organism how am I optimizing this functioning on a physiological level, and like Silke mentioned, emotional level and mental level. So, part of it is if I would look more from a mechanical point of view what does it take and what can I integrate into my daily life is: How can this machine work at its best? You know, so that my body is really high energy. It’s mobile. It’s full of vitality and energy and health. Then the same idea. I want to have that also expressed in my mental and emotional life so to speak.

André: But then there’s also like the attitudes. For example, something that people don’t always think about as high performance is just this questioning of: What else is possible? What more is possible? How can this be better? Maybe we think, well, okay, yeah, if we work on a project it makes sense to think like that, but I’ve experienced people around me and also myself when I’m simply in meetings or meeting people for lunch, I’m still asking myself those questions. How can I make the conversations have more meaning? How interested am I at finding out from the person that is opposite me, what are their needs? How can I make the most difference in this moment to this person?

André: If we do this often enough in various different contents, the more it becomes ingrained in our internal mental makeup and the more it becomes just part of every breath we take and how we perceive the world and how we perceive our work and how we perceive each moment, which will then also as a consequence of answering those questions, then we start to see that oh, you know what, I feel that my energy levels are dropping. I find it harder to focus and actually be able to listen to what this person is saying. What do I need to change?

André: The other big one is actually culture. I’ve been in companies where when we would ask, “What happens if you would actually take a break for lunch? Do people frown upon that?” In some companies people really go, yeah, yeah. If you’re not eating at your desk, that’s kind of a no-no. So, then you can have all these big ideas of we’re really going to create high performance, and we’re gonna create these great habits as a team that is going through a training, but then when you go back to your environment at work, and no one does that, that’s a big step to take.

André: So, culture is a big thing. Again, culture and creating a support group for me those are very much tied together. It’s very important when we become conscious of the principles of high performance, and we start to apply ourself, is to not just keep it to ourselves. Involve people in that change and in creating a culture and an environment where we facilitate high performance.

Silke: One thing that I’ve noticed working with people, what stands in their way of high performance is actually a very deeply rooted belief that being successful means you have to sacrifice and it must hurt. Like many people grow up where if I don’t feel challenged enough and if it’s not difficult, I must be doing something wrong. That could be this mindset, it could be another deeply held belief around if I take a break, then I’m being lazy. So, those are just two examples that I have come across multiple times.

Silke: Very often in life when we want to change something what is standing in our own way is literally ourselves. Therefore, when we look at conscious business, the fundamental part of becoming more conscious is literally becoming aware of what is holding us back, what are our levers for change, and what is it that we really want to achieve.

Speaker: What could stand in the way of people’s high performance?

André: There are various things that can stand in the way. One thing that I’ve seen often happen especially when people actually become aware, explicitly aware of high performance and they start to work on it, is the tendency to go like, “Oh, I really need to focus on this part.” So let’s say an obvious one for a lot of people and also the easiest often to start to work with is with our physical body. So people start to really focus on getting more movement, which is essential and maybe start working out. Then the whole high performance sometimes gets deduced to just a physicality or the physiological aspect of it. The main things about high performance is really it’s a holistic approach.

André: The other is perhaps lacking a support group around us. If I want to create a change in my daily habits and rhythms, but for example at home, I’ve not involved my partner at home or my kids or whoever is around me a lot, sometimes that can be quite challenging, because people have a certain expectation of how your rhythm looks like, what you eat, what you do. If you don’t share your new plan with them and your change and you don’t involve them in the conversation and maybe even involve them in the actual process of creating a new habit for example, that can be something that will work against you.

André: Another thing that can stand in the way is simply lack of knowledge. It’s not knowing where to start or what to do.

Speaker: What are some of the practical ways to increase energy?

André: One of the most effective ways to increase energy is simply to move the body. Especially in the context of high performance often people equate that with exercise, and when we make it about exercise or working out, then the bar goes a little bit higher, because I might have to go to a gym or I have to go run, and all those things are fantastic, and there’s definitely a place for them, but before that is simply to think about movement. Move the body as often as you can throughout the day. So, movement is a big one and I would say a second one is hydration. With hydration I specifically mean water. Drinking enough water for your own constitution.

Silke: Something that everybody notices is I guess if you are in a room with no window, and hardly any oxygen, people get tired. That’s logical, because we need oxygen to think. We need oxygen to feel alive. To live. Now, when I start feeling I get tired, the first thing I do is literally to move and to open the window or get some fresh air. Sometimes we are in meetings and there are five people sitting around the table and everyone suffers and gets more tired and more tired and we could just get up and open the window for example.

Silke: Having enough oxygen is super important, and that brings me to another very practical way of changing our state, our internal state so that we have more mental energy, but also more physical energy is to actually work with the breath. If is the most simple tool that we have with us, and we breathe anyways all the time. To learn effective ways on how to use our breath in a really effective way has been one of the most, for me personally, one of the most revealing experiences in terms of my own high performance.

André: Even when we feel very, very tired, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t have energy. I think that’s a big myth. It simply means that in that moment we might not be able to access energy that is stored in our system. That’s what movement can do. It can actually help us access stored energy in our kidneys, in our thighs, in our spine where we tend to hold energy, so even when we’re very tired and something that I often teach people is like you’re so sleepy and tired and all that you’re dreaming about is the moment that you see your bed and just lie down, then eventually after that whole torture of trying to stay alert and trying to stay awake, you make it to your bed, and you lie down and you’re like, “Okay, let’s have it. Sleep please come and take me.” You close your eyes, and you’re just awake. What’s happening is you’re too tired to relax. Relaxation actually takes a certain amount of energy.

André: What I often teach people when they experience that is instead of just laying there and hope that sleep will come, is actually get up. Do some very gentle activations or stretches, movements that involve your thighs, maybe spinal twists where you just turn your body a little bit from side to side to tap into the energy in your system. What you’ll find is it will give you just enough energy to get your nervous system to be able to activate your relaxation response.

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