LOCKED Series #1: The Leadership Development Checklist


Leading a High-Performing Team

What do leaders of high performing teams do? It may be naïve to believe there is a simple answer to that question. But, this is the first in a series of articles that will address that question and, I hope, provide, if not a simple answer, then at least a comprehensive one. The truth is that there are more than a few things that leaders must do to be both effective and to drive better-than-average performance. There are countless books and articles dedicated to providing guidance to leaders. But, this series of seven articles will distill thousands of years and an ocean of ink down to just six basic principles.

There are two ideas that inspired the search for these principles. The first is a simple, yet powerful one that has enabled inherently risky endeavors such as military aviation, healthcare, and many others to achieve higher quality and safe outcomes – checklists. The second is that, although leadership is a highly complex subject, there are actions and activities that leaders can take on a daily basis to create high-performing teams and organizations. The combination of these two ideas yields the subject of this series – The Leadership Checklist.

Leadership Development Checklist

Decades ago, when I started down the path to become a U.S. Navy officer, a U.S. Marine handed me a small, wallet-sized, tri-fold card with a list of the USMC’s leadership traits and principles printed on it. I kept that card and referred to it often throughout many years of military service. It’s a great list and one useful to any leader in any organization. It is still in use throughout the Marine Corps today. But, it troubled me that the guidance it provided wasn’t always easy to translate into daily action. The card provided broad and often ambiguous guidance. I wanted something more tactical. I wanted a checklist that I could refer to daily, go down the items one-by-one, and check them off confidently saying to myself, “Yep, I did that today.”

A decade ago when I joined the Afterburner team, I recognized a simple structure in use that expressed the attributes of high-performing teams. That’s when I realized I had found the structure I was looking for to build an actionable leadership checklist. Structure is a critical ingredient to distilling down all the things a leader could do into a comprehensive but accessible list of things a leader should do . . . and make it short enough to list on one page. Structure allows one to put the multitude of behaviors of good leaders into a logical system that is easy to reference. We call this structure Locked on Teams.℠

For more than two decades, Afterburner has been consulting and training to the Flawless Execution™ Model, a performance improvement system that our client companies have often included in formal leader and leadership development programs. That Flawless Execution has a lot to offer leaders is clear, but it’s greatest value is in acting as an engine to drive the more complete and comprehensive Locked on Teams structure. Flawless Execution provides many of the process-oriented activities necessary for high-performance. Locked on Teams, however, expands beyond these activities to provide a holistic and comprehensive guide for leaders.

L.O.C.K.E.D on Teams

At Afterburner, we use the phrase ‘Locked on Teams’ because, in fighter aviation, weapons are “locked” on the target – the objective. ‘Locked’ is also an acronym. Each of the six letters corresponds to one of the primary categories of actions high-performing leaders and teams take to achieve success . . . and repeat it.

Here are the six categories and a brief explanation of their scope.

Leadership – Developing alignment & holding the team or organization accountable
Organization – Defining roles, developing processes, and creating standards
Communication – Information sharing & coordination
Knowledge – Acquiring, identifying & utilizing information
Experience – Diversity of “know how” needed for success
Discipline – Focusing on and doing the right things

These are broad categories. The short summary of the Locked on Teams checklist above isn’t sufficient to provide actionable guidance. In the course of the six articles to come, I will treat each of the six categories in greater detail. Each will be broken down into various daily and weekly actions that anyone can take to become a better leader and create a better team. But, I will start with the last, first. The next article in this series will take a deeper dive into the “D,” discipline. What does it mean; why it is so important to making the Locked on Teams leadership checklist a transformative tool; and what are the daily disciplined actions that lead to high performance?