Are you holding on too tight?

I was excited last week when I received a card from my bank to thank me for being a loyal, long-term customer. (It was interesting that ‘long-term’ is now just 3 years, but that’s a whole other blog…). The card told me that I had a confectionery hamper plus two gifts to choose from, all sourced from local suppliers and invited me to select my gift next time I was in town.

Win! Win! Win!

I was liking so much about this initiative.

First, I know how impactful showing appreciation and gratitude is. Research in positive psychology shows that it is one of the most powerful strategies an organisation can use to build trust, connection and collaboration between people.

Second, here was a ‘not big bank’ making personal contact and inviting me to build in-person relationships by visiting the branch. This was a refreshing change in our increasingly depersonalised, online culture, but I could see under their tactic – this was a way for me to build a connection to my local ‘branch tribe’ which would make it harder to leave. Personal contact creates a relationship, and evidence in customer behaviour indicates that with relationship comes loyalty and commitment.

Third, the confectionery hamper would surely include chocolate – the most direct way to happiness for me that I know! Interestingly, neuroscience shows that our brains lay down emotional memories as well as factual, cognitive ones. So as I experience moments of joy and happiness when I eat my chocolate given to me by my ‘not big bank’, the positive association spill-over and my memories of the bank will take on a rose coloured – or should that be chocolate scented – hue.

I appreciated the different levels on which this simple and inexpensive gratitude campaign was going to work. And then I tried to redeem my vouchers…

On my first trip into town, I went direct to one of the designated retailers with the card from my bank to redeem and use my voucher.  No, I had to go to the back first to get the voucher and then take that back to the store. OK, I must have misinterpreted the text.

My second trip was after school drop off and on my way to a meeting; the bank was closed. It didn’t open until 9.30am and I didn’t have time to wait.

I was determined now, so I made a third trip into town. The bank was open (yay!) and I handed over my gratitude card. The staff member tried to find where they could mark on the system that I had received the card, so that they could then also mark that I had redeemed it. After 10 minutes they called for back-up and after 15 we collectively decided this could be done later. The moment arrived – they handed over my confectionery hamper (yes! there was chocolate) and asked what voucher I would like. I told them my selection and they reached into the envelope – only to find that those particular vouchers hadn’t arrived in the branch yet and could I come back, please?


What started with good intentions had ended badly. I no longer felt gratitude due to the amount of time I’d invested, there was little relationship created and I didn’t feel have any desire to be part of such a poorly organised tribe. If anything, my levels of trust, commitment and loyalty were reduced.

Often the devil is in the detail. We are encouraged as leaders to delegate and distribute leadership more, but we can only do that if we have fulfilled our leadership fully – if we have led well.

In this situation, there was miscommunication, a lack of training in processes and little co-ordination between different functions.  The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and the mouth was speaking before the brain had fully thought through the sentence.

There is a natural tension between holding on and letting go that leaders must learn to navigate skilfully to create a culture of high performance.

When leaders get this tension right, they move their team and themselves into the ‘high-performance zone’ where learning, growth, practice and feedback are plentiful. In this place, team members at all levels develop their leadership capacity whilst customer-centric outcomes are achieved.  And it is not something that leaders can ‘set and forget’. It changes with each situation, with each project team, with each individual.

Do you recognise when to hold on and when to let go?

How do you create a culture of high performance through leadership?

Here are three ways to create a high-performance zone through leadership:

Engage conflict
In the high-performance zone, difficult conversations are not avoided. Disagreement is productive and criticism constructive – oriented toward problem-solving and removing obstacles. Conflict simply becomes an attempt to find the best possible solution in the shortest period of time.

Differentiate clarity from consensus
High performing teams engage in a purposeful discussion where everyone gets a chance to contribute – even the introverts. Commitment comes from clarity around decisions, not consensus. As a result, the team moves forward with complete buy-in from every team member – including those who may initially disagree.

Progress focussed
Everybody is working toward the same goals and team members are clear on how to work together and how to accomplish tasks; people understand both team and individual performance goals and know what is expected for results to be achieved.

In these teams, attention is focussed on progress.

Paige can help you develop a high-performance zone with your team. Check out her Leading Well  Workshop.

Copyright 2019: Dr Paige Williams

Paige Williams, PhD

Paige Williams, PhD

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach

Paige helps leaders elevate their impact to lead teams who deliver results and create a culture that feeds high performance.

Leveraging Leadership for positive purposeful impact.