High-Performance Team — Tough Love

Mandar Kale
3 min readJan 21, 2024
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

This blog is all about balancing care, empathy, recognition, and criticism. Effective leadership goes beyond just delegating tasks and giving direction. It involves building a high-performance team that is capable of achieving outstanding results. However, building such a team requires a delicate balance between caring for your team members, building empathy, recognizing their efforts, and providing constructive criticism when needed. ​​We often consider being supportive, empathetic, and acknowledging our team’s achievements as the markers of good leadership. However, the other side of the coin — offering constructive criticism and feedback — is equally important in building a high-performance team.

At times, being a leader requires showing a tough-love approach to your team members.

What is tough love in leadership?

This means that you recognise people for achievements and hold them accountable for their actions or lack of action, without compromising on your care for them.

DON’T BE NICE; BE KIND!

If we parallel this with parenting, ‘tough love’ is often seen as an approach where parents combine warmth and understanding with firm boundaries and rules. Similarly, in the corporate world, ‘tough love’ merges professional respect with a performance-driven approach, helping the teams reach their full potential and beyond.

It starts by clearly setting expectations, defining responsibilities, and agreeing on measurable goals (SMART Goals). The team and its members need to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, what their roles and responsibilities are, and how their performance will be evaluated.

Recognition can be in the form of individual feedback, rewarding individuals, or even the team as a whole if they have exceeded their set targets.

However, it is equally important to provide constructive criticism. It can be challenging as it can be uncomfortable for both the leader and the team members. However, it is essential to identify areas of improvement and provide feedback in a specific, clear, and non-judgmental way. This will enable team members to take the feedback positively and work towards improving their performance.

Creating a high-performance team requires building an inclusive culture that fosters responsibility, accountability, and continuous learning. Such a culture challenges the team members to stretch their abilities, innovate, and scout for constant improvement areas. However, fostering this culture needs a leader who is not afraid to show ‘tough love’.

Often, true leadership is characterized by a leader’s ability to show this ‘tough love’. It may be challenging or uncomfortable, but it is often necessary. Leaders who take the approach of ‘tough love’ are not afraid to push their teams harder, demand more from them, and insist on a higher standard.

Don’t misconstrue tough love as harshness or absence of empathy though. It is about being enablers, not just enforcers. Being honest about performance lag, creating a clear vision and expectations, and pushing employees beyond their comfort zones are the bricks in the wall of what we call ‘tough love’. It is the fuel that drives the engine of high-performance teams.

‘Tough love’ in leadership is about valuing the journey of growth more than a moment of comfort, as far as teams are concerned. A real leader aims at nurturing this growth, even if it means being tough today for a brighter, more successful tomorrow.

In conclusion, effective leadership requires setting clear goals, acknowledging achievements, and providing constructive feedback through radical candor. That's leaders’ tough love!

How can we action it in the day-to-day?

  1. Create measurable goals for everyone — Get out of your comfort zone — set stretch goals (for yourself and your teams)
  2. Celebrate wins often and recognise the outcomes
  3. Be radically candid in providing feedback and raising the bar. DO NOT beat around the bushes!

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