This article was first published in the May 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

In my coaching and training work, I’ve talked to or formally interviewed hundreds of executives in sectors from banking and professional services to media and entertainment. Here are seven behaviours that I’ve observed in high performers.


They plan and prioritise frequently. Rather than arriving at work,opening their inboxes and dealing with what comes up first, they tend to spend time first thing reviewing what they could do to decide on a list of what they should do. They ask: what projects will make the greatest difference to my performance and that of my team this month, this quarter, this year? They deflect many less important tasks to focus on projects that create lasting value.


They set their own schedules. Why sit through a two-hour meeting when only 30 minutes of it may be useful? Many people stay because they feel obligated. High performers decide what’s important to them and prioritise productivity over politeness.


They track priorities of senior people. High performers regularly invest time in speaking to senior people to find out what’s really important. That way, they can both pursue projects that are of strategic importance to the organisation and further their own careers. 


They communicate wisely. Some people use email too much; others spend too much time in meetings. High performers realise that different forms of communication – instant messaging, email, telephone, video conferencing, formal and informal meetings – all have their place. Rather than automatically responding via the same method, they ask: which method would get the best result here? Sometimes, picking up the phone or arranging a short meeting can result in a better outcome than multiple exchanges of electronic correspondence.


They give clear expectations. Rather than allowing themselves to be buffeted by requests, they tell people when they are or are not available. ‘I want to finish this piece of work. Can we speak after 2pm?’


They are decisive. Some people read an email or have an idea and think ‘I should do that’ and then put it aside to do later. They may revisit the idea multiple times. High performers tend to evaluate ideas and projects only once; they say ‘I will do it’ and put a plan in place or ‘I won’t do it’ and move on.


They prioritise recuperation and personal renewal. High performers often work long hours, but not such long hours that they burn out. They prioritise downtime: time with their families, for physical exercise, to sleep properly, for holidays, and to read, learn and reflect on what matters.

Dr Rob Yeung is an organisational psychologist and coach at consultancy Talentspace