Revisiting the Performance Curve, from a leadership standpoint

The other day I was giving a colleague a rundown of the performance curve: that we each have an optimum level of stress/stimulation – above that level, our performance declines due to being overwhelmed with anxiety; below that level, we aren’t stimulated enough to perform well. The trigger? She had told me that “I’m really busy right now…in a good way!”

Here’s the performance curve again, for sake of easy reference.

Leaders and managers have a huge influence over where their team members are on this curve.

Leaders and managers have a huge influence over where their team members are on this curve.

As I was explaining the concept, complete with scribbled visual aid (I like visual aids), I realized that the performance curve is vitally important for me as a manager and leader. I play a large role in making sure team members are within their peak performance zone, and the performance curve provides a nice model.

My influence extends beyond my own team, too: for my own team, I have significant control over their level of stimulation; for other teams, I have influence since I work closely with lots of other folks.

I must admit, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t have this perspective when I first read the concept and posted about it a few weeks ago, but I was so focused on examining my own performance curve that I didn’t have that outside-in viewpoint.

I’m very much reminded of a Seinfeld bit from I’m Telling You for the Last Time:

Then they tell you about the pain relieving ingredient.
There’s always gotta be a lotta that.
Nobody wants anything less than ‘extra-strength’.
‘Extra-strength’ is the absolute minimum.
You can’t even get ‘strength’. ‘Strength’ is out now.
It’s all ‘extra-strength’.
Some people are not satisfied with ‘extra’, they want ‘maximum’.
“Give me the ‘maximum-strength’.”
“Give me the maximum allowable human dosage.”
“Figure out what will kill me and then back it off a little bit.”

I’ve actually used this example with my team in the past… “My job is to to figure out what’s too much for you, and then pull it back just a little bit – that way, you’re productive and happy and not going to burn out.”

“Figure out what will kill me and then back it off a little bit.” – Seinfeld


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Leadership, Management
3 comments on “Revisiting the Performance Curve, from a leadership standpoint
  1. Love the Seinfeld reference/quote!

  2. Brad says:

    Unfortunately, many businesses take the opposite approach. Its only about the numbers. They figure out what is too much, then add on a bit to see just how much they can push more, instead of spending money on more resources.

    • Lee Brooks says:

      The thing I find ironic is that even a manager or company motivated by purely selfish interests is behaving impractically by burning their people out and not helping them develop. In other words, a selfish manager would be better served by helping their people perform than by burning them out or causing them to quit – two outcomes that incur additional expenses with little gain.

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