The drivers of optimal performance

Is it enough to have great leadership skills to be successful in an organization?

During my recent podcast episode # 28 of the World Class Leaders Show, I was very pleased to host Rich Diviney for stimulating dialogue, filled with valuable concepts and shared wisdom. 

Rich is a best-selling author, leadership and human performance expert, and retired Navy SEALs commander. Across his 20-plus year career and over 13 international deployments with the Navy, Rich was closely involved in the highly specialized SEAL selection process. Since retiring from the Navy, Rich has worked as a speaker, facilitator and consultant for the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, as well as Simon Sinek Inc. Rich is currently the founder and CEO of The Attributes Inc. 

Attributes vs Skills

Skills direct our behaviours. Skills are visible, easy to assess, measure and test. However, skills don’t tell us how we’re going to perform and behave when the situation becomes uncertain and challenging, because it’s very difficult to apply a known skill in an unknown environment. Skills are generally taught.

Attributes are more innate and appear to depend more on nature versus nurture. Attributes can be developed and enhanced over time — they will inform our behaviour and tell us how we’re going to show up in an environment. While performance is driven by these attributes, they are very difficult to see, assess and measure. Attributes also become most visible during challenging times of high stress.

Five Critical Attribute Categories

As defined by Rich in his book, there are five key attribute categories:

  • Grit: These attributes include perseverance and resilience among others.
  • Mental Acuity: These attributes describe how our brain perceives the world. Examples would include situational awareness and learnability.
  • Drive: These attributes speak to longer-term sustained endeavours towards a goal, and include characteristics such as discipline, open-mindedness, and a degree of narcissism.
  • Leadership: The attributes here inform how others see you as a leader, such as empathy, accountability, decisiveness, and more.
  • Team Ability: Like leadership, your success here is built from others’ perceptions, so attributes such as integrity, humility, and humor are important.

The key understanding here is that every individual is different and has differing levels within each of the attributes. Without judgment, each person may be more, or less, suited for particular situations or activities. But the more we know our own and others’ attributes and levels, the greater our understanding will be about why and how we behave the way we do — and how to best work together.

Developing Attributes

First, it’s essential to understand that each individual must be highly self-motivated – it’s not easy or comfortable to work on increasing your levels. In fact, the best way to develop a given attribute is to find (or invite) challenging and stressful environments that take you outside of the comfort zone.

In addition, it’s necessary that individuals have a clear understanding of where they presently are, and which attributes they most wish to develop further  — this is highly context-driven. 

In my discussion with Rich, we further explored the most important “Grit” attributes, agreeing that they are foundational characteristics that underpin life in general. If an individual does not have courage, perseverance, adaptability and resilience, they are likely going to have a rough time – life simply requires all of those attributes in order to survive and thrive.

We also identified the importance of ‘balance’; some leadership attributes (e.g. narcissism) can be self-defeating if taken to extremes. So, there’s value in ensuring that you have honest interpersonal relationships to help identify traits that we can’t fully evaluate for ourselves.

Keys to Successful High Performing Teams

Trust is the number one component of a successful team, and trust is a belief that’s held based on how a person behaves. Trust is built through transparency, humility, and vulnerability. When team members are fully aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they can support each other and begin to mesh in a very dynamic way.

A high-performing team understands that ‘blame’ is a wasted emotion that cedes control. Accountability’ is the mechanism that takes back that control and puts the team into the driver’s seat, steering the team in a better, more positive, more powerful direction.

Dynamic Subordination – SEAL teams

In the best high-performing teams, they understand that challenges and issues can come from any angle at any moment. When something does, the person who is closest to the problem, and the most capable, steps up and takes charge, and everybody follows. The leader, or alpha position, is swapping all the time, similar to a school of fish or a flock of birds. That’s dynamic subordination, and it can only happen in environments of trust, vulnerability, and mutual support.

You’ll see this frequently in SEAL teams — it’s a team flow state. Leadership happens in the moment, and it’s the context that dictates who the leader is at that moment.

I closed the session with Rich by asking him my favorite guest questions.

Q: What has been the number one lesson that you learned across your career?

A: As leaders, we must understand that our intention and our behaviors are two different things that must be aligned. We need to be very transparent about our intentions so that our behavior can be properly construed by our team members.

Q: What is one thing you might have done differently?

A: I’ve had experiences where my intent was to bring in new ideas to help the team. However, my behavior looked like I was going outside and building alliances outside the team. I didn’t properly communicate my intention, and so I was sending the wrong signals to people around me.

Q: Can you recall what was in place at a time when you had your best performance?

A: When I was coming up with the attributes process while running training inside the SEAL teams, I was in a flow state. I was in complete alignment with my attributes, specifically the attributes that I have very high levels of.

Q: What is one book that has had an impact on your life or your career?

A: “The Rise of Superman” by Steven Kotler was very influential for me, and I’ve tried to model the way he mixes practical lessons with science and neuroscience. Also, Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens” is one book that I go back to re-read frequently.

For more information and to contact Rich Diviney, you can visit his website at The website contains a free self-assessment tool you can complete to explore your own attribute levels, and also includes various social media address links.

Buy Rich’s book: “The Attributes – 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance”.

For additional information, and to explore my work with leaders, teams and organizations, please visit my website at, or drop me an email at [email protected].

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