In a 2009 study of organizations and the traits of leadership, James Zenger polled 60,000 employees to find out what characteristics make a ‘great’ leader. The study contrasted social skills (a focus on people) with the analytical and a bias toward action and problem solving (a focus on results). Being perceived as results-focused led to only a 14% chance of being seen as a great leader. Social skills translated into even lower numbers, only a 12% chance of being perceived as a great leader. But for those leaders who combined the two sides, social skills and results orientation, the likelihood of being perceived as a great leader saw a dramatic increase to 72%.
In this series of articles on leadership, we have lately focused on the character traits that make leaders effective. We have written about honesty, empathy, resiliency, openness, positivity, and forward-thinking with more traits yet to come. It is important to remember that a single one of these traits alone does not make a great leader. The best leaders demonstrate character that is high in most of these traits.
So as we focus on results in this article, it is critical to remember that a singular focus on results only will neglect people. As leaders, we only achieve results through people, so neglecting them in any way causes our leadership to suffer.
Of course, to successfully guide an organization and see that it produces the results necessary for continued existence and success, the leader must be driven to achieve results. This includes a personal drive to achieve, making whatever contribution is possible based on the leader’s personal competencies, and an understanding of the levers within the organization that produce results, marshalling the organization’s resources to efficiently and effectively produce results. A leader is given the responsibility to lead with the expectation that he or she will adequately and appropriately steward the organization’s resources to achieve its goals or results. This stewardship includes protecting, utilizing, and growing the organization’s resources, be they people, knowledge, or capital.
Leaders who are singularly focused on results…
- often lack empathy, listening, and other relational skills.
- spend their time on tasks and don’t take time to build rapport with others.
- show little regard for their team members’ personal or professional needs.
- may view their leadership responsibilities as a distraction from their “real work”.
- tend to dispense solutions and commands.
- often do not provide adequate vision and direction for their team members.
- may take on too much of the task load and not leverage the capabilities of others.
- don’t see the necessity of developing their people as they focus on expediency.
- end up with disgruntled or unmotivated team members.
- experience higher turnover on their teams.
Leaders who place too much emphasis on relationships without adequate focus on results…
- may let the organization wander.
- often do not provide adequate vision or set appropriate expectations for their team members.
- may avoid difficult conversations.
- can get bogged down in building consensus.
- tolerate too many excuses and poor performance.
- may not hold others to high standards of performance.
- don’t deliver results and fail to get things done.
- have excuses for not executing consistently.
Leaders who demonstrate balance between both results and relationships…
- have the mental discipline to keep goals and expectations in focus in the face of challenges and problems.
- have clear agreements with others and set high standards. They clearly communicate expectations.
- are able to adapt and adjust.
- foster open communication.
- don’t steamroll others but achieve buy-in and cooperation.
- energize and encourage others to achieve.
- see things with a strategic perspective, understanding the implications of events upon achievement of the goals.
- are perceptive, seeing both the people and performance implications.
- pick up on early warning signals and provide direct and timely feedback.
- show agility in relating to others by managing conflicting perspectives and bridging differences.
- put others at ease and are seen as approachable.
- solve problems as a team, drawing in others.
- can be counted on to deliver, often exceeding expectations.
- generate a motivating culture.
- steadfastly push both themselves and others to produce results.
Most people have a tendency to be stronger in one direction or the other – either toward results or relationships. Under stress, we may move further in our predominant direction, but a good leader should be self-aware enough to realize when this is happening and correct it. We are most effective and our organizations are most healthy, when we can keep a good balance between results and relationships – pushing the organization towards its goals and building the people within the organization to achieve their maximum potential.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.