The Fallibility of Results

2206743_medWhat is the defining characteristic of an effective leader? That is, what is that “one thing” that causes you to say about someone, “That person is a leader.”

What do you observe?

I’m sure this question will produce a laundry list of responses. He or she is: confident, decisive, commanding, persuasive, responsive, charismatic, transparent, caring, intelligent, innovative, insightful….and so on.

Many would see this as an impossible or meaningless exercise, and I can’t say that I would disagree. One thing? Really?

However, in my experience, people usually get branded as leaders for one very distinct reason: they get things done. They product results.

Actually, that should be self-evident. The vast majority of managers have been promoted to their current position of leadership because of their performance track record. As employees, or as a supervisors or managers at a lower level, they have produced results. Think about it: when it comes time to pick a new manager in your company, what does current management look for?


And that creates a predictable problem. If leadership is primarily about results – and I’m not suggesting it isn’t – how you produce those results can easily become a secondary consideration.

“But wait,” you say. “Leadership is about much more than performance, it’s also about motivating and developing employees. It’s about setting an example. It’s about ideas and the ability to execute those ideas.”

Wait. That last part sounds like results.

“Well, sort of. But being a leader is about solving problems and making decisions.”

Uh huh. Results.

“But what about the employee part – engagement and development and all that?”

Good point. But are those things really factored into a decision to promote someone to a position of leadership? Or, is it about the results they produce, and the other stuff is icing on the cake?

The reality is, in the final analysis, the vast majority of executives consider one thing when considering an individual for a management slot: RESULTS. That’s it.

How do I know? Because I hear the comments made about those leaders who are leaving a mark on employees:

“Hey, sometimes you have to crack a few eggs.”
“Say what you want – he gets results.”
“You don’t have to like her, but you have to respect her.”
“Right now we need someone to whip that group into shape.”

So, we are back to Square One. We hire and promote leaders based on their ability to produce results. To get things done. To make things happen. And, truth be told, we are willing to overlook some of the, uh, issues that may accompany those results.

And we wonder why employee engagement is poor (3 out of 4 employees are not engaged or actively disengaged). We wonder why people don’t reach their potential. We wonder why morale is poor. Sometimes we just wonder what is wrong. We can’t quite put our finger on the “why,” but we know the organization could do so much more.

“…harsh, hard-driving, ‘results-at-all-costs’ executives actually diminish the bottom line…self-aware leaders with strong interpersonal skills deliver better financial performance.”

Excerpted from “What Predicts Executive Success?
Green Peak Partners and Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations 2011 Research Report

Perhaps it would help to consider leadership from this perspective: the art and science of getting things done through other people.

Not just results. Influencing others to produce those results. Not compelling others. Or forcing others. Or driving others. Influencing others. Engaging others.

How many people get promoted to management based on that criteria?

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