The effectiveness and performance of leaders can have a tangible effect on both profitability as well as employee engagement, and HR needs to focus on six leadership behaviours that drive commitment and results, writes Dave Hanna
Occasionally I conduct a very informal “survey.” I ask people, “What were your previous CEO’s business results for the last quarter (or fiscal year)?” It makes no difference whether the leaders are loved, feared, or despised, no one can recall what their results were.
Conversely, the interviewees all recall stories of the leaders’ behaviour while at the helm. They describe such things as:
- Pushing hard, even running over people, to get better results
- Inviting others to challenge the boss’s ideas and strategies
- Championing teamwork and collaboration
- Blaming and even firing individuals when they don’t “deliver”
The legacy of leaders – what people remember long after they have left the corporate arena – is their behaviour.
Why behaviours forge one’s legacy
A more scholarly explanation of my findings comes from two arenas. First, there is neuroscience research. Scientist Ashish Ranpura explains the memories that stick in our brain are associated with our experiences: the sights, smells, sounds, and our impressions in the moment. No wonder people remember experiences and relationships more than facts and figures.
Then there is research conducted by the Zenger Folkman firm that focuses on leadership behaviours, employee engagement/commitment, and business results. Zenger Folkman conducted 360 leadership effectiveness surveys involving thousands of people all over the world.
They have correlated the leadership behaviour scores in each company with employee engagement scores and business results.
As this table from one representative study shows, the employees who worked for the lowest-performing managers also had the lowest engagement/commitment scores. Moving up the scale, the great leaders (80th percentile and above) had significantly higher employee engagement/commitment scores.
In a separate study, Zenger Folkman learned that leaders’ effectiveness scores also correlate with greater income and profitability. The bottom 10 percent of leaders delivered a total of minus $1.2 million income, the middle 80 percent delivered $2.4 million and the top 10 percent delivered $4.5 million. The best leaders doubled the profits of others.
Recognising that experiences will stick in your memory more than statistics, consider these two leadership examples.
Two leaders with different legacies
Frank was a new vice president of Asia for a large global company. He inherited an organisation that was the product of a recent merger. Facing some formidable barriers, Frank decided to bring his leaders together to build a cohesive team, shape a common mission, and align their work efforts across Asia. While Frank was away in China, his boss cancelled this session, calling it “a waste of time.” Frank returned home and immediately confronted his boss. (In this culture, no one confronted this boss!)
Frank dug in his heels, saying he needed to get everyone on the same page to move the organisation forward. To everyone’s surprise, the boss conceded. The week-long meeting delivered on Frank’s objectives. In the next year Asia’s results were superior to previous years.
“Great leaders are courageous. They deal with issues head on. It takes courage to address issues, resolve conflicts, and insist that everyone is accountable”
Mort was a highly competitive marketer. He closely supervised his vice presidents and bombarded them with questions and unilateral decisions. He was famous for dead-ending the careers of managers who disagreed with his decisions. He also seriously offended the community and employees with some of his actions. After early successes, Mort’s business results began to tail off. The number of leaders who voluntarily left his organisation was unprecedented and disrupted several of his businesses. This performance void plagued his successor even after Mort retired.
People today still recall the legendary actions of Frank and Mort. But, while Frank’s organisation is energised by his leadership example, Mort’s organisation considers itself lucky that the dark days are past.
Leaders, read the below to learn some leadership behaviours that might enhance your legacy.
Leadership behaviours that drive commitment and results
- Balancing the drive for results with inspiring others. Some organisations are all push (drive for results) and no pull (inspiration), which ultimately reduces motivation. A healthy balance between the two behaviours is necessary.
- Strategic perspective. The most successful leaders constantly reinforce where the organisation is heading and the key steps that lead to success. Employees need to see how their work makes a difference and how it helps the organisation achieve success.
- Collaboration. When leaders demonstrate that they can achieve objectives that require a high level of intergroup cooperation, synergy is created and every employee enjoys the work experience.
- Trust. Leaders build trust by being honest and acting with integrity, by becoming aware of the concerns and aspirations of others, through deep expertise, and consistent standards.
- Develops and supports others. Leaders help employees develop new skills and abilities. They encourage people to learn from mistakes, take the time to analyse their successes, and understand what went well.
- Courage. Great leaders are courageous. They deal with issues head on. It takes courage to address issues, resolve conflicts, and insist that everyone is accountable.
Adapted from Joe Folkman, Top Nine Leadership Behaviors That Drive Employee Commitment, Zenger Folkman White Paper, www.zengerfolkman.com, 2010.
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