But I’m a Great Leader! Look at My Results!
By James Grinnell
Ask any successful executive if they are a great leader and nine out of ten times the answer will come back as an emphatic yes. Yet, ask the same group of people whether they have ever worked under a great leader and you’re likely to hear an emphatic no from nine out of ten of these folks. Ask them what makes them a great leader and they’ll respond that they produce results. Ask them what was lacking in the people they worked under and they’ll say that their bosses drove them, they didn’t inspire them.
Pick any metric (e.g., year-over-year sales growth, productivity rates, etc.) to assess your leadership skill. I’ll tell you that assessing your leadership ability based only on such outcomes is incomplete and misleading at best. Leadership is not the by-product of outcomes, it is what creates the environment in which results emerge. Unless you assess your leadership effectiveness based on the degree to which your employees will “run through walls” for the team, you’re missing the boat. As John Maxwell aptly puts it: “If you think you’re leading but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.”
In a previous article (Approaches to Leadership) I discussed a typology of leadership styles put forth by Daniel Goleman in his article Leadership that Gets Results. Two of the six styles Goleman identifies– the coercive and pacesetting approaches– can produce significant results, but those results also come at a steep price. And, they don’t produce sustainable results over the long term.
The coercive leader rules with an iron fist. They push their subordinates to produce out of fear and intimidation. The pacesetter sets sky-high expectations, but instead of browbeating and haranguing to get things done, they drive themselves as hard if not harder than they do their followers. Whereas the coercive style is a “push” approach, the pacesetting style is a “pull” approach. But make no mistake, both styles obtain results in a way that kills intrinsic motivation, flexibility, mission and value alignment, and organizational commitment. As Scott Spreier, Mary Fontaine, and Ruth Malloy point out in their article Leadership Run Amok:
“In the short term, through sheer drive and determination, overachieving leaders may be very successful, but there’s a dark side to the achievement motive. By relentlessly focusing on tasks and goals—revenue or sales targets, say—an executive or company can, over time, damage performance. Overachievers tend to command and coerce, rather than coach and collaborate, thus stifling subordinates. They take frequent shortcuts and forget to communicate crucial information, and they may be oblivious to the concerns of others. Their teams’ performance begins to suffer, and they risk missing the very goals that initially triggered the achievement-oriented behavior.”
In his book Primal Leadership Daniel Goleman draws a sharp distinction between leadership that lifts others up, and that which keeps others down. As he states: “When leaders drive emotions positively… We call this effect resonance. When they drive emotions negatively… Leaders spawn dissonance, undermining the emotional foundations that let people shine.”
Resonant leadership starts with oneself. Resonant leaders are characterized by a high level of self-reflectivity, social awareness, self-control, and effective relationship management. Because these individual’s have a high level of emotional intelligence, they are able to have a positive contagion effect amongst their team. And this translates into performance. Companies with resonant leadership have 20-30% higher performance than do non-resonant leaders. Conversely, dissonant leaders may push short-term performance off the chart. In the long run, however, they drive talented people away from the organization.
As noted above, performance is the result of leadership, not a justification of that one has leadership capacity. Just because you produce spectacular results does not mean you are a great leader. One can be a real SOB and still produce results. However, you can be assured that true leadership will ultimately result in higher performance over the long-run.
James Grinnell is an Associate Professor of Management at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Studies from the University of Massachusetts. His areas of focus include leadership, organizational change & development, high-performance teams, and strategic management. You can read more from James on his blog.