Great Leaders Move Fastby Zenger Folkman December 19, 2016
There is a saying, “It takes two to tango.” That is true in many areas of life, and it happens to be true about an important dimension of leadership — speed. But that speed is not effective unless it is accompanied by a second dimension — quality.
Consider the following data to paint a more precise picture. In a study of more than 51,000 leaders, Zenger Folkman examined two dimensions: the leader’s ability to do things fast and the leader’s ability to do things right.
Leaders who were effective at doing things fast (above the 75th percentile) but not highly effective at doing things right (below the 75th percentile), had a 2 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader, defined as being in the top 10 percent of leaders.
On the other hand, leaders who were rated highly at doing things right (above 75th percentile), but not doing things fast (below 75th percentile), were nearly the same. This group had a 3 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader. However, those leaders rated highly at doing thing both fast and right had a 96 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader.
However, these two elements are not cut from the same cloth. Quality needs to exist to a certain level. Once that standard is met, there is usually no payoff in constantly improving quality. For example, if an automotive plant is stamping out door panels, and each panel meets the standard for measurement, contour and lack of surface blemishes, further quality emphasis does not produce greater value. Speed, on the other hand, is different. It has the potential for nearly limitless improvement. As long as the plant maintains quality, producing door panels at a faster rate does indeed create greater value.
Applying this principle to leadership behavior is not difficult. If a leader moves at an extremely rapid pace to get things done, but is sloppy or makes subpar decisions, that leader creates little value. Speed alone is of little advantage. Work must be accurate.
However, leaders who execute, respond and make decisions quickly and correctly will be perceived as more effective leaders than those who do not. In contrast, the leader who makes sound decisions, but who moves at a plodding pace, may create some value. But that level of value creation is far below a comparable leader in the same role who makes decisions, takes initiative, reacts to customers and drives better work processes at a brisk, ever increasing pace.
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