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How Leaders Affect Productivity: During March Madness & Otherwiseby zengerfolkman March 24, 2011

Well, we recently reached that time of the year when March Madness and bracket selections took over all rational thought.  I have friends and colleagues who dissected schedule results, RPI’s, home-vs-away team records, the latest injury reports, and generally spent enormous amounts of time working to hone their tournament selections.

I guess that’s all good, but the best counsel I’ve heard on filling out your March Madness tournament picks came a few years ago from ESPN basketball analyst, Jay Bilas.  He shared his advice on how to pick your NCAA bracket teams with this interesting suggestion:

“If all else fails, pick the meaner-looking mascot.  Wildcats beat Bluejays, Panthers beat Quakers, etc.  Most mascots beat St. John's (Red Storm) or Miami (Hurricanes), and it is good policy to stay away from weather systems, generally.  The Demon Deacons (Wake Forest) are a tough call, though.  There's nothing worse than an angry church official."

Many of you and your work colleagues were probably just as engrossed in filling out your brackets as my friends were.  Our firm was recently contacted by a TV station interested in exploring how much workplace productivity is lost during this time of year for that very reason.  Questions around the sources of lost productivity – due to March Madness or any other reason – are always important ones to those responsible for leading organizations and achieving business results.

As a leadership development company, we’re very interested in the related, but more specific, question of “how much do leaders impact productivity in the organizations they lead?”  One of the ways to indirectly explore that question is to measure the impact that leaders have on employee commitment.  From workplace experiences most of us have had (whether personal experience or observations of those around us), it’s easy to argue that highly committed employees, on average, will be more productive than uncommitted employees.   Most of us have seen productivity “leaks” springing forth from teammates whose commitment levels, attention, and interest in job performance just isn’t there.

Our leadership research in this area of employee commitment is striking and clear.  The commitment levels of employees are highly correlated with the perceived effectiveness of their leaders (with perceived effectiveness as measured by a validated 360 degree survey instrument).  Here are the results of a study we did on over 9,000 leaders from multiple industries, showing just how impactful the leader can be on levels of employee commitment:


It’s easy to look at this chart and imagine the productivity difference between two teams of ten employees having similar team objectives, one led by a very effective leader and the other by a very ineffective one.  The highly effective leader, falling to the far right of the chart, could expect to have 7-8 employees who are highly committed to the work assigned the team.  The very ineffective leader, falling to the far left of the chart, could expect to have only 2-3 reports who are highly committed to the team’s goals.  Whether those ten-person teams are accountants, project managers, or more senior executives, the productivity implications of these differing commitment levels are enormous.

Good luck with your March Madness bracket selections.  Hopefully you didn’t project the St. John’s Red Storm into the Final Four or even the Sweet Sixteen this year.  If you’re one of the many who did, I’m hoping when you fill out your brackets next year that you’ll first recall Jay Bilas’ policy advice and remember to steer clear of those always dangerous weather systems.

Bob Sherwin--Chief Operating Officer

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