Finding And Becoming The Helpful Leader

June 15, 2020

Helpful Leadership

Finding The Helpful Leader

Recently, my colleague Jack Zenger and I did some research on resilience and discovered that leaders who provided service to others and described as “Helpful” were more resilient. Helping and serving others reinforces the connection people have with their colleagues, but it also increases our sense of well being and can lower depression. In doing this research, we created a helpful index. The items included in this index assessed a leader’s skill in helping others understand how their work contributes to the vision and direction of the organization, and the importance of meeting customer needs. It also assessed a leader’s ability to give helpful feedback. When a person thinks about competencies that are essential for leaders, we often focus on driving hard for results, being strategic, championing change, problem-solving ability, or innovation. Most often, the skill of helping others seemed to be useful, but not essential. We analyzed the data we had on the impact of being helpful and how that influenced the direct report’s perceptions of their manager’s effectiveness.

The graph below shows 360-degree assessment results from 98,001 leaders who were rated by their direct reports on helping behaviors. The bars represent the overall perceived effectiveness of leaders. (The “overall leadership effectiveness” is derived from an average of 57 behaviors measuring a leader’s effectiveness.) It is easy to see that helpful leaders (those in the top 10%) are rated as significantly more effective than unhelpful leaders (those in the bottom 10%).

Leaders skill at helping others.

Becoming the Helpful Leader

Strategic Perspective. Leaders who were more helpful spent the time to help others understand the strategy and their role in implementing the strategy.

Inspires and Motivates. Helpful leaders were significantly more inspiring. They were able to get employees excited and passionate about achieving difficult goals and objectives.

Communicates Powerfully. Helpful leaders were willing to explain things more than once. They spoke directly to their audience.

Develops Others. Helpful leaders were viewed as being more concerned about the careers and development of their direct reports. Helpful leaders were more likely to be willing to provide coaching and act as a mentor.

Sets Stretch Goals. Helpful leaders were much more effective at getting their direct reports to make a real effort to achieve difficult objectives.

Impact of Helpful Leaders on  the Bottom Line

These 360 results show that helpful leaders were more appreciated and valued by their direct reports. But did being helpful have any impact on bottom-line results? To answer this question, we looked at data from direct reports on two significant outcomes. In total, we had asked over 500,000 direct reports about their intention to leave and their discretionary effort.

Intention to Leave the Organization

Retaining talent is a critical issue for almost every organization. When high performing employees decide to quit, the cost of replacing and retraining new employees is often five times their salary. We gathered results from direct reports of managers. On average, each manager received ratings from five direct reports. Direct reports indicated the extent to which they were considering quitting and going to a different organization. We discovered that those considering leaving or who were neutral were an excellent indication of actual turnover. Approximately 50% of those thinking about quitting actually quit. The graph below shows the results from 97,776 managers who were rated on their effectiveness at helping others and the intention of their direct reports to quit. The bars represent the percentage of employees who were thinking about quitting. Those managers who were rated the lowest on their effectiveness at helping had 49% of their employees who were thinking about quitting. Those helpful leaders who were rated in the top 10% on helping only had 13% who were thinking about quitting.

Zenger Folkman
Intention to Quit

Discretionary Effort

Every day, every employee makes a decision. They ask themselves, “Am I going to do the minimum amount of work possible to keep my job, or am I going to give 100% of my energy and effort in my job today?” The bottom line is that those willing to give extra effort produce more results and higher value for the organization. The graph below shows results from 97,819 managers. Direct reports were asked to rate the extent to which they were willing to go the extra mile. The bars represent the percent of direct reports that gave the highest possible rating. Note that helpful leaders (those in the top 10%) had 66% of their employees who were willing to give more effort. Those in the bottom 10% only had 14% of their employees willing to give more effort.

Being a Helpful Leader is Very Helpful

The skill of being helpful is not difficult to master. A great deal of the skill comes from a desire to help and to be of service to others. Most people believe this is a nice skill to possess, but, hopefully, this article reinforces the profound impact that being helpful can have on others and a leader’s ability to succeed. Don’t just look for the helpers, become one.

To learn more and sharpen your leadership skills register for our upcoming webinar, or take our 8-minute strengths assessment.

-Joe Folkman
(This article first appeared on Forbes.)

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