August 19, 2022
When my daughters were young, I asked them, “What does a leader do?” Without hesitation, they provided a list of leaders’ responsibilities, including:
The list of their responses seemed very direct, so I asked, “Where did these examples come from?” They replied, “From you; you’re always telling us you’re the boss.”
One of the leadership competencies we start developing at a young age is driving for results. Having worked with young men for many years, I am always fascinated by how they act when put in a leadership position. Their knee-jerk approach is to be very direct and controlling. No doubt they learned that skill by watching their parents—just like my daughters learned from me.
My colleague Jack Zenger and I found from our research that having the ability to deliver exceptional results is a highly valued quality in most organizations. We asked over 100,000 managers to identify which competencies they thought were the most important for their direct reports. The skill rated as most important was driving for results. Peers rated it as second most important, and direct reports rated it in 6th place out of 16 competencies.
To highlight the importance of driving for results, we looked at potential ratings for over 4,000 leaders. Potential rating identifies individual leaders that raters think have the potential for promotion. Those in the top group have the highest potential, according to raters. These potential ratings were made by the consensus of a group of leaders. We connected these potential ratings to an independent assessment of driving for results by their manager. The graph below shows the results: 73% of those put into the high potential group received an above-average rating on their drive for results, while 72% of those put in the low-potential group received below-average ratings.
When we coach leaders who have a low rating on drives for results, it always raises a red flag. While they may be rated positively on other competencies, such as technical expertise, interpersonal skills, or strategic perspective, a low rating on delivering results always hurts an individual’s potential for success. Often when leaders consider what they can do to improve their plans, they come up with actions such as “work harder” or “work longer.” While more effort may help a leader, our research revealed four enabling behaviors that have the highest likelihood of improving results. The research was created by examining data from over 100,000 leaders, identifying those who were most effective at driving for results, and then looking at what they did to be so successful.
Too often, leaders make commitments that are impossible for them to keep. If your manager says, “Will you make this your top priority?” a “Yes” automatically lowers the priority of all the other top priority issues. It’s better to say, “Let’s review my priorities and see where this one falls.” Be careful and conscientious about all the commitments you make. Your manager, peers, and direct reports must feel you are committed to achieving results and know that any commitment made will be kept. People view leaders who are conscientious about keeping promises and honoring commitments as better at delivering exceptional results. Leaders who are quick to agree but rarely follow through are seen as not being role models.
Most people will set very reasonable goals for themselves and others—goals they are highly confident they will achieve. Most of us can remember a time when we embraced a stretch goal that we accomplished. Typically, we work harder, longer, and with a higher level of commitment. Our research reveals that when leaders are effective at setting stretch goals, their direct reports are more engaged and committed. Leaders who are highly effective at driving results recognize that setting ambitious goals with their workgroup will boost performance significantly. It takes courage to ask others to do something that seems impossible, but when a team embraces a stretch goal, something magical happens. While it’s easy for leaders to be content with current levels of effort, leaders who ask for excellence and improved productivity are rated higher on drives for results.
Speed provides individuals and organizations with a significant competitive advantage. Acting quickly (within reason) often results in decreased costs and increased effectiveness. Speed has a way of cutting through red tape and bureaucracy. In fact, leaders rated as being better at speed were viewed as two times better in their overall leadership effectiveness ratings.
People with initiative dare to take on new challenges. Some leaders are comfortable with their team’s current level of effort and production. Those with initiative look for opportunities to do more, be better and make a difference. Often the hardest part of getting results is getting started. Those who take initiative see problems and immediately begin to fix them. Most people can think of various things that ought to be done but have never been started. Make a list, stick it in front of you and check it every day.
Improvement of these enabling behaviors will have a dramatic impact on your ability to improve driving for results. The following graph shows results from over 100,000 leaders. If a leader is below average on all four enabling behaviors, their average effectiveness rating on drives for results is at the 22nd percentile. Improving all four behaviors to above-average performance lifts the effectiveness of drive for results to the 78th percentile. Finally, having just three at the 90th percentile gets you to the 89th percentile.
Improving any of the four enabling behaviors helps improve your effectiveness at driving for results. If you feel your performance on one is very poor, start there. And if you think you are above average, select the one that you feel would have the most significant impact in your current job. If you are unsure about how effective you are in your ability to drive for results, we strongly recommend getting a 360-degree assessment.
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(This article first appeared in Forbes)
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