Results or People? Where should a leader invest their energy?

Source : HBR blog network, Matthew Lieberman, Dec 27, 2013

  • In 2009 a survey of over 60,000 employees examined how different characteristics of a leader combine to affect employee perceptions about whether their leader is ‘great’ or not.
  • Two characteristics examined were results focus (analytical skills, intense motivation to move forward and solve problems) and social skills (communication, empathy).
  • If a leader was seen as having only a strong results focus, the chance of them being seen as ‘great’ was only 14%.
  • If a leader was seen as having strong social skills, he or she was seen as a great leader only 12% of the time.
  • For leaders strong on both results focus and social skills, the likelihood of being seen as great was 72%!
  • In a study to see how often a leader scored high on both, the results were astonishing. Less than 1% were rated as high on both results and people…

results v peopleSo if few leaders are seen to have a balance of ‘task’ and ‘people’, what needs to change? In this blog post, Matthew Lieberman suggests the way our brains are wired actually makes it difficult to be ‘socially’ and ‘analytically’ focused at the same time. A neural ‘seesaw’ emerges where one side of the brain ‘quietens’ when the other is active. Nevertheless, he suggests :

  1. ‘We should give greater weight to social skills in the hiring and promotion process.’ People are often promoted to leadership positions because of their technical ability, not their social / relationship skills.
  2. ‘We need to create a culture that rewards using both sides of the neural seesaw.  We may not be able to easily use them in tandem, but knowing that there is another angle to problem solving and productivity will create better balance in our leaders.’
  3. Lieberman also suggest that ‘it may be possible to train our social thinking so that it becomes stronger over time. Social psychologists are just at the beginning stages of examining whether this kind of training will bear fruit.  One exciting prospect, one that would make the training fun, is the recent finding that reading fiction seems to temporarily strengthen these mental muscles.  Wouldn’t that be great — if reading Catcher in the Rye or the latest Grisham novel were the key to larger profits?’

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