Should leaders focus on results or on people? The answer is Yes!


This article from Harvard Business Review by Matthew Lieberman asks whether leaders should focus on results or people. It quotes a study by Jamez Zenger from 2009 who found that:

If a leader was seen as being very strong on results focus, the chance of that leader being seen as a great leader was only 14%…

If a leader was strong on social skills, he or she was seen as a great leader even less of the time a paltry 12%.

However, for leaders who were strong in both results focus and in social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a great leader skyrocketed to 72%.

But here’s the kicker:

Less than 1% of leaders were rated high on both goal focus and social skills.


Our theoretical framework says that happiness at work comes mainly from results and relationships – we need both to create happy workplaces. And while our traditional image of a leader is someone who is extremely results-oriented, it seems that great leaders have both skills.

So why is that so rare? It goes against the way our brains are wired says Lieberman in the article and in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect:

These two networks (results and relationships) function like a neural seesaw. In countless neuroimaging studies, the more one of these networks got more active, the more the other one got quieter…

Its safe to say that in business, analytical thinking has historically been the coin of the realm making it harder to recognize the social issues that significantly affect productivity and profits. Moreover, employees are much more likely to be promoted to leadership positions because of their technical prowess. We are thus promoting people who may lack the social skills to make the most of their teams and not giving them the training they need to thrive once promoted.

Again: Ouch!

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