Ahh… That’s Just Right. 5 Steps to Balanced Leadership

A CEO I work with was having a “moment” with me recently. She was really frustrated with the results her company was getting after all the focus she had been applying to her people.

After all, most great leaders recognize that no matter what business you are in you are in the people business. To that mission, she had put a recognition program in place that her team seemed to really like. Once a week she was conducting an “All Staff” meeting to share feedback on good deeds her team members had accomplished. She was getting out to the floor daily and spending time walking around patting employees on the back and chatting with them, which she was finding personally rewarding. All these and a few other things were changing and yet the sales trends had remained more or less unchanged. Why?

She had been much more of a command and control manager and leader that had achieved better results from a sales perspective. However, her turnover was really high. This was costing her in ways that ate up the gains in sales. Higher payroll costs, more customer complaints, more time spent interviewing and hiring new people, including a few new managers. Her question to me was “Should I just go back to being a bitch?” Her words, not mine.

My response was “You need to strike a balance, you are going about this a bit wrong.” You see focusing on people is great. All the positive recognition and Rah Rah is fun and fine, but if it is not tied to “specific” results, then it does not provide the benefits from your leadership you are looking for. Get this from her experience. Focusing on just people is good but if that conversation or recognition is not tied to a specific behavior that got a good result, then you are just handing out “Participation Trophies.” You see, she was just kissing babies and not talking about what the person had actually done to get this attention from her.

Now let’s talk about balance. People often debate what makes a better leader: the no-nonsense, results-focused type or the motivational, people-focused type. New research has provided the answer — neither.

James Zenger surveyed over 60,000 employees to see which leadership characteristics made leaders “great” in the eyes of their employees. Two of the characteristics that Zenger looked at were “results-focus” and “people-focus,” and he found that neither characteristic consistently produced great leadership.

Leaders who primarily focused on results were seen as great just 14% of the time, and leaders who primarily focused on people were seen as great only 12% of the time.

However, leaders who were able to balance their approach and focus equally on results and people (which, according to a study by David Rock, is less than 1% of all leaders) were seen as great a whopping 72% of the time. In other words, results-focus and people-focus are weak predictors of great leadership on their own. It’s the potent combination of the two that consistently makes leaders great.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

Want to become part of the 1%? It’s not hard but it does require careful steps to change. No instant gratification should be expected my friends. This is not flipping a switch and magically things improve. These steps I’m sharing today come in time and with a great amount of commitment and focus. You are going to hop from bed to bed like goldilocks until you find the one that is ahhh…just right. The improvements will come and your life as a leader will be much more gratifying and successful. Sales, profits and productivity will improve. Turnover, stress and firefighting will decrease. Some of you will even start smiling more and being a better partner at home.

1. Learn SBIR. Specific Behavior Impact Results. Carefully constructing feedback is the critical first step. Understand and embrace this. It is specific behaviors that drive results. Certain activities lead to the performance levels you want from your team. Being specific about what they said or did, helps them understand and at the same time motivates them to do that same thing again. This takes some training and a lot of practice. You have to be tactful and genuine in order to be inspirational. If you want the same improved results reward the specific behavior that led to that result. Reverse this for developmental feedback. What did they not do or do incorrectly that had led to unacceptable results? Great leaders learn this tactic and deploy it to get the most out of their best people and improve those who need to step up their performance.

Quick story on this. In my car dealerships at CarMax we had hundreds of sales consults working with us. Commissioned sales is tough and especially tough when you are selling used cars at $20K a pop. My best leaders in the role of sales manager would spend time observing and shadowing sales team members. They would balance their time between top performers and under achievers. During their observation time, they would try to finds “I likes and I wishes.” Being able to catch them doing it right and balance it with what they could possibly improve on.

Not surprisingly these observations often led to huge gains in sales improvement but also motivation. Once it is pointed out to even a top performer what they are doing right and tie that back to why that behavior is successful for them, was huge. For the under performer my best leaders would phrase the feedback around a specific behavior that was either missing or misapplied. A quick action plan would be devised and then a future observation would be scheduled to make sure that the sales consultant was using the new or improved behavior. In fact, often my best sales managers would frame it like this. “I don’t care if you don’t sell another car. Just do this (insert a behavior) with every single customer and the sales will follow.

2. Use the power of your collaborative team to improve results. As the leader, you are going to have to get real with yourself. You don’t know it all. When you have a result, you want to change put your team on it. Have them be a part of putting together a good plan of attack They will foresee the unintended consequences and unforeseen obstacles that you may miss. Plus, when it is their idea and plan, how much more likely are they to be committed and fully bought in to improving the result? I personally used this approach in my corporate career. At CarMax, my region had been bottom of the barrel in Customer Service Scores for a very long time. Sales were great but customers were not so happy after the sale. I used this process to gain improvement. We went from dead last to #1 in the company in a few short months. All I did was sick my associates in the stores on it.

I put together in-store teams from various departments who then met weekly to discuss what actions to put into place for positively impacting this challenge. They put together their plans on how to make the needed changes based on the feedback our customers were giving us. They owned the problem and they owned the solution. The teams developed game plans in each of their stores and held each other accountable to achieving improved results through changing behaviors and processes that were flawed. They appointed a team lead who reported to me on their plans and changes monthly. And, what do you know, vast improvements took place. When the company asked me what I did, I told them “I just put my best people on it.” Leaders capable of blending a people-focus into their results-oriented plans select the ideal people and know their strengths and weaknesses and how these can be made to work together.

3. Together we all achieve more. Man, I have sat through some crappy meetings in my life. In doing so I was motivated early to learn to facilitate meetings into a productive structure that allowed for everyone to participate and required everyone to be a part of them. Every meeting has the “Alpha” that can and will dominate the conversation. Often that is the leader. Stop It! Research shows that poorly structured meetings stifle creativity and hinder teams from reaching good solutions. Every opinion must be heard and valued. The meeting can’t be hijacked by “That Guy” who loves to hear himself or herself talk. You lose the power of the meeting and the rest of the participants go to passive mode just to end the pain. You have to be able to be constructive if bad ideas come up. The wrong jab or quip will end that person’s participation in the future. When results-focused leaders bring a people-focused mentality to the table, they create the right environment for new ideas to thrive. These leaders are able to draw out as many good ideas from their team as possible while prudently steering a process that creates workable solutions.

4. It starts at the beginning. Profound huh? But it does start with hiring the right people. Great leaders have a great hiring system. Hiring slow is critical to having the very best people on the bus. Effective hiring leads to high levels of performance, a strong workplace culture, and a high retention rate. So often new hires are made based primarily on experience. If that person is not a good social or cultural fit then you just put a time bomb into your organization. Likewise, hiring someone who is a great social fit who does not have the traits and skill set to do the job properly, creates another set of problems. Great leaders know how to find employees who both do their jobs effectively and are good social and cultural fits. This kind of hire builds morale and improves your bottom line.

5. Have some fun. Just making the workplace fun is often expensive and does not always give you the results you aim for. Just putting in a ping pong table or foosball table in the breakroom is not the cure. Having bagel Monday or Pizza Friday without it being tied to a result is a big waste of money, and can create its own set of problematic issues. To the other end of the spectrum, bosses who keep it “All Business” make for a dull, uninspiring workplace. Use food and fun as rewards for great team behaviors that have led to a desired result. Really good leaders know that balance is critical. Proper balance prevents entitlements, improves workplace culture, drives improvements, and comradarie. Believe me it gets results.

Another story. For years we provided lunch on Saturdays for the entire team. The bulk of the team was comprised of the sales team. In time, no one appreciated the fact we were doing that. It had become an entitlement. We got more complaints about the food than compliments that we were providing a free lunch. Once some of my better leaders recognized this they met with associates in the store to discuss how to better offer this benefit. In the end it became a reward mechanism. A goal for the month would be set, and as long as the goal was being met the free lunch came in. If not…no lunch. It was amazing how what was once was an unappreciated gesture became a rallying cry for the teams to improve performance. Great leaders know that tying rewards to achievements is a mutual benefit.

Let’s Bring It Home.

Great leaders balance these approaches. They also enjoy tremendous results. If you want to learn more about how to implement these programs, consider getting some coaching, training and accountability to put these changes into place, contact me. It’s what I do. My company offers an exceptional blended learning program to get you re-centered and confident to make the appropriate changes to you or your direct reports style of leadership. Contact me a Visgmon.com for a consultation. While you’re there, visit some of the resources my site offers. It has a ton of useful information.