A lot of debate surrounding what constitutes a good business leader continues to exist, and one of the issues that has caused the most heated conversations is whether executives should focus primarily on their employees or on results. However, simply asking this question assumes that leaders need to focus on one or the other rather than both. Nearly 10 years ago, James Zenger completed a survey of 60,000 employees to identify the leadership characteristics that they saw in their leaders and to correlate those findings with their perception of how effective those individuals were in their roles. Leaders perceived as focusing on results were considered “great” only 14 percent of the time. Meanwhile, leaders with good social skills fared even worse, with only 12 percent considered great.
The Zenger survey becomes telling when one looks at leaders who were strong in both of these categories. When this occurred, leaders were considered effective more than 70 percent of the time. This finding highlights the fact that the question is really not either/or, but rather both/and. The problem is that very few business leaders today focus on both results and employee development. A different survey conducted by the Neuroleadership Institute and the Management Research Group, which asked thousands of employees to rate their leaders on various skills and attributes, found that fewer than 1 percent of leaders had both good social skills and the ability to keep companies focused on goals.
The Limits of Anatomy When It Comes to Focusing on Results and People
The explanation for why so few leaders have mastered both of these skills may actually be an anatomical one. Our brains evolved different pathways for handling analytics and social connections. When leaders focus on results, they must assume an analytical mindset, which involves using the frontal lobe of the brain and specifically the lateral parts of grey matter. Social thinking occurs more toward the middle of the brain, close to where the two hemispheres touch. This part of the brain helps us to empathize and understand social cues based on context. Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that these two parts of the brain rarely work at the same time. Instead, when one area shows more activity, the other becomes quiet. In other words, it is hard to think in both modes at the same time.
The Role of Leaders in Changing the Future of Leadership
However, biology does not tell the whole story. In business, analytical thinking has largely been rewarded over social skills. Employees who show concern for the bottom line and performance will typically be promoted to leadership positions before those with excellent people skills. However, when these individuals become leaders, they may not have the social skills they need to help their teams perform at their peak nor access to the training they need to develop these skills. The problem is that analytical individuals often do not realize how much social issues can affect productivity in the workplace.
Today’s leaders have a unique opportunity to change the status quo in their own organizations by placing a greater emphasis on social skills when giving internal promotions and prioritizing these skills during the hiring process. Another part of the equation involves shifting the overall culture of the organization to recognize the importance of both analytical leadership and personal investment in employees. Leaders can accomplish this in several different ways that range from recognizing when people go above and beyond in both categories to ensuring that training is available to not only improve results-driven thinking, but also social skills. While leaders may not be physiologically able to use these two skill sets at once, it is important to understand that multiple approaches exist.
The Unique Benefits of Thinking Both Analytically and Socially
Leaders who embrace both their analytic and social sides can accomplish some incredible feats that range from delivering excellent feedback to creating the most effective teams. Individuals need a lot of tact in order to provide accurate feedback that inspires people to change and also takes into account their personal feelings and perspectives. When leaders can offer objective feedback with a personal touch, they can help their employees to recognize their full potential. Also, putting together a team requires thinking about results first and foremost. In addition, it requires finding the right people to make things happen. In order to achieve this, leaders need strong intuition and the ability to read individuals and their motivations.
The ability to read people also helps leaders, as those who can balance both parts of their brains make the best hires. These individuals understand what a company needs to grow in the future and can develop a good sense of who will have the drive and skills needed to move toward those goals. Due to this ability combined with a strong understanding of what everyone brings to the team, these leaders can also often become great problem-solvers. Leaders with both skills understand what needs to get done and who can accomplish it. By getting the whole team involved, these individuals can achieve a quick response. Clearly, there is a lot of benefit to focusing on both results and people. However, it is up to leaders to ensure that this is an expectation for their future executives.