A Battle in the Workplace
by Steve Coats

There is an interesting battle that is occurring in many work environments. It is the battle between leadership and results. Now, some of you might be wondering what I could possibly be referring to, so allow me to explain.

Too often when we talk with people about leadership development, they tell us they just don't have time to devote to their progress. They are simply too busy trying to make the numbers. Perhaps if they are in good shape toward the end of the month, they may find some time to think about the future or provide some development coaching for the people. But realistically, there is always at least one item on the scorecard that needs additional attention. Translation: "I can't worry about this leadership stuff until I have hit my targets."

Overwhelmingly these people do believe that providing more leadership can positively impact results. They will remark how they "should" spend more time with their people or "should" provide more recognition, etc. Because they don't follow through on the shoulds, they must believe that focusing solely on results is the more effective path to success. Or might there be another reason?

First we must all recognize that people like this are not heartless dictators. In fact, we have found that frequently they are genuinely well-intentioned people who feel caught in a quagmire. They are expected to deliver specific (and extremely challenging) financial results, which are very clear and very measurable. Therefore, most if not all of the interactions they have with their bosses (and others up the line) are focused on ensuring that the results will be delivered. And those results rarely, if ever, measure outcomes of leadership. If discussed at all, the subject of leadership is usually mentioned in passing, and the message is often one of the boss reminding the individual that good leadership, succession planning, developing people and the like, is essential to the job and to one's own career development.

Doesn't seem like a very effective way to help people strengthen their leadership abilities does it? It also imprints a very clear message about appropriate organizational behavior—that being, examining numbers is the only subject of importance when bosses and associates meet. Pretty soon, at all levels of the organization, conversations about any kind of development, including leadership, are shelved until the ceremonial annual review. Don't be one of those bosses who talks only numbers with associates. They deserve more from you.

Although many in management positions truly want to become better at leading, they realize they cannot just flip a switch (i.e. read a book or attend a workshop) and suddenly become a great leader. They are 100% correct about that. Becoming a better leader requires hard work and an investment of time. Most are extremely willing to do the hard work, they just long for the time to follow through. And that is the dilemma. In their minds, the time required to work on improving their leadership capabilities can only come from the time now allocated to producing results. That thinking is not surprising, since in most situations, the emphasis on results is screamed, while the importance of leadership is quietly whispered. Thus the battle lines are drawn.

Here are a couple of points to ponder that might help you breakthrough this frustrating cycle if you are one caught up in it. First, you must come to believe that results and leadership are not pitted against each other as "either one or the other." You need to start thinking about them in terms of "and." What must I do to ensure we make our numbers and provide the kind of leadership that allows my people to grow and produce even greater results down the road? How can I keep financial results in the forefront and still let people know that they are important as well? No one ever said it would be easy!

If, as a leader, you are trying to create an environment where people can achieve higher and higher levels of production, the idea of waiting until the last day of the month (or year) to recognize their efforts is absolutely absurd. So is waiting until annual performance review time to provide people with coaching feedback to help them do their jobs better. You have to do this along the way, when people need it most . Emotionally committed people find ways to produce better results. You have to ante up every day, to help people become and remain deeply committed to the objectives you face.

The second notion is this. You must come to believe that you can (and must) provide the kind of leadership your people need to do their best. "I should take more time to thank my people" and "I feel terribly uncomfortable patting people on the back" are two entirely different statements. Might the lack of time argument be used to mask a lack of comfort or confidence in ability?

There is no way you can be a leader and not screw up occasionally. At some time in your career you will likely give someone too much responsibility before he or she is ready, or embarrass yourself by supporting an innovative idea that doesn't pan out. Welcome to the club! You are going to make mistakes and at times even look foolish to others. But that is not a good enough reason to lay low and avoid your responsibility of leadership. Wine may get better with age, but leadership gets better with practice. And getting better requires daily effort, whether comfortable or not.

So stop wishing for more time to lead and start doing more of what you already know you should be doing. Stop attending one meeting a month that you know is a waste of time and use the time to coach individuals or to get your team together to brainstorm breakthrough ideas. Create some standards around email, so you are not copied on (and feel obligated to read) the growing number of FYI (or is that CYA) messages. Use this time to build stronger relationships with your people. Use it to develop them so they can deliver bigger results.

My guess is this. If you were told you would receive an enormous bonus if you could carve out a reasonable amount of time each week to be a better leader for your people, you would find the time. Don't wait for the bonus. Do it anyway. And you will soon discover that taking time to lead and producing good results are not battlefield enemies at all.

Steven C. Coats is Managing Partner of International Leadership Associates - dedicated to developing leaders that inspire other people to do the best work of their lives. Contact Steven at http://www.i-lead.com .

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