Earlier this year USA Today put out an article citing numerous research projects that suggest that the best leaders are the ones that help their employees build their skills (Bruzzese, 2013). It was a concise review about how those in leadership positions should focus on making the people around them better, rather than worrying so much about maintaining control or asserting authority.
For those of us in the Industrial & Organizational Psychology or Organization Development, we spend a lot of our time looking at what behaviors drive desired business outcomes. This knowledge base has been applied to everything from ‘muddy boots’ well drillers to C level executives. One of the most interesting and consistent insights is that the best leaders focus on developing and growing their people rather than just transactional outcomes. Unfortunately those transactional outcomes are how most managers are evaluated, and where far too many focus their energies. As we learned long ago, organizations tend to evolve in the direction of where the focus their energies (Cooperrider & Sekerka, 2003). So unless a leader is focused on having strong and competent people, they aren’t going to have them.
One of the drivers for this miss-focus is that most organizations’ measure success based on operational outputs. As such, it is not uncommon for less experienced leaders to feel that spending time on soft things like developing people is a risky proposition. As a result, these efforts don’t get the attention they deserve. While this approach may appear to have some short term benefit, over the long run this can lead to unhappy employees, higher turnover, and not hitting those critical metrics. Successful leaders, however, have figured out the almost Zen-like secret that if you focus on developing and growing your people, those tactical results will take care of themselves. When those tactical issues take care of themselves and the teams are happy and motivated is when decent managers become great leaders.
Bruzzese, A. (2013, May 5). On the job: Best bosses help you add skills. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/bruzzese/2013/05/05/on-the-job-good-bosses/2130779/.
Cooperrider, D. L., & Sekerka, L. E. (2003).Toward a theory of positive organizational change.In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 225–240). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with seventeen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture, and Hewlett-Packard.
He can be reached at www.jimmybrownphd.com or via Twitter @jimmybrownphd