I’ve written before about people management skills, lists of leadership skills, “crucially effective” leadership skills, and what managerial skills a boss needs. I guess you could say the topic of high performance leadership interests me.
And you know what? It should. We spend 10-12 hours/day in these places for the bulk of the middle part of our lives, and many of them are bad-manager-laden train wrecks. It’s incredibly demoralizing to work for someone who treats you like crap or has no sense of priority, and yet, many of us do just that and the best excuse we have is “Well, that’s the way it is!”
At the same time, there are some good leaders out there. We tend to ultimately evaluate leaders off “their numbers,” i.e. the financials they achieved in the role. This is pretty dumb and short-sighted, but we do it anyway. It’s honestly where most of the problems with leadership begin. As you rise up the ranks of any for-profit company, it becomes much less about people and much more about revenue. While this is logical, it usually creates companies whereby no one at the top gives a crap about anyone, and thus anything remotely resembling priority or context flies out the window like a powerful bird.
But when high performance leadership is in play, what does it look like?
The four attributes of high performance leadership
CEO Genome is a research project and client practice supporting CEOs and companies that need to select CEOs. The head of the project did an interview with Wharton. It’s pretty interesting overall, but let’s just set up the sample sizes and data first:
It’s interesting, because our data [showed a different picture]. We have the luxury of looking well beyond the Fortune 500. The companies in our dataset, it’s more than 2,000 CEOs and 18,000 executives. It includes folks from Fortune 100 companies to $100 million companies or a 100-person company.
Alright. Not bad there.
So these four attributes are:
- Effective, quick decision-making
- Relentlessly reliable
- Great at managing relationships
- Fast learners; can adapt quickly
Let’s unpack this all for a hot second.
Why are these things important to high performance leadership?
Relatively self-explanatory, but …
Decision-making: As bureaucracy grows in organizations, someone needs to rise above the BS of guys who just sit in meetings all day and actually make a decision.
Reliable: Isn’t this a hallmark of life in general?
Managing relationships: Crucial because this is what CEOs should actually do. Too many get down in the weeds on projects, and that’s useless. (More on this in a second.)
Fast learners: Business is super “VUCA” right now — volatile, uncertain, etc. — and a CEO needs to embrace quick change to stay ahead on his financials.
The unfortunate part, though…
… is that most decision-making is too variable, senior decision-makers often shy away from making decisions (or want to make every single one), reliability is often replaced by urgency in business, managing relationships is replaced by “making sure my people follow process,” and many CEOs are still using a 1991 business model they refuse to budge from and claiming they’re “evolving into the current business climate.”
So, out of the four traits across this study — our path to high performance leadership — most CEOs (and their lieutenants) would be nearly incapable of actually doing any of them. But maybe…
Could we actually get to high performance leadership?
Sure, and some people/organizations do. It’s rare, but it happens. This is the ecosystem you’d need:
- A legitimate leadership pipeline
- Mission/values that aren’t just about money
- Training programs that focus on soft skills, providing context, setting priorities
- Understanding that “stakeholders” means more than just “investors”
- A bit more focus on communication and less on tech/tools
Overall, this is what needs to happen. Too many people who come to run companies believe the goal is making money. That’s not actually right. The goal is having a good product/service and good customer relationships. Those are the “lead” indicators. Making money is a “lag” indicator. That’s what happens after you do the important stuff right in the first place. Peter Drucker and others understood this.
If we want high performance leadership, we need to train and develop in that way — it needs to be less about the money and the spreadsheets, and more about how working with people, developing ideas, etc. lead to the money on those spreadsheets. Many seem to not understand that tie, and that’s what needs to be fixed.
What else would you add on high performance leadership?