Last week I was facilitating a two-day development retreat with a management team in Western Canada. We were discussing Zenger Folkman’s powerful research on the statistical correlations and interactions of leadership behaviors. I wrote about this evidence-based leadership approach last month in Leadership Cross-Training is Powerful and Revolutionary.
This research has led to a very unique groundbreaking approach for building leadership competencies from a strength in the 75th percentile to a profound strength in the 90th percentile. Linear or traditional training can work well to improve weaker areas. But it’s now very clear that our same old ways of learning and development will not help a leader grow his or her skills from average to exceptional. That calls for a very different approach. This was highlighted in Competency Companion Development Guide to Cross-Training.
During our discussion we debated two particularly Powerful Combinations. These were the competencies of Drive for Results and Builds Relationships. Our database of 360 degree feedback assessments completed by over 300,000 managers, direct reports, peers, and others on 35,000 leaders shines strong new light on this combination.
Analysis shows that if a leader is rated as having Builds Relationships as a strength the chances of him or her being rated as an extraordinary leader is 12%. On the other hand, if a leader is rated with Drive for Results as a strength, his or her probability of being scored as an extraordinary leader creeps up slightly to 14%.
These two competencies have been locked in a classic either/or debate for decades now. And we had that discussion in our retreat. The team was hitting its numbers and clearly getting results that topped every other unit in the company. But relationships were weak and employee engagement was low. The highest rated of a long list of “Spirit Killers” we ranked in one workshop exercise was “There are ‘walking wounded’ in our organization who feel that our management team cares only about results and doesn’t respect their dignity and feelings.” In true binary thinking, many managers wanted the team manager to back off Drive for Results to allow more time and energy for Builds Relationships. They saw it as a zero sum game; you trade off one to get more of the other.
I then showed them our Powerful Combinations research on cross-connecting these two competencies. Looking at the probabilities of being extraordinary at 12% and 14% when each competency is a strength it would be fairly logical to assume that if a leader was strong at both, his or her chances of being rated as extraordinary would be around the total of the two at about 26%. In fact, our analysis of the statistical correlations between these two competencies shows that the likelihood of a leader who is strong at both Drives for Results and Builds Relationships being extraordinary is actually 72%!!
We’re talking about moving only two of 16 leadership competencies from good to great. But if these two strengths are developed in combination, a leader’s overall effectiveness skyrockets. This changed the tone of our discussion. What leadership team or organization really believes they should reduce their drive for results? How would you present a budget or business plan to upper management or board that sets lower targets for next year in order to build relationships?
The management team agreed they need to continue hitting their targets and delivering results. The focus of our discussion, brainstorming, and planning, shifted to counterbalancing what results they deliver to how they deliver them. High-performing leaders don’t deliver results and leave a trail of dead or wounded bodies in their wake. That will cause short-time results at best. And high-performing leaders don’t create highly energized and engaged teams with strong relationships that keep falling short on their results and failing to deliver. That’s demoralizing, enervating, and unsustainable.
Extraordinary leaders aren’t superhuman excelling at all competencies. We all have weak spots and lesser skills. Our leadership data show that exceptional leaders build on powerful combinations to leverage a cluster of interconnected strengths that create incredibly powerful synergies. These catalytic combinations dramatically boost overall leadership effectiveness. They become towering strengths that overshadow weak spots and supercharge performance levels.
Chapter Four (“Leadership Cross-Training: The Revolutionary Approach to Leadership Developing Leadership Skills”) in How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths has more examples of powerful combinations, research, case studies, explanations of the cross-strengths linkages, and application exercises. It’s one of the reasons The Globe & Mail’s review of the book highlighted the counterintuitive nature of our research and the advice found in the book. You can see the review at Excellent? Counterintuitive tips on how to be exceptional.