An Unflinching Focus on Results - A Leader's Responsibility

As leaders, we may have wondered, how should we pursue results and performance while still honoring our employees and seeing people as people?

By Senthiyl S S G, Director (Consulting), Arbinger Singapore/Malaysia | January 29, 2015

There comes a point in a leader’s journey when they are most likely faced with and then forced to grapple with the following question: “How can I have an unflinching focus on results while honoring and seeing people as people?” A bigger problem may exist in the leader avoiding such a question, or worse yet, never pondering it.

In the minds of many leaders, being focused on results seems diametrically opposed to honoring and seeing people as people.

In the minds of many leaders, they feel “to truly drive results, it is inevitable that they will have to see others solely as the producers of results… as objects!”

This assumption challenges our equally emphatic talk and promotion of organizational values. For how can one talk about, promote values, and live true to their organization’s values while seeing others as objects?

The question for us then is, does this have to be so?

Throughout their careers, most leaders will be introduced to many different styles of leadership. Popular culture (and even some personality tests) seem to prompt leaders to identify themselves as either “Task Oriented” or “People Oriented”.

I would like to submit that this way of looking at leadership and leaders is inherently problematic.

It places “Task” and “People” at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Perhaps this way of looking at leadership may be because of a commonly misunderstood issue. It seems to separate PEOPLE from RESULTS. It also may point to a distinction in how to approach leadership behaviorally.

Behaviors can be broadly divided into two types: either exhibiting “HARD” behaviors or exhibiting “SOFT” behaviors.

By “HARD” behaviors, I am referring to actions like, focusing only on the task at hand, saying “No”, rejecting a request, firing someone, giving someone a poor grade, setting and expecting high standards, rejecting mediocrity, setting challenging goals, not compromising, “telling it like it is” and more.

By “SOFT” behaviors, I am referring to actions like, seeking staff involvement in important decisions, giving praise, giving some a good grade, being flexible, giving in, accommodating, saying “Yes”, avoiding telling truths that might hurt others’ feelings, and more.

There is a tendency for some people to label leaders who predominantly demonstrate “HARD” behaviors as being Task Oriented and to label leaders who predominantly demonstrate “SOFT” behaviors as being People Oriented.

Herein lies the problem.

As a leader, one primary responsibility is to help the team members grow. In fact, if we actually honor our team members and see them as people, we will naturally want to help them grow and progress.

But can people grow if a leader is only exhibiting “SOFT” behaviors? Is the leader truly honoring others as people?

Doesn’t growth also often require “HARD” behaviors like setting challenging goals, demanding high standards, telling the truths that might hurt and pressing people beyond their comfort zone?

This may suggest that a leader, to truly honor team members as people, needs to be both “SOFT” and “HARD” in his or her behaviors. I submit that there is no contradiction here.

This idea of being “SOFT” and “HARD” while honoring others is explained very well in two books written by The Arbinger Institute: “Leadership and Self Deception” and “The Anatomy of Peace.”

The question then is, what is the underlying MINDSET of a leader while exhibiting both “SOFT” and “HARD” behaviors?

You can ask: Do I have an inward MINDSET where my intentions are about ME? Or do I have an outward MINDSET where my intentions are about WE?

By changing their MINDSET from Me into We, leaders are able to:

    • Become truly and fully results oriented; by focusing on helping others achieve their results (Our results).
    • Remove this conflict or contradiction that they have around behaviors and become more effective in every action, in any given time & situation.
    • Properly fill their role as a leader by bringing out their true potential in themselves and others who look up to and rely on them.
    • Nurture a culture free of blame and self-focus.

As leaders develop an outward mindset, they embrace the fact that in order to unleash the talent, creativity, and dedication needed to achieve great results, they must actually see and treat their team members and customers as people, rather than as objects in place to complete a specific task or purchase a product or service. This mindset and leadership style is in fact both “Task Oriented” and “People Oriented.”

Leaders no longer need to live and grapple with the internal conflict or contradiction between being task or people oriented. Leaders can be unflinchingly focused on results while honoring others as people. And there is nothing to be apologetic about!

So how do we help leaders shift their MINDSET?

There is a lot of literature that claims to explore mindset change.

Arbinger’s work addresses the deepest impactful level of mindset. It tackles the problem of how we sanction and continue an inward mindset and what it takes to change to an outward mindset. The solution is uniquely simple yet sustainable and scalable, giving the organization the needed results with less effort.

Additional reading materials and resources can be found at arbingersea.com.