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Balancing people and results: 99 per cent of us get it wrong (and how to be in the one per cent that is doing it right)

By Glain Roberts-McCabe

“For the desert, a camel is better than a horse.”
— Med Yones, Economist

 A horse might run faster, but the camel has the stamina to get you through the desert heat. Like choosing the right mode of transportation through a desert, leadership is equally situational. Different external and internal factors require leaders to adjust their approaches yet there is one overarching message that we are given, no matter the situation:

The best leaders balance a drive for achievement with deep caring about their people.

Is this true? Do the best leaders really strike the perfect balance between setting stretch targets and making sure their people aren’t about to snap?

Researchers from global assessment leaders, Management Research Group (MRG) decided to dig into their global database and find out whether leaders who are both goals-focused AND caring-focused actually drive better results. Pulling from a sample of over 60,000 leaders from the US, Canada, Australia and the UK, MRG discovered that leaders who were able to balance both their focus on goals and results with a focus on caring ultimately demonstrated higher overall impact.

But how many leaders out of the 60,000 global sample possess the magic combination of balance between caring and results?

Only 467. That’s less than one per cent!

You read that right. The majority of leaders are leaving a lot of potential on the table by either overemphasizing the importance of results or bringing too much focus on people.

A focus on goals/results helps establish priorities in a hectic work environment and gives a shared picture of what success looks like which increases the probability that resources will be aligned. Setting stretch goals can spur creative thinking.

A focus on caring decreases threat response in employees and increases trust. It’s this combination that leads to decreased stress, increased cognitive potential, creativity and problem solving as well as increased information sharing, openness and cooperation.

So why is it so hard to balance both? According to researcher Matthew Lieberman, author of Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, we have two key networks in our brains: one that drives our social thinking (self-awareness, collaboration, authenticity, trust) and one that drives our analytical thinking (complex thinking ability, learning agility/speed, broad knowledge).

Through his research, Lieberman found that when one network in the brain was active, the other one become quieter. He terms this the “neural seesaw.” It’s hard to find balance between both, but — as evidenced by the research — it is possible.

If you’re interested in joining this elite 1% club that strikes the ideal balance between results and people, here are four strategies that will work, regardless of which muscle — goals or caring — you need to flex.

1. Get intentional

Whether you need to bring more of a results focus or more of a caring focus to your leadership practice, it helps to set a clear intention with your brain about what you’re trying to do. Use short, specific statements. For example, “Today I will ask about outcomes in my team meeting” is better than “I will focus on results more.” Or, “Today I will ask three people how they’re feeling” is better than “I will be more caring.”

2. Practice, practice, practice

Choose a meeting, presentation or one-on-one interaction to practice your new behaviour. Think specifically about words that you can use to demonstrate your results orientation or people orientation. Who do you know who is great at the muscle you’re trying to build? Notice what phrases they use to convey their focus on either people or results.

3. Recognize progress, forget perfection

Shifting towards your new “balanced” mindset will take practice. Be intentional about how you want to “show up” as a leader and then use the opportunity at the end of each day to reflect on where you made progress and where you could do better tomorrow. Shifts in behaviour don’t come from big leaps, they come from micro steps that move you forward.

4. Develop your self-insight

Without question, developing a deeper understanding of self, your triggers, biases and strengths will go a long way to help find the balance between goals and caring. As we continue to move into the collaboration age, leaders who can balance a high drive for results with a caring approach to growing and nurturing talent will be in high demand to work for and with.

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