I was having a conversation recently with a business executive about why good management and leadership matters in business. It sounds self explanatory, and no one disputes it in a general sense, but when you look at the specific impact of a great leader or manager on a team, it starts to become clear how much it impacts the bottom line.
Teams can usually be broken into three distinct groups. Of course there are variations and degrees in each of these but typically we can separate people based on their perspectives, their actions, and their ability to learn and adapt. Looking at it through that lens, most teams can be divided into people that will be successful under any leadership, people who probably won’t make it no matter how good their manager or leader is, and those who can succeed with the support of a strong leader. Let’s take a look at each one of these kinds of people as we look at the impact of leadership.
Those who will succeed under any manager or leader
These people show up with a mindset that will typically cause them to be successful because of who they have chosen to become, how they look at the world, the degree of accountability that they take and the way they translate these perspectives into actions. They wake up in the morning thinking about how they get to the next level, build stronger relationships with customers and people they can learn from and continually improve what they do and how they do it. If you put these people under a mediocre manager one of two things will happen. They will either be successful in spite of their boss and simply manage their manager like any roadblock, or they will choose to leave and find an organization where they have the kind of support and development they need to reach more of their potential. That’s one of the realities around how great leadership translates into business results. At least some of your best performers will go work for someone else, often the competitor. Some though, will manage to achieve more not because of their leader, but in spite of them.
Those who will not succeed under any manager or leader
This group is actually relatively small, as is the first one is, but there are certainly people out there who, because of a victim mindset or a complete lack of belief in their abilities to be successful, or in some cases derailing behaviors that sabotage their chances at success, will rarely achieve a high level of performance. I personally believe that change is possible for anyone and recent neuroscience research backs up the fact that with the right process in place we can change the way we think, any time we want to. The reality is though, that it’s tough, it takes a lot of time and only under the best of coaches can this group of people make sustainable progress. In many ways they either don’t want to or don’t believe they can. This is a tough challenge for any leader and most of these people end up getting fired or are left to hang around for way too long in the organization. Great managers and leaders help these people make a choice to either get better or find another place to work. Usually, it’s the latter. Make no mistake though, while many poor managers might label several people on their team in this category, very few people are actually in this group.
Those who could be better, but need help from their leader or manager to get there.
This is the vast majority of the people in the workforce and this means that the amount of improved performance that happens with this group translates into either business success or business stagnation, or even failure. This is where great leaders and managers can move the needle consistently. These people show up wanting to learn and improve and they are excited about the possibility of being successful in their job. They will likely achieve some level of success no matter how good their boss is but what they won’t do is reach their full potential, or even get close to it, without an effective coach; someone who is focused on helping them improve their capability, their mindset, and their habits and patterns of behavior. Without good leaders and managers in your business, this group becomes the people whose performance is in the middle of the pack, and could have been far better. These people typically stay with the organization for quite a while. They aren’t performing poorly enough to get fired and they often don’t perform well enough to get promoted. The problem was that they needed support, guidance, effective coaching, the right challenges, and someone to believe in their ability to accomplish more. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders throughout our business, then we didn’t give them any of that and we are left simply trying to push them harder, give them more instructions and hope they somehow get better.
Very few people become high performers without help. Very few people can’t improve with the right kind of help. Yet if we have not done everything we can in our business to develop the kind of leaders who can cause the rest of our people to achieve more than they could alone, we have given away the one thing that could change the game for us. We’ve also decided that we’re okay being less than we could be. There’s very few businesses that would consciously make that choice, and countless businesses who failed to make a better one by not doing everything they can to develop more effective leaders.