“Results aren’t everything they’re the only thing.” – Some CEO
The prevailing logic is that leaders are responsible for results. Therefore we should evaluate leaders as follows:
- Good results = good leader
- Average results = average leader
- Bad results = bad leader
Simple and straightforward.
But not very accurate.
Good leaders will sometimes fail.
Bad leaders do sometimes succeed.
So why does this belief persist?
The answer to that question is tricky. My take is that it persists because it removes ambiguity and provides a convenient place to focus blame when the results don’t measure up. Organizations that measure success in only one dimension, (such as shareholder returns), will likely evaluate leaders through the same lens.
Results are of course a very important measure of a leader’s effectiveness. The point of this post is to challenge the notion that it’s the only measure that matters. Organizations that take a narrow, results-only view of leader performance may do more harm than good.
- Leaders with great potential are overlooked and end up leaving the organization.
- Leaders focus on short-term results encouraging poor decisions that end up hurting the organization.
- Leaders learn to avoid taking risks or applying innovative solutions.
- Leaders turn on each other to deflect responsibility for shortfalls in performance.
- Leaders are tempted to set goals that are more easily achievable.
Abraham Lincoln would have been disqualified long before he was recognized as one of our greatest presidents.
The alternative to this approach is a balanced leadership scorecard that considers a wider range of factors. For my approach, I’ve narrowed this down to three:
Potential (Orientation) – Willing to learn through experience and coaching. Acts on feedback. Takes risks that honor the organization’s values while showing creativity and initiative. Seeks developmental opportunities. Demonstrates agility and adaptability.
Impact (Others) – The effect of the leader’s words and actions on the team and the organization as a whole. Behaves in ways that serve the greater good, helps others succeed and moves the organization forward. Influences positive change. A valued and respected team member.
Results (Outcomes) – Leader’s progress against measurable goals with consideration for the difficulty of the objective, challenges encountered and factors beyond the leader’s control. Accepts responsibility. Holds self and others accountable. Acts with integrity in pursuit of goals.
In summary, I try to assess whether or not this person is growing as a leader, contributing to the team and producing results. For me, all three areas matter in the final assessment.
For example, a leader who gets great results but leaves a trail of damaged relationships or creates messes that others have to clean up is not a top performer in my estimation.
Perhaps you think I’ve oversimplified this model and that’s fine. You may choose to expand on this list. A word of caution, I’ve seen leadership evaluation models that are complex, overwhelming and intimidating. If a leader doesn’t understand the framework and how it applies to day-to-day activities, it won’t have an impact.
Yes, results do matter. And a consistent failure to achieve results is most definitely a red flag. At the same time, it’s useful to consider other contributions the leader may be making to the organization as well as the leader’s capacity to learn from their mistakes and improve on those results in the future.
One dimensional focus creates one-dimensional leaders.