With leadership, go for effectiveness, not efficiency

Contributed by: Drew Chapin

“With people, fast is slow and slow is fast” –  Stephen R. Covey

A recent blog post by Jonathan Becher, CMO of SAP AG, cites recent research that the workplace is a social system where employees are motivated more by social needs for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness as opposed to pure financial reward.

I agree with the findings of the recent research, but I have a more simplistic way of saying the same thing – people are human beings.   If treated impersonally and efficiently like parts in a machine, results are predictable.  Going for efficiency, e.g. multitasking during conversations and making quick decisions when thoughtful ones are required, will result in relationship stress, lack of understanding and a slow process to make decisions and resolve issues. Professional workers today are highly knowledgeable, innovative and creative.  To optimize performance of individuals and the team, managers need to invest the time to go for effectiveness. Here are 4 tips to be effective with your teams

Collectively define the team mission and principles.  Yearly planning cycles result in the creation of new teams with new charters and time sensitive expectations. The knee-jerk reaction is to get to take action immediately, without really thinking. Leaders mistakenly think defining mission statements and team values slow down the team.   The opposite is true. Teams that jump directly into “activity mode” often learn mid-year the efforts of the team had low impact and may not be relevant to the business objectives. The path to effective leadership and breakthrough results starts with asking important questions that may not seem urgent. Why does this team exist? What is our mission? What principles will drive our behavior? Answering these questions first is the path to an efficient AND effective team.

 Listen to understand. Most leaders say they are good listeners. The truth is that most leaders can hear employees but they are not really listening. People want to be understood. It is human nature.  If managers try to be efficient during important conversations or do not demonstrate that they understand the point of view of team members, the individuals leave the conversation unfulfilled. They think the manager does not understand or worse, does not care.  This feeling effects people’s performance. Listening to understand takes time but in the long run, it leads to faster and more relevant results. Tip for success: Be present in all conversations. Listen to understand, not to respond.

 Release not control.  In the factories of the 20th century, task workers stood at the ready while leaders provided direction on the next task. The leaders were the brains and the workers, the brawn.   In today’s corporate world, the “task worker” is nearly obsolete and has been replaced with the “knowledge worker”. The knowledge worker is educated and cerebral.  She brings innovation and creativity waiting to be unleashed. Unfortunately, many managers and leaders still follow the old top-down, high control model of management. The result is a team of knowledge workers idly standing by waiting for the leader to give them the next direction.   The key to success is empowerment and release. Effective leaders should not tell team members how to achieve their goals. Effective leadership provides priorities and strategic direction and relies on the innovation and creativity of the individual team members to find the best path to success. This approach leads to new and better ways of achieving results and optimizes the performance of the team.

 Be a strong advocate for Top Talent.  Recruiting talented people who align to team values and culture is critical to leading effective teams. What’s equally, if not more important is helping your strongest team members advance their careers, even if it means leaving the team.  Because leaders rely heavily on their best people, many consciously or unconsciously hold back on outwardly promoting the success of their best people. Holding back on promotion of your best team members is neither efficient nor effective in the long run. Your best people are on a journey of learning and continuous improvement. They will seek opportunities with or without your help. By being recognized in the community as someone who helps people advance their careers, you’ll have a long line of talented people waiting to join the team.


  • Jeffrey Vail says:

    Well said Drew. I especially agree with your last point. This is perfectly put.

  • Marcus Starke says:

    Great blog post Drew, thank you. I particularly like your comments regarding Top Talent. Surrounding yourself with great and smart people requires another important skill by a leader: to acknowledge that you are not necessarily the smartest on the team. Top Talent need breathing space and autonomy. Only then they perform and have fun. And when it is time to move on good leaders help and build bridges, if necessary outside their own organization. And as you say fresh talent will be waiting at the door if that is your leadership style.

  • Drew says:

    Thanks Marcus and Jeff. Many times the most effective leadership approach is getting out of the way and letting your talented people innovate!

  • Kirsten Allegri Williams says:

    Hi Drew, thanks for the coaching on leadership! I can see how I can apply these principles within my own team. I appreciate your openness in sharing your strategies (also the mark of an effective leader) and the linkage to talent recruitment- very insightful!

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