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The 1 Very Simple But Often Forgotten Truth About Leadership

I founded ConantLeadership in 2011 to help improve the quality of leadership in the 21st century and, from where I stand, there’s certainly a lot to feel encouraged by. More and more, an awareness has been building of best-practices for the modern age — practices that I ardently advocate, which are people-centered, built on trust, focused on integrity, and anchored in purpose. While there is still a long way to go, I’m happy to see more enlightened habits being widely celebrated by my contemporaries who are entrenched in the leadership conversation. The literature is moving away from a “command and control” model to a dramatically improved framework that acknowledges the work of individual contributors, works to “get the right people on the bus” — and then supports those right people in achieving great things with autonomy. That’s the good news.

I think it is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises – but only performance is reality. “ Harold S. Geneen

But, in the midst of all this heartening news, there lives the potential for something troubling. With an increased focus on process (i.e. cultivating employee engagement through thanking people, listening better, treating interactions as opportunities, and leading authentically), there lies the risk of forgetting about outcome. This is concerning. Optimal outcomes are the entire reason we devote so much time and energy to mastering the process of exemplary leadership. The simple, but often forgotten truth about leadership is: at the end of the day, leadership is all about performance. Not just excellent performance today. But sustainable high performance that will endure through tomorrow and beyond. Meaningful leadership success is contingent upon your maximizing value for all stakeholders: your consumers, your shareholders, your employees, and your community. All the sophisticated, leading edge, most enlightened leadership initiatives in the world won’t help you if you forget why you’re doing them.

At the end of the day, leadership is all about performance.

If you want to succeed, it’s helpful to remember why you are participating in these improved leadership behaviors in the first place. If you’re getting caught up in refining your process, and you’re losing sight of how they connect to better outcomes, you may need a reminder of how these actions, which are largely linked to valuing and engaging employees, relate meaningfully to better performance.

Continually do a mental check to connect with the larger purpose of your leadership behaviors. Remember this mantra as you work to caringly engage people: The performance must reflect the practice. As you’re being tender-hearted with people, always remember to balance that heart-based intention with the hard-edged expectation of superb results.  Yes, effective leadership must focus on making people feel extraordinarily valued and supported. But that same focus must be unwaveringly in service of conjuring extraordinary effort and superior achievements.

Leadership is about using every available tool in your arsenal to lift performance & build a better world.

Leadership is about using every available tool in your arsenal to lift performance and build a better world. It’s about enabling people, in a purposeful way, to perform at a high level. You must try to do this thoughtfully, compassionately, and authentically. But also with a fierce resolve that tenaciously pursues ever-higher performance with laser focus. Ask yourself, are my leadership actions meeting the goals of the enterprise? If the answer is no, it’s time to reconnect your efforts to the bigger picture.

(Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo under this license)

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

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