Skills of World-Class Leaders: Balancing Results with Collaboration
While collaborative skills are increasingly sought-after in the workplace, the need to achieve results has, of course, not diminished in importance. These two critical skill sets – teaming and driving – can often feel like they’re in tension, and require a deft hand to keep balanced.
We’ve seen many leaders struggle with identifying when to leverage team-playing skills and when they really need to set higher standards and push others to achieve. This equilibrium is tricky to manage and over-correcting too much toward to one side can cause problems.
This is particularly relevant for mid-level managers who have to manage up, down, and across to get things done. I recently conducted a set of 360 assessments for leaders in a company where care, concern, and collaboration are core to their organizational culture. However, as a public company, their leaders are also expected to make quick decisions, drive strategy and execution, and deliver exceptional results.
It was surprising how many leaders received feedback that they were failing to optimally balance these two critically important skill sets. We heard, again and again, variations on this theme:
Leader A is empathetic and a great colleague –he actively listens, gets to know his colleagues on a personal level, and seeks to understand his team. However, he can be slow to make decisions, miss opportunities to share his thinking, and often lets his team have too many chances to get it right. Pushing others and creating a results-oriented environment is a key opportunity for him.
Leader B has an impressive ability to get things done. She sets high standards and pushes herself and her team to deliver against their priorities, time and time again. She needs to continue developing her ability to collaborate with her peers and work cross-functionally to drive strategy. She can be too focused on her own priorities and agenda and misses opportunities to pull others in.
In our work with assessing and developing individuals for leadership roles, we’ve learned that managing this balance effectively is rarer than you might think. In fact, we’ve found that the combination of driving results while also operating as a collaborative team player can be a key differentiator for performance and longer-term potential.
Did you recognize yourself in Leader A or B? Here are some suggestions for correcting an imbalance.
Overly focused on results? Balance with greater collaboration:
- Make every effort to be open to new approaches and ideas, even when you believe you know the best path forward. Take the time to solicit the input of others and involve them in the process.
- Whenever possible, find a way to accommodate, compromise, or integrate others’ ideas into final solutions. When met with an opposing point of view, take a moment to consider the different perspective. Seek to find merit and verbalize this as such instead of simply dismissing out of hand.
- Put yourself in others’ shoes and show you understand where they’re coming from. Use statements such as “I appreciate your perspective…” or “I sympathize with that…” before asserting your opinion.
- Replace “yes, but…” with “yes, and…” Not just a classic improv rule, these nuances provide a more positive connotation during disagreements and promotes open dialogue. You could also say: “I understand where you are coming from, and, at the same time…” That “and” is key to the message.
- When making decisions, making sure you’re thinking outside your own viewpoint. Ask yourself these questions:
- “How could I ensure others’ priorities or needs are met in this situation?”
- “Is there another side to this issue? Who else should I talk to?”
Focused too strongly on being a good team player? Balance with results-focus:
- When sharing opinions, speak directly, and with conviction and confidence. Ask yourself, what message do I want the audience to take away? Then make sure to get that point across with little room for interpretation. Prepare for tough conversations ahead of time by planning out talking points and crafting them to match the interests of the audience.
- Spend time setting expectations and verify others are clear on the direction you’ve set. Then, set regular check-ins. This will involve continuous assessment of whether you need more, or less, follow-up meetings with others to consistently drive and achieve results.
- When issues of underperformance arise, take swift action. Provide direct feedback, and help the individual to take ownership for their actions and understand what to do differently the next time.
- Seek out mentorship from a leader who drives a high level of accountability and inspires others toward peak performance. What is it they do particularly well? What do they find important? What are their most pressing issues? Observe their behaviors and determine how to incorporate these into your repertoire.
Have you struggled to find the right leadership balance in the past? What did you do to remedy it? Tell us in the comments below!