Do Great Leaders Focus On People Or Results?

This week we are privileged to have our blog written by John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple.
John Spence has been named on to the top 100 business thought leaders in America, one of the top 100 small business influencers in America and one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. The American Management Association recognized him as one of the top 50 leaders to watch in 2015 along with Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos.
Enjoy the read!

Tui Harwood, CEO


Do Great Leaders Focus On People Or Results?

I just talked a good friend of mine whose company is being bought by private equity firm and the managers of that firm have made it clear that they plan to run the company by spreadsheet. To quote one of them directly, “We don’t care about people, we don’t care about customers, the only thing we care about is you making the numbers.” I’ve got another friend who runs a very large company that drives their salespeople into the ground with daily, weekly and monthly spreadsheet reports that constantly harangue them to “make their numbers.” The turnover in sales people in this company is about 120% per year at an annual expense to the business of a little bit North of $30 million, but because they generate about $8 billion in revenue it doesn’t seem like a very big problem to them. The leaders in both of these companies consider themselves “Great” leaders because they are results driven, always hit their financial goals, and their shareholders are very pleased too.

Then you’ve got a place like Google who takes legendary care of their 25,507 employees, offering them an insane array of amenities, perks, and incentives and were listed as the number ONE best place in America to work in 2013 while generating $58 billion in revenues.

** Just for fun let’s write that out:

Or maybe Zappos, the company founded on “delivering happiness,” that has also been listed as the number one place to work in America (in 2012 before they were bought by Amazon) and had 3,000+ uber-happy employees that helped make the company $1.6 billion in revenue that year.

So what’s the answer, people or results? Well it’s actually neither.

I was just looking over Harvard Business Review article that mentioned a fascinating survey of 60,000 employees on what they felt made a leader a “Great” leader. According to the authors, two of the characteristics they looked at were results focused or people focused. Results focus combined strong analytical skills with an intense motivation to move the company forward and solve problems. If a leader was seen as being very strong on results focus, the chance of that leader being seen as a great leader was only 14%. People skills combine attributes like communication, inclusiveness and empathy. If a leader was strong on people skills, he or she was seen as a great leader even less of the time — only 12%. However, for leaders who were strong in both results focus and people focus, the likelihood of being seen as a great leader skyrocketed to 72%.

From my 20 years of working with companies of every size, all around the world, it has become crystal clear to me that in order to build and sustain a highly successful organization the leader MUST:

  1. Hire the best people they can possibly find
  2. Treat those people extremely well and pay them fairly
  3. Invest lots of time and money in training, development and motivation
  4. Empower them to go out and take great care of customers
  5. Rigorously track business results
  6. Hold those people 100% accountable for delivering the desired results
  7. Celebrate both small and large wins / deal decisively with mediocrity

Every great leader I’ve ever had the privilege of working with has been focused relentlessly on both taking great care of their people and building a strong and financially stable business. Here are three quotes I believe sum this point up nicely:

  • “If you do not manage cash flow, you won’t be managing much for long”
  • “The number one factor in highly engaged satisfied and loyal CUSTOMERS, is highly engaged, loyal and satisfied EMPLOYEES.”
  • “The Customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.”

Focus solely on numbers and pretty soon you don’t have any people left (or at least not any good ones), focus only on people and pretty soon you don’t have any numbers (or at least not any good ones when you show up in bankruptcy court), so the goal is: people first and results first – got to have both!

John Spence