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In-depth study reveals controlling, target-driven approach to leadership as counter-productive
The Work Foundation's major study to reveal the essence of outstanding leadership has crushed the commonplace assumption that powerful leaders with a controlling and target-driven approach are essential in tough economic times. Based on over 250 in-depth qualitative interviews, the two-year study, 'Exceeding Expectation: the principles of outstanding leadership', provides proof that a highly people-centred approach to leadership results in outstanding performance.
Six high-profile UK organisations took part in the study including EDF Energy, Guardian Media Group, Tesco and Unilever. As data in the report demonstrates, one of the most striking elements to emerge from the research was the stark contrast between how outstanding and good leaders behaved. Until all the interviews were completed and analysed, researchers did not know if leaders taking part in the project were deemed to be 'outstanding' or 'good' in terms of their achievements and how they were perceived by their direct reports and managers.
"The evidence from our research indicates there needs to be a paradigm shift for all leaders who remain fixated on numbers and targets," said Lead Author Penny Tamkin when announcing the study's findings.
"Outstanding leaders focus on people, attitudes and engagement, co-creating vision and strategy. Instead of one-to-one meetings centred on tasks, they seek to understand people and their motives. Instead of developing others through training and advice, they do this through challenge and support. They manage performance holistically, attending to the mood and behaviour of their people as well as organisational objectives. And instead of seeing people as one of many priorities, they put the emphasis on people issues first."
Author Gemma Pearson added: "Outstanding leaders are focused on performance but they see people as the means of achieving great performance and themselves as enablers. They don't seek out the limelight for themselves but challenge, stretch and champion others, giving them the space and support to excel."
The report reveals three organising principles of outstanding leaders:
* They think and act systemically, seeing the whole picture rather than compartmentalising
* They see people as the sole route to performance and are deeply people and relationship centred rather than just people oriented
* They are self-confident without being arrogant; they are aware of their strengths and their position of influence, yet use these for the benefit of their organisation and its people.
As Penny Tamkin explained: "Our findings strongly suggest that an approach which connects leaders to people and people to purpose defines outstanding leadership. Leadership that focuses on mutuality and respect is not only good for people but good for organisations too."
The second phase of the research will examine the implications for leadership development and find out if outstanding leadership can be developed through the three organising principles which differentiate outstanding leadership.
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16th February 2012