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Leadership style: Balancing results vs relationships


How you lead impacts every person in your organization. But, are you conscious of whether your leadership style focuses more on results or relationships?

This article demonstrates the importance of having a balanced leadership style.

Basic leadership styles

Generally, leaders fall into one of these two camps.

The results-oriented manager focuses on efficiency, deadlines and budgets. The relationship-oriented manager focuses on people, and whether they’re happy and fulfilled in their work.

Managing too strongly to either side of the equation can decrease initiative, drive, creativity and, ultimately, productivity. It also leads to distrust.

The conundrum for all managers is in learning how to shape your natural leadership style to match your employees’ needs.

If you focus solely on results, your people will feel you don’t care about them, only about the bottom line. At the other extreme, focusing only on relationships leaves results-focused employees frustrated and demoralized.

Here’s how to recognize what your employees need, and develop a balanced leadership style to nurture the best performance from each and every employee.

Results-driven vs. relationship-driven employees

Balanced leadership requires that managers get to know their team members enough to understand what motivates each person. Without this basic understanding, you’ll likely miss key opportunities to deliver the leadership they need in any given situation.

Results-driven employees want their manager to:

  • Have a plan
  • Get things done
  • Follow through
  • Stay on course
  • Be decisive

These employees’ belief in their manager is proven, earned and results-based. Their thinking is, “If you do your job, I will believe in you.”

In contrast, the more relationship-driven an employee is, the more they want their manager to:

These employees’ belief in their manager is feelings-based. They want to feel like their manager likes them and cares about them. Their thinking is, “If you believe in me, I will work hard for you.”

The employee’s perspective

It’s important to consider how each style of leadership looks from the employee’s perspective.

The results-oriented manager may miss that their relationship-driven employee needs to feel liked, believed and trusted in order to do their best work. These employees are the ones most likely to think, “My manager doesn’t care, so why should I care?”

The chance for miscommunication can be just as pronounced when a relationship-driven manager is paired with a results-oriented employee. In such cases, the results-focused employee doesn’t need to feel like they’re friends with the boss. They are more motivated by meeting a deadline or accomplishing a goal.

This doesn’t mean you should be rude to the results-oriented employee. It just means that person needs less watercooler chat from you, and more structure and attention to detail.

Leading for results (versus relationships)

As a business leader, you’ve probably thought to yourself or heard someone else say one of the following during your career:

  1. “I can’t tell my boss that. He’ll think I can’t do my job.”
  2. “I understand the process, but the circumstances didn’t account for my people and what I felt was in their best interest.”
  3. “They gave me full authority for developing the plan and working through the project but then took it all back and reworked everything my team did.”

Each of these scenarios reflects a situation where a leader has fallen too far into one extreme or the other in their leadership style. Each demonstrates the problems with managing from either extreme and being too focused on results or relationships.

In the first case, a worker obviously feels like they can’t ask their manager a follow-up question. This could be because a new leader is so focused on delivering results that they forgot to establish a relationship with their employee first to build a baseline of trust. Without this trust, the employee feels like they have to perform a task without question, or be judged for it.

In the second scenario, processes didn’t account for human beings, a frequent occurrence in almost every business at one time or another. The retail return policies of old illustrate this principle well.

It used to be common that you had to return a product within a certain number of days with a receipt and the tags still on the merchandise. Even then, you might only get store credit. These rigid rules didn’t account for products that might have been received as a gift, without the receipt. They also didn’t consider the fact that a customer might want a chargeback on their credit card, rather than store credit.

Such rigidity is equally unappealing in the workplace. A results-oriented manager would be wise to consider their people, with all their various strengths and weaknesses, before building a new process, if they want to achieve success. By the same token, it’s also prudent to recognize when an existing process isn’t working and adapt it to be flexible enough to work for different employees and circumstances.

In the final example, it’s easy to picture how demoralized and frustrated that employee would be to have their work undermined through lack of communication (the relationship) or lack of structure (results).

Establishing balanced leadership

 All people tend to naturally gravitate more to one type of leadership over another. But the best leaders see things from both perspectives of rules and relationships. Highly successful leaders take into account the organization’s mission, goals and tasks, and balance them with values and relationships.

These leaders don’t let themselves get stuck on either side of the relationships-versus-results fence. They take the time to analyze each team member’s needs and ask themselves, “Can I motivate this person to perform better with a focus on results or on the relationship?”

It’s not complicated to put this prinicple into action. For example, Amanda may be happy to launch directly into a discussion of the intricacies of pivot tables in her next presentation, while André wants to hear about your weekend before talking about his presentation.

Neither person is right or wrong. You’ve just got to give them what they need to feel comfortable and productive. That’s what balanced leadership is all about.

Want more great advice on how you can inspire and empower your employees to do their best work? Download our free e-book: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.