Leadership: Does it make a difference?

Over the past decade, numerous studies and surveys have been conducted on the topic of leadership. For a presentation I conducted with an IT organization, I reviewed a range of research material to answer the question: “Does leadership really make a difference?” What follows are some of the broad findings. Bear in mind, my goal here is to communicate concepts, not to provide an exhaustive list of research study references to validate specific conclusions you or I might have. In other words, you won’t find specific references to the studies I reviewed. However, I bet you could locate these and many others if you tried.

According to a study by McKinsey, firms with leadership depth were much more profitable that those without. In a survey of CEO’s by the Conference Board, the vast majority (91%) said leadership was the #1 factor for global growth, and in a related study, the Human Resources Institute found that leadership was rated the #1 pressing people issue by senior executives.

In the world of IT, one study by the Working Council of Chief Information Officers found that reputation of the direct manager was the single most important retention factor for IT high potentials.

As many of you know, Gallup research told us that talented employees need great managers to stay and be productive. And, furthermore, that people generally leave managers—not companies.

It’s safe to say, then, that leadership really does make a difference—in retaining and motivating top talent, growing business especially globally and sustaining profitability over time.

I believe results should be at the center of any leadership model. And, I think the results should cover multiple areas in a “balanced scorecard” way. Those areas for me are: Customers, Financial Performance, Operational Excellence and Employees. Yes, there are other stakeholders, as some of you will be quick to point out. However, I think broadly defined, these are the main areas in which results should be seen and evaluated.

To achieve desired results, leaders need to be able to perform effectively within and across four primary areas of responsibility: vision and direction-setting, modeling the way, empowering others and aligning systems and processes. These areas are distilled from a greater number of existing and proposed leadership models and each area is undoubtedly a study onto itself.

Photo: Irish Management Institute

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