Alchemy for 21st century leaders

“A process so effective it seems like magic”

Statistics show that a leader who has results focus, but not the ability to inspire and motivate, has a 14% probability of delivering results in the top 10% as benchmarked against a global database of business leaders. If they inspire, but lack results focus, the probability is even lower at 12%. However, when the leader has both, the probability of success increases to 72%.



Why so rare?

In our experience very few leaders naturally possess the ability to focus on results together with the ability to inspire their people. The first clue lies in the human brain. Neuroscientists have studied the brain at work and tell us that the part of the brain that focuses on results (the “what”) and the part that orientates to people (the “how”) act almost like an “on/off switch “.


"Over the past 15 years we have worked with more than 2,500 senior business leaders and found that whilst many leaders possess one or the other competency, very few possess both.

The second clue lies in the system. Most leaders we meet score highly in driving for results, a product of a system which promotes people for the “what”: technical capability, problem solving, analytical skills and the willingness to go “above and beyond” to achieve results The focus on the “what” switches off our ability to focus on the people (the “how”).


What the evidence tells us

Research into the most powerful drivers of business results shows that two leadership competencies stand out from the crowd: “Focus on Results” and “Inspires and Motivates Others to High Levels of Effort and Performance”. Over the past 15 years we have worked with more than 2,500 senior business leaders and found that whilst many leaders possess one or the other competency, very few possess both.


The leadership conundrum

We measure the ability to inspire and motivate your people by the extent to which the leader energises their people. For CEO read “Chief Energy Officer”. More than ever, we need leaders who can multiply the energy levels of their employees to counteract the huge drain caused by the current situation. Anxiety and physical lockdown undermine people’s ability to operate at their best.


The conundrum is that leaders who focus on results tend to push harder when times get tough and drain energy levels still further. In our experience working with senior leaders, trying to get “drive for results” leaders to inspire their people simply does not work. The patterns and beliefs that (in their own minds) made them successful are too hard wired. So how do you perform “alchemy” by shifting the “base metal” of driving for results into the golden combination of results plus inspiration?


The secret of success

A few years ago, I met the CEO of the 5th largest oil company in the world, a very driven and results focused leader, who nonetheless commanded huge loyalty from his staff. I asked him what he saw as the secret of his success. His response was: “This is very simple I dedicate myself to making my people successful. As a result, they will do anything I ask them to do.” He paused, smiled and then said: “Sometimes I worry that I exploit them!” In that moment I realised that this CEO had the secret of leadership alchemy.


A 21st century leadership hack

The real issue with a dominant focus on driving for results is that staff think the leader is in it for themselves. By switching the leader’s focus from “the results” to “making their people successful so the results follow”, magic happens.


If I, as your direct report, believe you are fully committed to making me successful, then you can be as demanding as you like. When my boss creates stretch targets, making significant demands on my time and energy, and I believe they have my best interests at heart, I see the demands as the leader providing opportunity for me to grow. The greater the ask the more I feel they care about my development. Thus, exactly the same behaviour (driving for results) now has a totally different meaning and effect.


In short alchemy happens!