Target-driven approach to leadership less likely to produce results, study warns

Employers that operate a target-driven approach to leadership could be shooting themselves in the foot, new research has revealed.

A study of six high-profile employers, including Tesco and Unilever, found that a highly people-centred approach, rather than a focus on numbers and targets, was more likely to result in outstanding performance.

The two-year Work Foundation study, Exceeding Expectation: The Principles of Outstanding Leadership, was based on 250 in-depth interviews with leaders.

The report found three common themes among outstanding leaders. These were: thinking and acting systematically – seeing the whole picture rather than compartmentalising, seeing people as the sole route to performance and being deeply people- and relationship-centred rather than just people orientated and self-confident without being arrogant.

Lead author Penny Tamkin said the evidence indicated that there needs to be a paradigm shift for all leaders who remain focused on numbers and targets.

“Outstanding leaders focus on people, attitudes and engagement, co-creating vision and strategy,” she said. “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.”

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