Why won’t my agents and brokers just do what I tell them? Why am I struggling to motivate my team? Why aren’t they giving me the performance I need? If any of these questions sound familiar to you, you’re not alone.
You were probably promoted to your current position because you’re a competent technical professional. But whether you’re a middle manager at a major life insurance carrier a principal of a brokerage-general agency, your technical skills usually won’t help you be a better leader.
But effective leadership has an undeniable business value. In one study, Jack Zenger and colleagues (“How Extraordinary Leaders Double Profits”) examined the best (top 10 percent) and worst (bottom 10 percent) leaders at a large commercial bank. On average, the worst leaders’ departments experienced net losses of $1.2 million, while the best leaders boasted profits of $4.5 million.
Sink or Swim is Not a Plan
As any disgruntled employee will attest, exceptional leadership isn’t commonplace. One recent Center for Creative Leadership study reveals that up to 50 percent of managers are ineffective. And sadly, your company probably isn’t doing much to help you. First, they probably use the wrong criteria to select leaders by focusing on technical—rather than leadership—skills. Second, most invest precious little to develop leaders, and training is often an isolated, one-size-fits-all event. Without follow-up, 90 percent of information from training programs disappears after three months!
Without organizational support, leaders wanting to improve are left to their own devices. But when they search on Amazon for “leadership books,” they’re assaulted with more than 100,000 options! No wonder leadership feels so complex and impossible.
Luckily, there’s good news. Though psychologists used to believe leaders were “born,” recent research tells a much different story: Leadership is an acquirable skill. Recently, a study by Richard Arvey at Singapore’s NUS Business School revealed that a whopping 70 percent of leadership is learned. That means anyone can learn to become an effective leader.
Two Behaviors All Leaders Must Master
For decades, scientists have known everything we need to know about how successful leaders behave. It’s like finding your TV remote tucked under a couch cushion after hours of searching elsewhere: The secrets to leadership really have been here all along.
In 1945, a group of Ohio State University researchers set out to disprove the notion that leadership was an inborn personality trait. With 70 International Harvester Company foremen as their subjects, they discovered that leadership effectiveness was related to the presence of two independent behaviors.
First, effective leaders showed consideration, displaying support, compassion and friendliness to their team. Second, they initiated structure. They clearly defined the role each employee played and drove their performance. Let’s re-name these behaviors “People” and “Results,” respectively.
Indeed, you probably feel an inherent tension between People and Results. On one hand, you must build relationships by connecting with your team, earning trust and motivating them. On the other, you must drive top-and bottom-line results through their performance and productivity. I can drive them to perform, leaders think, OR I can be their friend: People ß——————– X———————à Results
Left Side Leader Right Side Leader
Depending on your upbringing, culture, and role models, you’ll find a comfort position between them. For a select few, that position is in the middle, leveraging each outcome to support the other. The rest fall somewhere to the left or the right, and some to the extremes:
The cool parent: Left-side leaders act like the “cool parent.” Focusing on the happiness of their team at all costs, they don’t set expectations, give honest feedback, or make tough decisions. Working for a left-side leader might feel pleasant… at first. But as soon as you need tough—but true—feedback, he or she would freeze like a deer in headlights.
The trail of dead bodies creator: Right-side leaders drive results so aggressively that they leave a “trail of dead bodies.” This leader requires grueling hours, is never satisfied, and withholds recognition lest employees become complacent. Though right-side leaders help you “up your game” initially, in the long-term, you suffer both physically (from over-work) and mentally (from lack of appreciation).