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Hitting  the goal but missing the target - what makes good leadership?.

Hitting the goal but missing the target - what makes good leadership?

Perfectionism and goal-setting, like giving blood and surrendering one’s seat for an old lady on the bus, are unalloyed ‘good things’. Right?

Well, not all the time. Clutterbuck (Training Journal, May 2008) advances the view that goal-setting for employees can distort outcomes, creating more harm than good. Managers who are addicted to setting goals – particularly when these goals are the ‘wrong’ ones for the organization – can ruin both their reputation and the business strategy of their company.

According to the author, goals should be allowed to emerge in response to a stimulus. The actual nature of the goal should be reflected on, and contextualized to ensure that it matches wider business goals and conditions. Goals should be adapted as necessary, and their achievement recognized. The trouble is that compulsive goal-setters are often least likely to possess the flexibility of mind that this process of adaptation demands.

Riordan (Ivey Business Journal, May/June 2008) highlights the dangers of clinging to the past or thinking that behaviours that once proved effective will continue to do so in the future. The author emphasizes the need for leaders to be open to feedback and coaching, and ready to learn from other, more successful leaders.

Meanwhile, McMahon and Rosen (Training Journal, May 2008) argue against pursuing excellence through perfectionism. It can, apparently, lead to aggression, procrastination and controlling behaviour. It is also, the authors believe, incompatible with good leadership.

Ah, ‘good leaders’. So much ink has been spilled over how to spot them and attract them to the organization, yet still they are in desperately short supply. Too many leaders still micro-manage instead of giving talented employees their heads. Too many bosses take all the glory and fail to give their employees the credit for their success. Too many managers overlook the importance of communicating where the business is heading and motivating the workforce to work in that direction.

Talented leaders recognize that good employee relationships – built on mutual trust and respect – are the basis for solid performance. As John Fay, founder and chief executive of leadership specialist SFL has said: ‘When trust and respect break down, a business is in crisis.’

Empathy – or, as Maccoby (Ivey Business Journal, May-Jun 2008) puts it, being able to understand the diverse identities and personalities in the workplace and predict why certain employees will behave in particular ways – is the key to achieving good relationships with employees.

The author puts forward four concepts as being of particular use in understanding people and predicting how they are likely to behave at work: talents and temperament, or what people are born with; social character, or how people often resemble others brought up in the same culture; personality type; and identity, or how people want to define themselves.

Even here, there are no hard and fast rules. People very often do not, for example, resemble others brought up in the same culture. Personality type is notoriously difficult to pin down. And the way that people ‘want’ to define themselves can actually prevent them ever achieving their personal goals – which, when you think about it, is where this discussion began.