Balancing Leadership—Results vs. Relationships

By Lee Ellis

Being a good leader is a balancing act. In today’s Advisor, Lee Ellis, a seasoned presenter, human performance expert, and author of Leading with Honor®: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, discusses how leaders can strike a balance while focusing on both results and relationships.

Abraham Lincoln has been repeatedly voted as our most popular president, probably because he achieved great results in the face of incredibly difficult circumstances. But, how did he do it? When I posed this question to hundreds of corporate managers when facilitating leadership development, overall attributes fell into four areas of leadership—trust, relationships, results, and emotional intelligence.

The best leaders exhibit all of these qualities; however, behaviors regarding “results” and “relationships” were mentioned more than all the others. In fact, more than 85% of the population tilts toward one or the other.

What’s Wrong with Being Out of Balance?

The idea of balancing results and relationships is nothing new; but, if we assume that character is the foundation of leadership, there should be an inner motivation to balance accomplishing the mission (get results) and taking care of the people (build relationships). By themselves, neither one is viable.

Identify Your Natural Bent

How can you know your natural bent and what can you do about it? Begin by examining the two columns below and deciding which list of behaviors best describes your “natural” talents.


Results-Oriented Relationship-Oriented
* Take charge, decisive * Encouraging, supportive
* Introverted, focused * Trusting
* High standards, task-oriented * Good listener
* Challenging, speaks directly * Gives positive feedback
* Logical, organized * Concerned and caring
* Skeptical * Develops others


How Do You Gain a Better Balance?

First, accept the fact that most of your strengths are natural—we are born with them, and they are naturally out of balance. To get better, we have to change by learning some new skills (behaviors). You don’t need to give up who you are, but augment your strengths by adapting new behaviors that will make you more effective and will bring you more in balance.

Results-oriented leaders need to soften up. If this is your style, just the idea of softening seems anathema; but developing good interpersonal skills is what’s needed to make you a better leader. For example, learning to patiently listen, really understand, and then affirm the ideas of others can feel very uncomfortable. For some, the needed skill might be learning to give specific, positive feedback. It takes intentional courage for a thick-skinned, results-oriented person to do these “people” things that are so important.

Relationship-oriented leaders need to toughen up. For this leadership style, learning to be more decisive and more direct in giving guidance and setting standards is the goal. Conducting difficult conversations is essential to keep the organization and individual team members moving ahead toward successful execution. It may be intimidating, so plan out what you are going to say and then courageously deliver your message.

Small Changes Pay Big Returns

No matter which side of the balance scales you’re on, adapting new behaviors on your weak side—even at small levels—will lead to significant improvements. The key to growth is changing your behaviors under the daily pressures of life and work; there is no other way. Achieving a better balance is worth the effort.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, a new study reveals another priority for leaders—driving culture change.