Good leaders get things done

More than 40 years ago, management thinker Peter Drucker outlined a simple proposition. “Effective executives differ widely in their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs,” he wrote in The Effective Executive. “All they have in common is they get the right things done.” While based on observation rather than sample data analysis, Drucker’s insistence on the value of results has been borne out by recent research that’s pertinent to the current debate about ways to encourage creativity and innovation. In a major study on workplace motivation, Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer found that making progress in meaningful work is the single most important way to boost motivation. “The more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run,” they argue in The Progress Principle. “Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.” The leader’s task, then, is not to set out to make people feel good: it’s to create an environment where employees can make tangible progress on meaningful work. In a soon to be published paper in the Journal of Finance, University of Chicago professor Steven N Kaplan and his colleagues outline their findings that the most successful CEOs are persistent, efficient and proactive. Such CEOs “get things done,” Kaplan says. “Those who don’t display those skills don’t achieve results, even if they are good listeners, team players and so on. And if a leader doesn’t get things done, their employees get frustrated or even leave.” Good to Great author Jim Collins couldn’t agree more. “What do the right people want? To be part of something that actually works,” he says. “When you show people it’s working and they can actually feel the click on the fly wheel…the tangible results become infectious in and of themselves.”

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