Outstanding leaders care more about productive relationshipswith their team members than they do about “making the numbers”, according to a study recently completed by researchers at The Work FoundationExceeding_expectations_thum   and titled, “Exceeding Expectation: the principles of outstanding leadership.” The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 77 senior leaders and their managers and direct reports in six “well known and enduring” companies in the UK. They looked for differences between “outstanding leadership” and merely “good leadership.” They were surprised by their own findings.

They write:

What is striking is that the research has uncovered clear differences between good and outstanding leadership. There is now evidence to support a systemic, people centred approach to high performance leadership. This is a paradigm shift for most leaders who remain focused on the numbers and has implications for all organisations seeking to improve their performance.

Apparently, outstanding leaders involve their team members in decision-making, remove barriers that are getting in the way of team members being successful, and make engagement a priority. And this emphasis on employees and their needs does not change in times of severe economic pressure.

The report concludes with this statement:

The report’s researchers stress that the emphasis on people-centred leadership is particularly critical while the world is still experiencing tough economic conditions. They point to the widespread tendency to assume that in difficult times, people think they need powerful leaders, with a controlling, target-driven approach. Yet, evidence from the research indicates the opposite, demonstrating that this instinct can be counter-productive.

One might expect that when leaders are feeling pressure for results, they will revert to a command-and-control style of leadership. But according to The Work Foundation study, the best leaders stay focused on achieving high performance by creating a climate of trust, respect, and honesty.