“Leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

—Peter Drucker

Getting results is one of the preeminent tasks of leadership. Nice tries are dandy, but if you as a leader don’t get results, you will soon be toast. Furthermore, in this era of having to do more with less, organizations are expecting excellent results.

The good news is that excellent results are within your grasp, but not by putting in more hours, nor burning out your team.

During our research for Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, we interviewed leaders from 61 organizations in 11 countries. A common theme was their overriding commitment to seek, not just any results, but excellent results—exceptional performance and have an impact on multiple stakeholders.

Case in point

For example, consider the story of the extraordinary cleanup of a toxic plutonium site at Rocky Flats near Denver. Executives from CH2M Hill took on a daunting challenge, as no such cleanup had ever been done before.

There had been a secret government raid on the high-security site after toxic spills and fires, leading to a work stoppage, problems with the unions, and allegations of a cover-up. The government estimated the toxic cleanup would take 70 years and cost $36 billion. In the end, the team finished their work in 10 years for $6 billion, with the original environmental standards being exceeded by a factor of 13.

Nancy Tuor, the final CEO at the Rocky Flats cleanup site, told us, “We created a culture of respect where average people produced extraordinary results. We grew and changed into different people. It was not about me. It was about them.”

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Finding another way

As a leader, you should keep two factors in mind when pursuing excellent results:

  1. How the results are achieved matters greatly. You can never compromise on the ethical imperative
  2. Can you continue achieving those results over time? Are you operating sustainably?

When the challenge is to not only make your short- and long-term number, but also to do it ethically while operating sustainably, people really dig in and find a new way. They refuse to settle for the easy way out. We agree with Cory Booker, the dynamic Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who said, “You can’t surrender to the options before you. There’s always another way.”

Triple crown leaders on the quest to build an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization find another way. Indeed, our experience over the years, confirmed by our research on outstanding companies and organizations around the world—from Google and eBay to Mayo Clinic and Infosys—is that people have an incredible capability within them that often goes untapped.

People want to do excellent work. People want their work to have meaning and make a difference;. More import, people thrive when they work on a team with a culture of trust and respect—and with high aspirations.

And our experience shows that, by tracking the work of your team, you may find that much of their work (perhaps more than half) consists of non-value-added activities. Try it.

Practical applications  

  • Open a weekly dialogue with your team on how you can achieve excellent results, not by working harder but by working more creatively, acknowledging the great capabilities they have within.
  • Let unessential work activities go in order to focus on the few key things needed to achieve excellent results (and be prepared to fight your bureaucracy on projects you let go; that’s leadership).
  • Constructively challenge the whiners and complainers to put their energies to work achieving excellent results.
  • Replace those who resist because they undermine the high-performance culture of character you need to succeed.
  • Refuse to acquiesce to the suboptimal options you initially encounter, creatively challenging your team to “find another way.”