“Pay for performance” models dominate today’s compensation schemes, a fact that seems to say implicitly that outcomes are the only thing that matter. Janet Jackson summed it long ago with her popular lyrical meme, “What have you done for me lately?”
But, there is also a 1970s lyric by Gordon Lightfoot that speaks to another, equally potent reality, which is “heroes often fail.” Leaders simply do not win every battle or war. We recently heard from a colleague who shared one of his life lessons after reading our take on servant leadership. He wrote…
“Early in my career I was in the running for a promotion but they picked someone else. I decided to get over it and get back to work – with vigor. Later I got the promotion, and my boss said that one of the deciding factors in my favor was how I handled the earlier ‘failure.’ Lesson – do it, fail, learn, do it over. Repeat as needed.”
Better than any singer or song writer, this poignant, real-life reflection emphasizes that the hallmark of true leaders is not their tangible “wins,” but rather that they lose like winners. Perseverance, grit, resilience, humility, optimism – call this mind-set whatever you like – but a “winning attitude” will eventually produce tangible results in some cases, whereas it serves as valuable and productive learning opportunities in others. Either scenario can be counted as a success in its own way.
The life lesson above agrees with our research on coachability (see previous study by AETHOS Managing Director’s “Dr. Jim” Houran and Thomas Mielke here) in which we found that high performers are differentiated from controls in that the former do not succumb to complacency, but rather they consistently anguish over doing things better, smarter and faster. Moreover, the winning attitude can be quantified and measured psychometrically by some pre-hiring and leadership assessments. For instance, our 20I20 Skills assessment includes broad measures of Self-Efficacy, Service Orientation and Transformational Leadership that collectively speak to the traits of resilience, perspective, grit, self-awareness, accountability and drive.
We propose that these characteristics are the ultimate signs of servant leadership, but, of course, these manifest externally as tangible results achieved through a clear mission, vision and a commitment to others’ success. Such leaders may not achieve every goal, but neither do they fail in striving for optimal performance and maximum results. So, when asked, “What have you done for me lately?”, true leaders can consistency answer, “Faithfully modelling a winning attitude and putting it to work for all stakeholders every day.”