The Best Type of Leader? Nice and Tough

Want your employees to stay fully engaged? Demand great work while remaining compassionate.

There are two types of leaders: those who push their employees to the limit and those who offer constructive criticism. Which leaders run the more successful company?

According to a new study by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman published in the Harvard Business Review, the best leaders are a bit of both: "drivers" and "enhancers." Drivers demand excellence, while enhancers are more of a role model, treating employees like actual people.

The study, which collected data from 160,576 employees working for 30,661 leaders at hundreds of companies worldwide, found that 68 percent of those led by a boss who was both a driver and enhancer scored in the top 10 percent on "overall satisfaction and engagement with the organization." In contrast, 6.7 percent of those working for enhancers scored in the top 10 percent, and only 8.9 percent of those working for drivers ranked themselves in the top 10 percent.

"Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people," chief executive Jack Zenger and president Joseph Folkman wrote in the study.

The pair also compared how "good" leaders and "poor" leaders might affect their employees. By their definition, good leaders ranked in the 90th percentile by their employees, colleagues, and direct reports, while poor leaders ranked in the bottom 10 percent. The best leaders had employees with an average commitment score in the top 20th percentile, while the worst leaders had employees in the bottom 10 percent.

Here's the bottom line: If you want to motivate workers, first be a good leader. Then decide whether to be a nice guy or a tough guy. Just remember, a nice-tough hybrid finishes first.

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