Study; Only 1% of leaders are both performance and relationship focused

A study by the Management Research Group (MRG) of 60,000 leaders over a 10-year period shows that the ability to balance performance and relationships is only 1%, 0.77% to be precise!

Is it true that it is impossible to find leaders who have the ability to balance both? How can we understand this in a wider context?

High-performing organisations have a culture where people grow, develop and perform. They have leaders who provide the conditions for people's engagement, job satisfaction and the desire to do good things - simply a good job. Is it about leaders who have an ability to show empathy and warmth? Yes, it is! Is it about leaders who are goal and result driven i.e. show high execution? Yes! We call this the both/and of leadership.

Leaders who have the ability to manage both of these competences with a focus on the team and the company balancing results and relationships will deliver better performance. Job satisfaction can be seen and felt!


The study conducted by MRG was done over 10 years on 60,000 leaders in 4 countries (USA, Canada, Australia and UK). These leaders were evaluated through a 360 analysis where they were evaluated by their manager, colleagues and direct reports through broad questions about results and relationship-oriented competences. Respondents rated the leader on a scale of 26 different questions, which then produced a score divided into 3 areas;

  • High relationship focus
  • A strong focus on results
  • High on both

How the leaders of the three groups were categorised depended on how respondents rated the leader on questions such as;

  • empathy
  • Co-operation
  • Productivity and control
  • Ability to produce results
  • Capacity to involve people

Leaders who were identified as highly goal-focused showed action in areas such as;

  • Take the initiative
  • Delivering results
  • Business acumen and financial literacy


Interpersonal leaders demonstrated action in areas such as;

  • Empathise with the feelings of others
  • Show willingness to listen
  • Ability to work with human diversity
  • Show curiosity about what motivates others

"And yes, out of all these 60,000 leaders, only 0.77% were perceived as both results and relationship driven!"

The study clearly shows that those who scored high on performance drive were low on relationship drive and vice versa. The leaders who scored high on both performance and relationship skills were in the top 33% in all the questions asked about empathy, co-operation, production and control. And yes, among all these 60,000 leaders, only 0.77% were perceived as both performance and relationship driven!

Is it true that humans are not capable of being both?

For a long time in Western culture there has been an idea of "either/or" and black and white thinking (Edward de Bono), for example that a leader is either "soft" or "hard". It's not surprising that we like to simplify complexity in order to understand it, but doing this to ourselves leads to us decimating each other when we label ourselves in this way.

"How then should we understand the results of the study if it is actually the case that we can be both? Why are the majority of managers in the study either 'hard' or 'soft'?"

From an interpersonal neurobiological perspective, the idea that we are either/or is also not true. The key is integration where different parts are differentiated and linked (Eva Berlander). So how should we understand the results of the study if it is actually the case that we can be both? Why are the majority of managers in the study either "hard" or "soft"?

People have long viewed life in terms of contrasts, especially in the West. Our thinking patterns have evolved since we were all hunters and gatherers. We understand the world through stories, which is why cultural analysis includes capturing the different stories and narratives of the organisation. In the West, we are more object-focused and rules are important to us (Lent). We tend to let complex relationships be explained by the simple phenomena they are composed of. This is a danger as it can lead to missing connections and coherence when we do not see the big picture but only the parts. We can call this an 'either/or' culture.

"High-performing company cultures always have a good balance between a high focus on results and a high focus on relationships."


We return to the survey. We believe that it is possible to be good at these two competences even if the survey does not show this. We are not born as either one or the other. We are made for contact (relationships) and have always developed, improved and performed (results).

If we look at the culture that the leaders in the survey are shaped by, we believe that this affects the outcome of the measurement. When our environment (culture) rewards certain behaviours, everyone in the system is affected, leaders and employees alike. We live in a culture with a strong either-or focus that simplifies and unfortunately then decimates people to either one or the other. To create strong and sustainable performance, leaders (and employees) need to be good at both driving results and having the ability to create healthy relationships with their surroundings. We know today that the potential from a people-performance perspective is at least 60% in most organisations. Why? One of the obstacles to this enormous performance potential is that leaders, and even corporate cultures, are either too strict or too tolerant.

High-performance cultures always have a good balance between a high focus on results and a high focus on relationships. Leaders generally need to shift their mindset from either-or to both-or. However, it is not enough to train leaders alone as the corporate culture will push the behaviour back to the old behavioural pattern. Instead, we need to manage the whole organisation's cultural change. The collective support is extremely important in all change processes. This also applies to leaders!