Tag Archives: Achievement Orientation

The Relationship Between Leader Mindfulness, Focus, and Results

 

In last month’s article on Adaptability I quoted an executive leader who credited mindfulness for contributing to her ability to respond to a significant and unanticipated problem when assuming a leadership role with a new company. She also shared details about mindfulness helping her time and again to excel when she was leading large-scale global manufacturing and supply chain operations. The other 41 leaders I interviewed also provided similar examples of how mindfulness was an invaluable tool on their path to professional success.

One particular result of mindfulness training that emerged from my research is the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Achievement Orientation.

What is Achievement Orientation?

Achievement Orientation is one of the competencies included in the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. It falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management and refers to an individual being able to set measurable self-improvement goals. A leader with strong Achievement Orientation will be:

  • Open to new challenges
  • Have a greater ability to anticipate obstacles
  • Willing to be held accountable for their actions

This competency, as is the case with the other 11 competencies, has been empirically linked to increased overall leadership performance.

What Does Achievement Orientation Look Like in the Workplace?

The manifestation of this competency is well illustrated by the following quote from a leader who has held general counsel positions for two well-known corporations: “I did all of my undergraduate work at night, while I was working full-time… I also got my law degree at night.” In other words, the results of Achievement Orientation look a lot like what most people also attribute to determination and focus. Other leaders shared similar examples, revealing the development of a strong ability to focus on completion of complex and large-scale goals.

Understanding the relationship between mindfulness and the development of Achievement Orientation was significant to my research, since I specifically investigated examples of positive workplace leadership outcomes. All of the leaders I interviewed provided in-depth descriptions illustrating this relationship, and reported the influence of mindfulness as having been significant. In these conversations, leaders described a process where mindfulness-enhanced development of the competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, which in turn contributed to Adaptability and Achievement Orientation.

In some cases these positive developments occurred in response to successful careers that plateaued, or periods of declining effectiveness that leaders struggled to understand. In many examples, however, leaders described these developments occurring as a part of years of personal activity aimed at finding ways to specifically improve goal-oriented performance.

How Does Achievement Orientation Impact Leadership Effectiveness?

Examples of this activity included developing the ability to monitor in real-time whether or not thoughts and actions were directly contributing to goals. Leaders also described setting aside time to reflect on how their beliefs and biases may interfere with reaching their goals, as well as an honest assessment of their past behaviors in the same context.

Leader reports indicating the presence of Achievement Orientation often accompanied detailed descriptions of career advancement, development of new leadership capabilities, and workplace success. These examples also revealed a pattern of personally-driven, professional development activity spanning their career: “it’s been on an upward track for me…I grew every single year…won some awards,” and “I am constantly challenging myself to find new ways to culturally have a very positive impact.” In many cases, leaders also mentioned that they had invested more personal resources into this level of development than their employers did on their behalf.

In the context of ongoing development, Achievement Orientation helps leaders:

  • Focus on identifying ways to do things better
  • Learn how to initiate actions to improve personal performance
  • Cultivate new strategies for obtaining information
  • Become more successful in taking advantage of opportunities

How Can You Begin to Develop Achievement Orientation?

It may be helpful to view the concept of Achievement Orientation as it relates to the research of Dr. Angela Duckworth on Grit or Daniel Goleman’s writing on Focus. This work references the influence of positive emotions on your capacity to successfully pursue a dominant goal. Success is related to how many of your mental and emotional resources are directed towards activity contributing to goal attainment, including thoughts, emotional states and decisions. These resources can be intensely focused if you are not distracted by, for example, considering alternative goals or questioning your ability to succeed. Focus and Grit, like Achievement Orientation, also relate to planning and preparation activity, and your tendency towards solution-oriented responses to problems.

In the context of Achievement Orientation even your reaction to stress can impact quality and timeliness of success. For example, a stressor may be viewed positively as a challenge to be met by some people, while others react to it as a threat and focus on coping options instead. Therefore, a good way to start developing Achievement Orientation is to regularly monitor the degree to which your mental and emotional resources are aligning with – and contributing to -the attainment of your goals.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Why “Achievement” is About More Than Short-Term Gains

 

Maintaining the competency of Achievement Orientation as a leader is complicated on many levels. One aspect is the time period in which achievement is being evaluated. Many businesses operate in very short transactional windows, and this challenges a leader’s ability to balance his or her personal drive with the needs of the organization as a whole.

Balancing sales and cash flow concerns with a longer view toward developing people is another reality of business – one that undermines the inner wisdom of many managers because it’s tough to do both at the same time.

Here’s how this played out in my leadership experience.

Many years ago, I was in a financial management position charged with bringing a business case to corporate headquarters for a fifteen million dollar capital equipment request. It involved significant changes in manufacturing tooling, was mildly controversial due to its scale, and was not easy for senior management to approve. There were competing needs across the company, so we not only had to believe in this program ourselves, but make a compelling case to senior management.

At the time, I managed a financial operations department of twelve employees, all but one of who were extremely busy. The one who wasn’t extremely busy was the newest on our team, new to the company and the least experienced. Should I take an experienced person off another equally important project to assure success here, or give the new guy a chance to learn something – yet risk a screw-up as a consequence? This is a question that managers face every day. It is a question that brings with it feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, and the added question of whether this will be the decision that torpedoes your own career.

To the risk-averse, it is generally an easy decision; pick the best person to do the job and get on with it. An alternative might be to pick the least experienced and micro-manage them to a successful outcome in order to maintain a sense of control. After brief deliberation, I chose a third path based in part on my awareness that my job would be easier, and in the long run the company healthier, if I viewed my responsibility to be in service of the organization as a whole, not just to myself and my career.

Taking calculated risks is part of how the competency of Achievement Orientation played out in my mind.

We had about four weeks until the presentation, so I called in the less experienced analyst and discussed with him what was needed for the business evaluation and presentation, who he could go to in manufacturing and engineering to get necessary information, and the stylistic approach required by headquarters for capital equipment requests. He said he understood what was required and we agreed to get back together to review his work in two weeks to make sure he was on the right track.

When we met again, he appeared to be moving in the right direction, though I pointed out that he’d made far too many assumptions in areas where the data was available, and that those gaps would be exploited by those with competing needs who wanted to scuttle our request. He seemed to understand and agreed to get the necessary data, incorporate it into his evaluation and we agreed to reconvene in ten days having tightened up those gaps. I wasn’t feeling good after this meeting. I wondered if he understood the importance of the project. He said all the right things, but I felt a distinct unease. Based on this feeling, I made an important decision: not to alleviate my feeling by either taking over the project or assigning it to another analyst but to commit to his growth.

 

I knew that in the worst case, with the information he’d have gathered by the following week I could pull something together to take to headquarters, but at this point I committed to a larger vision.

Two days before I was scheduled to fly to headquarters, we met to review his work. I was disappointed. He hadn’t gotten verification of his assumptions, and he hadn’t corroborated engineers’ hearsay. In a week we had hardly gained any ground. I was angry. Anger is both a constructive and a destructive emotion when used by a leader – it can motivate and commands attention, or it can undermine the individual and their authority. I told him that he needed to get focused. We had a day and a half and I didn’t care if he had to call the Chairman of the Board, the CEO or the Plant Manager himself, but I needed him to be at the airport the following day at 6am with the presentation as planned and the supporting data as required. No excuses.

At 5:45am the following morning he met me at the airport.

This was before the days of TSA and security checks when you could actually meet people at the airport at your gate to transfer documents. When I looked the presentation over, I saw that he’d done the work and done it well. He looked tired but satisfied, like he knew he’d just fully joined the team. I felt the same thing, that he’d fully joined the team. At that moment I knew my decision was the right one despite my earlier concerns. My boss told me that later that day he’d seen this analyst in the cafeteria and said, “You look like hell, what happened to you?” His response? “I had to stay up all night to get the business case done, but it was my own fault.” When my boss shared that with me I felt certain that I’d made the proper decision for the organization as a whole, and vowed to myself to choose that path whenever possible.

It is difficult to make decisions that may take months or years to manifest when we live in a world in which decisions are measured in days and weeks. The essence of good leadership is knowing how to balance those short and long-term gains.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Achievement Orientation: Coaching Strategies for Insightful Leadership

 

It is true that leaders who struggle to maintain a productive achievement orientation often have technical growth areas related to setting goals, progress monitoring, and analyzing data.  However, there is often a deeper adaptive issue at play that limits the impact of technical skill building when not addressed.

Whether they know it or not, many leaders care less about achievement than they do about other core personal values.  The good news is that leaders can learn to balance these seemingly competing values in their work.

David McClelland’s “Learned Needs Theory” from The Achieving Society (1961) has helped me and the leaders I coach make sense of this phenomenon.   According to McClelland, there are three core human motives:

  • Affiliation – valuing collaboration, relationship, and belonging to a group.
  • Power – valuing competition, recognition, and influencing others.
  • Achievement – valuing setting and accomplishing goals, and receiving feedback on progress.

McClelland believes that everyone values all three motives, but our life experiences and environments make one of them our dominant motive. Leaders who struggle to care enough about achievement are driven by another motive in a way that competes with achievement.  As a coach, it is my job to raise self-awareness about competing motives, push leaders to challenge assumptions about achievement that are getting in their way, and support them in crafting a new values-driven narrative that gets achievement and their other core motive working in harmony.

In my experience, leaders are most likely to struggle to reconcile achievement motive with their affiliative motive.

Paul is a leader I coached who fits this bill.  Paul led a small company with moderate results and was loved by his employees and clients. Still, Paul felt like there was a next level for him as a leader, and so jumped at the opportunity to leave his comfortable position to grow at another high-achieving company.  Within weeks of his arrival, however, Paul’s enthusiasm began to falter. He struggled to implement the company’s coaching system, with its focus on tight, accountable data cycles and direct performance feedback.  When I met Paul, his manager shared that Paul’s feedback often “hid the ball”, and that he was allowing his people to settle for lackluster achievement goals.  Meanwhile, Paul confided in me that his new work felt cold and impersonal. He was worried that his team was becoming discouraged by the impossibly high expectations and constant constructive feedback.

The more stories Paul told me about his performance management practice, the more I suspected that his root issue was competing beliefs. I realized that Paul’s ability to grow depended first on building his awareness about his own values conflict.

To help Paul I began unpacking his meetings with his direct reports that felt off. I asked these questions:

At what point in the meeting did you feel dissonance?   What did your person say or do that triggered that?

How did you feel when this happened? Name an actual emotion. Where do you think this is coming from?

What thoughts were going through your head that impacted your use of the coaching system?

What values or beliefs are under attack for you in this situation?  In other words, what do you deeply believe about the right way to develop people that is being violated here?

When Paul is able to name a deep belief that feels somehow compromised, I share McClelland’s core motive theory with him and ask him, “Based on the conversation we just had, what do you think is most likely your core motive?”  His answer:  affiliation.  At this point, the heavy lifting begins.  I ask Paul:

How do you think this core motive is serving you right now, and how do you think it might be getting in your way?

I follow this question with others that encourage Paul to consider the impact of his actions on his direct reports, on outcomes, and ultimately the impact on himself.  My goal is not to disparage Paul’s affiliation motive (certainly one of his core strengths as a leader), but rather to help him see when it shows up in ways that are holding him back as a leader.

When Paul starts to dig in about people’s feelings, I ask him to consider how his actions now are impacting the feelings of his people.  At some point Paul realizes that the way he currently values affiliation through relationships and nurturing emotional harmony not only impacts outcomes, but actually strains relationships and causes negative emotions. He sees that when he lets people off the hook for achieving goals and sugarcoats performance feedback, he is inadvertently sending the message that he doesn’t believe they are capable of achieving and growing.

Paul is now both confused and ready to re-balance his beliefs about affiliation and achievement.  I help him craft a new values-driven narrative that creates a new leadership path by asking the following questions:

  • What do you deeply believe are all of the conditions people need to learn and grow? Sort them by motive.  You believe all of these things, even if they currently seem at odds.
  • How will you know when some of these conditions are actually getting in the way of growth? What could you do as a leader when this happens? 
  • How will you make yourself lean into the conditions you know some people need, even when they fall into the achievement motive and push up against your affiliative motive?

Paul develops a plan to be aware of when his affiliation motive gets in his way, and to manage his unproductive impulses.  The plan helps him make better decisions about development strategies, because he is now trying to figure out what his reports need to grow rather than what makes them feel good.  With practice and coaching, Paul learns to care about achievement by replacing old assumptions and habits with new ones that balance care for people and performance.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!