By Kevin Eikenberry

Which matters more, the results people are hired to do, or the people who must do that work? Some see it like the chicken and the egg riddle, while others clearly find themselves on one side of the other.  We are living in a time where the tangible results of how leaders and organizations view that question will be on full display to anyone who cares to look.

Recently I have written much about The Future of Work, and even called this time a Moment that Matters.  I believe the decisions that organizations have been or will make about the Future of Work reflect how people view the choice between results and people.

In our work starting in The Long-Distance Leader, we use a model, what we call the “3-O Model” of leadership, that defines leadership as fundamentally about three things:

  • Outcomes
  • Others
  • Ourselves

Whether you frame it as results and people, tasks and relationships, or outcomes and others, we believe success isn’t found in prioritizing one or the other, as much as it is managing the tension between the two.

The Pandemic as an Example

If you remember last spring, as organizations around the world sent people to work from home, there was much talk about taking care of people who were living with a plethora of situations they hadn’t faced before.  Even the most hardened of leaders realized that the pendulum needed to move towards the people who do the work.  As days of remote work turned to months, the need to achieve outcomes – get the work done – grew. And the pendulum swung back, in many cases, towards the outcomes or the results (“The work still needs to be done!”)

In this short example you see the dichotomy that often forms – leaders tend to choose between outcomes and others.

A Different View

If you spend very long thinking about the relative importance of these two components, you will tend to drift to the chicken and egg riddle. We are here to do the work, but we can’t do it without the folks.  Not a very funny riddle, but an important one.

The solution is found not in pitting them one against the other or picking one versus the other. The solution is found in considering your current situation and balancing the needs of each – the results and the people – to achieve both short term and long term goals in a way that maximizes the system.  Imagine holding a rubber band between your two index fingers.  As you pull them apart, the tension in the rubber band grows.  There is energy stored in that tension.

Now consider one finger represents results, and the other the people.  If you want to keep the system (the rubber band) working, you must maintain a tension between your fingers. And you cannot do that unless you are looking at and thinking about both fingers all the time.

What’s Next

If as an organization you are still considering what your future of work will look like, I urge you to consider the tension between outcomes and others.  If you take both into account and use the needs of both the organization and your people in your decision making, you will make better decisions (and not just for this decision, but this is the one that looms in front of you now).

If you are a leader in an organization that has already determined when and where people will work in the coming months, you can still work to maintain and lead the tension between outcomes and others. When you do that – both daily and in the big picture – you will get better results.


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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He has spent over 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.

Twice he has been named by as one of the Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. The American Management Association named him a “Leaders to Watch” and he has been twice named as one of the World's Top 30 Leadership Professionals by Global Gurus. Top Sales World has named him a Top Sales & Marketing Influencer several times, and his blog has been named on many “best of” lists. LeadersHum has named him one of the 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership in 2023.

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