Can leaders be both self-interested and others-oriented? At first glance, it may seem that these attributes are at opposing ends of the same continuum. Research from global business graduate school INSEAD posits a different viewpoint, and one that has implications for HR and Organizational Development professionals who design leadership development programs.
The research team of Laura Guillén and Elizabeth Florent-Treacy studied two categories of leadership behaviors to determine to what extent emotional intelligence (“EI”) had a bearing on these specific behaviors. Drawing on the previous work of Hogan & Shelton, and Hogan & Holland, the study authors used the terms “getting ahead” (defined as behaviors at work designed to gain power of control and resources) and “getting along behaviors” (defined as attempts to feel supported and liked) as the basis to frame two important sets of leadership behaviors. They then used the shorthand phrases of “getting ahead” in a leadership context to mean visioning, energizing, designing and rewarding (which is a much more positive take on the original terminology). They defined “getting along” leadership behaviors as teamwork and empowerment of others. Guillén and Florent-Treacy wanted to understand the role that emotional intelligence played on behaviors that could be considered “self-interested” (getting ahead) and “others-interested” (getting along.) Using a 360-degree survey process with over 900 leaders and their superiors, direct reports, and peers, they studied the behaviors independently and also looked for correlation between the behaviors.
Interestingly, they found that although emotional intelligence provided a “direct path” to improved “getting along” behaviors of collaboration, and feelings of employee trust and collaboration, there was no such direct “path” to “getting ahead” behaviors such as visioning, motivating and providing rewards.
The study authors make this observation about their findings and the implications for leadership development programs:
The motivational literature has long noted that at the heart of any debate about professional status was the conflict between getting ahead and getting along behaviors (e.g., Purcell, 1967). Results of this study provided evidence that they are not different poles of the same dimension (and therefore it is not true that one is either self-interested or other-oriented), but that they are two independent dimensions (De Dreu & Nauta, 2009). Leadership development interventions can be designed in order to reflect the two sides of the coin, taking into consideration the importance of both leadership behavior categories.
If you are in charge of developing your enterprise’s leadership talent pool, what does this mean for you in practical terms?
- Emotional intelligence is important, but those skills alone aren’t the “golden ticket” to developing leaders who can lay out a vision and inspire their teams.
- When framed as being able to achieve positive results through others, “getting ahead” leadership behaviors should be a welcome part of your leadership curriculum.
- Curriculum developers should give attention to both the development of “getting along” behaviors such as teamwork and empowerment of others, in addition to “getting ahead” behaviors such as, creating vision, motivating and rewarding others.
Leaders who want to “get ahead” aren’t necessarily self-absorbed ladder climbers.
If, in fact, their desire to move ahead is based on a desire to communicate a vision and help others bring their personal best to the organization, this “getting ahead” focus isn’t misguided. Leaders, HR managers and learning and development professionals can use this unique viewpoint for leadership behaviors as a means to more fully explore their leadership development curriculum. Doing so lends itself to a richer exploration of what it means to lead, and in the process, helps those in your leadership development programs grow into their full potential.