Great power, great accountability

A new Korn Ferry Institute report explores why some leaders slip into counterproductive habits—and what they can do to get back on track.

Amelia Haynes

Associate Researcher, Korn Ferry Institute

Science confirms what many executives already know: that good leadership goes deeper than being smart, skilled, and visionary.

Effective leaders also know how to strike the balance between being firm and being fair—especially in times of high stress. Instead of buckling under pressure, these leaders use this to fuel their purpose and propel positive action. In turn, they foster positive work climates that, research shows, can increase productivity, innovation, and motivation—potentially up to 30% on the bottom line.

“We all know that leaders are important for making decisions and establishing strategies, but we’re also learning how important they are for setting the tone,” says Amelia Haynes, Associate Researcher for the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s innovation center. “The attitude that leaders bring to work and the cultures they’re so central in establishing can make or break performance”.

The true influence of a great leader, research shows, can be measured only by their impact on others. After all, a leader’s behavior directly impacts the energy of their people: in one study, 59% of respondents said their leader most influences their personal energy at work. The less constructive those behaviors are, though, the worse their organization will perform.

Put another way, what a leader does—and how they do it—has real consequences for their bottom line. In our new report, Great Power, Great Accountability, the Korn Ferry Institute explores why some leaders, under the weight of stress, slip into counterproductive habits, from belittling and intimidating employees to neglecting the welfare of others. And toxic bosses, the report finds, can have wide-ranging negative effects on a business, leading to nearly $24 billion in healthcare costs and productivity lost.

But Haynes suggests that bad managers can become great leaders by taking steps to curb counterproductive behavior. “We used to think that you get what you get as far as your brain goes. Then we thought, we develop as children, and we just are who we are,” she says. “The truth is, we have the chance to grow and change at every single point in our lives. And this means that it’s never too late to become the best version of ourselves.

“Neuroscience is showing us how to do that,” Haynes adds.

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