Drive for Results

The ‘Master Competency’

“Effective Leadership is defined by results not attributes…”

Sprinter off the blocks
Professor David C McClelland (1917-1998), inspired the development of a Competency Dictionary that identified the specific behaviours and attitudes of top performers, across a wide range of industries.

It turns out there are around 21 competencies associated with outstanding
performance. However, only one of those competencies is vital for success in every industry type and every market sector, and that’s the ability to Drive for Results.

Drive for Results involves: setting ambitious targets, focusing on what really makes a difference (not being constrained by past methods), and being
optimistic and tenacious in the face of difficulties. It involves anticipating
obstacles and being ready, willing and able to overcome them.

This desire, energy and ambition to make things happen is at the heart of all truly successful business leaders’ psyche.

So, what does it take to master this ‘master competency’? Well, let’s start
with a word of caution, and then look at the 10-step process that is central
to success in this area…

Avoiding the dark side of ‘making things happen’

Drive for Results, if taken to extremes, can lead to negative consequences e.g.

  • Going for results at the expense of good ethics
  • Having high staff turnover or sickness due to pressurising/bullying employees to get things done
  • Compromising on quality in order to hit the deadline
  • Being stubborn and sticking to efforts beyond reason, even in the face of overwhelming odds

So, it is important to be on guard against becoming too self-absorbed and pursuing a goal to the exclusion of all other considerations.

In other words, effective people have enough good judgement to know when to be courageous and continue on the road they are on, and when to take a detour.

Thus, though, “winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win” – and for sure perseverance is at the heart of driving for results – it is also the case that the only thing you get from hitting your head against a brick wall is brain damage.

This means that having the ability to ‘take a reality check’ on your ambitions, and adjust them according to events, is also central to a healthy, productive results focus. Budgets set during an up-cycle in the economy are highly unlikely to be achieved if a sudden and unexpected recession hits due to (say) a pandemic or political crisis. It also means taking a moment from time to time to make sure that you are not putting pressure on employees to work long hours or bend the rules.

A 10-step strategy for Driving for Results

The basic process for achieving results is simple, though not always easy to apply:

  1. Prioritise your goals. You can’t do everything, so pick your battles.
  2. Make sure the goal is well defined, ambitious and with a clear ‘pay off’. Consider ‘benchmarking’ objectives in relation to what ‘best performance’ looks like in your market sector (and maybe look at what other, non-related, industry sectors are doing for inspiration).
  3. Get support or ‘buy in’ for the goal from key decision makers (if appropriate).
  4. Break the task down into 4/5 main phases, blocks of work or activities.
  5. Identify possible risks associated with each of the phases (i.e. ask, “What could go wrong?”) and develop corrective actions. Anticipating problems or difficulties and giving some thought as to how to deal with them, is a key success factor when Driving for Results.
  6. In a team setting, present (and maybe actively ‘sell’), the goal to your staff.
  7. Take the first small step to move toward the goal. Keep taking the next small step, until the goal is reached.
  8. Accept obstacles and difficulties as inevitable and adopt a problem-solving mindset to overcoming them.
  9. Keep the key decision makers up to date with progress (if appropriate).
  10. Celebrate success. Take the time to really enjoy your achievements. Publicise your success, not in a boastful way, but let your peers and managers know what you’ve been able to achieve, so they know what you’re capable of.

Bringing the team with you

One aspect of Drive for Results is motivating a team effort where a group of people will be needed to get to the desired end state. This is about correctly executing step 6, of the ten-step strategy, outlined above.

It involves getting the team together and explaining clearly and concisely:

  1. what the goal is (the desired end result and the time lines)
  2. what the main phases or activities are
  3. why the goal is important (and what the ‘payoff’ is for the business and for the individual team members)
  4. who, specifically, is responsible for which aspects of the goal (consider the need for any coaching to support staff in tackling their assigned tasks)
  5. when progress will be reviewed.

It is also useful to establish a climate of trust, where: honest disagreements are expected and encouraged, team members help one another, and creativity combined with a problem-solving outlook, is rewarded.

The power of the next small step

The idea of just taking ‘the next small step’ is an important one in Drive for Results (step 7 of the process). With large tasks, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the size of the challenge. However, by simply focusing on the next small action, progress is made quickly, continuously and without strain.

Harvard Business School Professor, Teresa Amabile in her book “The Progress Principle”, notes that it is highly motivational to have a sense of moving forward, so asking, “what did I get done today?” and celebrating that success (no matter how small) is a key factor in productivity and results focus. Also, research (Sparrow 1998) shows that people who ‘keep going’ despite difficulties spend twice as much time thinking about what they’ve already accomplished and using that as ‘proof’ that the task is ‘doable’ – as compared with those who give up easily.

Overcoming obstacles and the STOP model

Encountering difficulties is inevitable when working to achieve goals (step 8 of the process). Sometimes these roadblocks will have been anticipated as part of the planning process and sometimes they will be unexpected, but in any event some level of disruption is sure to occur.

Discouragement, sadness and anger are common emotions that people experience when faced with these inevitable obstacles. Though ‘natural’ they are unhelpful when it comes to reaching an objective, especially a challenging one.

One formal method for dealing with obstacles is the STOP model.

The model comes from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which was originally developed in the 1980’s to treat people with personality disorders. DBT offers a number of ‘tools’ that can be used in everyday life, including STOP, which stands for…

  • Stop – pause, don’t do or say anything, simply describe what you are feeling or thinking (e.g. frustrated, disappointed) – this is known as Emotional Labelling.
  • Take a step back – don’t make any hasty decisions, give yourself permission to take some time to work out what to do, accept the reality of the current situation (a problem has happened) and move calmly into a problem-solving mode (how can I move round this obstacle).
  • Observe – gather facts, ask other people’s opinions, assess the evidence, really understand what’s going on and develop some options for moving forward, adopt a problem-solving mindset.
  • Proceed – decide how specifically to move forward. Set a goal and take some action. Assess the results. Be sure to remain positive and confident whatever the outcome. Repeat the STOP process as necessary.

Putting it all together

Effective business leaders know how to make things happen. They have a strong ‘results focus’ and pursue their goals with energy; not giving up before finishing, even in the face of resistance or setbacks. They don’t allow themselves to be deflected from their course, though they do exercise good judgement and are flexible and adaptable when faced with significant obstacles.

So what’s next?

Examine your past for how you have gone about getting things done. Assess what has worked in the past that you can apply to the present. Identify your weaknesses and consider how you can compensate for them.

Pick a goal, clarify it and then commit to a timeframe to accomplish it.


Try reading, Collins, James C. Turning Goals into Results: The Power of Catalytic Mechanisms. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.


Watch… this seven-minute-long video on The Kaizen Way – a goal setting method based on taking small steps – by Robert Maurer.


Consider signing teams up to our 90-minute-long Espresso Workshop on Managing Goals, Planning & Prioritising, run either as a face to face session, or as a Virtual Training Event.


If you’re a senior executive, maybe a ‘one-to-one’ executive coaching session, on our Remote Coaching Programme, would be a useful option for helping you Drive for Results.


Or give us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK)
or email us at and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

So, to conclude we end with an old adage…

“You can make excuses
or you can make progress!”