Healthy leadership matters because unusually high-performing teams are the ultimate advantage for any organization—a business, a non-profit, a sports team, or a family for that matter. In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, good results just aren’t good enough.

How do you measure successful leadership?

In 1999, when we co-founded our leadership advisory firm, The L Group, the dot-com boom was in full swing, and the answer to this question seemed all too clear. Celebrated CEOs were the ones that spearheaded aggressive expansions and reported soaring profits. Conventional wisdom told us that if you wanted to know who the great leaders were, you need look no further than the profit and loss statement.

We witnessed this up close as many of our clients at the time were growing revenues 100% to 500% annually. But as we all know, that boom soon turned to bust. This experience gave us a front-row seat to the hazards of unmanaged, unhealthy growth. Coupled with our lifelong study and practice of leadership, this validated that revenue and profits don’t tell the whole story about what makes a great leader, and that a different approach to leadership was the key to enduring success.

  • A purpose-driven organization and team members;
  • A culture that is safe and innovative and makes team members want to stay;
  • Intellectually and emotionally engaged teams;
  • Team members working in their gifted areas who thrive;
  • Excellent execution that drives higher revenue and profits.

Healthy leadership matters because unusually high-performing teams are the ultimate advantage for any organization—a business, a non-profit, a sports team, or a family for that matter. In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, good results just aren’t good enough. Innovative or unique products or services might get you into the game, but only your team can create a “wall” that is too high and difficult for your competitors to climb.

To win, you need to produce extraordinary results, which only come from extraordinary teams. And where there is an extraordinary team, you can bet there is a healthy leader. That’s why leadership—specifically, your leadership—matters.

Research bears this out. In fact, according to one study, “20-70% of variance in an organization’s performance is attributable to leadership behavior.” You read that right: Nothing has a bigger impact on organizational success than leadership— not culture, strategy, processes, or incentive systems. The single most important factor influencing the growth of your company is how you lead.

Shifting Employee Priorities

Healthy leadership is more vital today than ever because people’s relationship to work has changed, and so has the nature of work itself. Expansive research by Gallup clearly shows that today’s worker is more purpose-driven, conversational, focused on strengths, and development-oriented. These shifts in employee priorities have existed for several years, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated them just as any crisis tends to intensify existing trends, so they are here to stay.

Your team members don’t just work for a paycheck—they want meaning. They want to work for organizations with a compelling purpose. Compensation is important and must be fair, but it’s no longer the sole driver of career choices. And ping pong tables, cappuccino machines, free snacks and such are not strong motivators anymore. The emphasis for today’s team member has switched from paycheck to purpose, and so must your leadership approach.

Past Today
My PaycheckMy Purpose
My SatisfactionMy Development
My BossMy Coach
My Annual ReviewMy Ongoing Conversations
My WeaknessesMy Strengths
My JobMy Life

Today’s employees are not pursuing mere job satisfaction. They strive for development both personal and professional, which are increasingly inseparable. They want self-growth, and a position in an enterprise that is itself growing—so that they can contribute to that ongoing evolution. As a result, they don’t want bosses. They want coaches. They want someone in their corner who values them as both people and employees, and who helps them understand and cultivate their strengths.

Team members see little value in annual reviews. Instead, they want ongoing, quality conversations via a variety of channels: face-to-face, over text, email, Slack, Zoom, and other platforms. This requires leaders themselves to grow—to develop flexible, direct, and real-time ways of communicating. During these conversations, today’s team members don’t want to focus on fixing their weaknesses; rather, they want your help in building their strengths. Weaknesses rarely, if ever, magically transform into strengths, while strengths can develop infinitely. Leaders should not ignore weaknesses but put employees in positions to maximize strengths. This benefits both the individual and the organization.

Few people just want to clock in and clock out anymore. Instead, they want to find meaning, belonging, and mastery. A leader dedicated to healthy leadership recognizes this, while also acknowledging that work life and personal life blend more than ever. Years ago, work and life were separate; later, work became more consuming, so people sought balance. Today, a job is no longer just a job — it’s your life as well. After the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s simply no going back. In many cases, our work has taken up residence in our homes, so workers want this to be a positive experience.

This new healthy leadership model benefits leaders at every level, and everyone they work with. This matters when you are on the front lines of an organization as well when you work your way up to the very top. It matters in an up economy or a down economy, in a start-up or a mature business, a local company or a global enterprise. It matters when you are in the board room and when you are in the break room.

In our resources, we share the art and the science of healthy leadership. The art comes into play in how you choose to authentically adapt the tools to your unique style and your team’s unique needs. The science comes into play by understanding universal human dynamics and insights about how our brains work, then applying proven tools to get the best from yourself and those that you are leading.

Healthy leadership is comprised of three principles and three practices that are no longer just nice-to-do. In today’s world of work, these principles and practices are required to win the battle for the best talent and build a high-performing team.


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Healthy Leadership

Leadership as a Leading Indicator

Consider a measurement continuum. At one end are lagging indicators. These are the results of your team’s past performance. They enable you to see if your activities produced the desired outcomes. At the other end of the continuum are leading indicators. These are the drivers of your team’s future performance. They provide early warning signs of problems that might appear on the horizon.

This continuum illustrates how leadership acts as the most crucial leading indicator of sustained, healthy growth:


Healthy leaders balance their view by looking at both leading and lagging indicators. Every team has a variety of performance indicators. Healthy teams understand the different types, what they mean and, most importantly, how to balance them.

Economic and competitive pressures compel many leaders to focus on lagging indicators, typically financial ones. Of course, it’s important to consider lagging indicators to know how well you have performed in the past. However, you must be careful not to neglect leading indicators, since you want to be able to predict how your organization will perform six, nine, or 12 months from now. A singular focus on lagging indicators gives you little opportunity for corrective action if your team drifts off course. Effective leaders look at both lagging and leading indicators, which allows them to connect the past and the future and also paints a more complete picture of organizational health.

Just a few years ago we were retained by a pharmaceutical company to help them grow. Lee led this particular project for our firm, and he was welcomed in client meetings with a resounding and recurring chorus of, “We have five years of record profit under our belt.” He acknowledged that this was clearly a nice trend of financial growth, but his goal was to help the client ensure they could sustain this growth so all stakeholders would benefit.

During his assessment, he noticed some challenges with their process and employee metrics. Quality processes were not well documented or executed and employee roles were unclear, and turnover was on the rise. The very day Lee was scheduled to deliver his findings to the client and warn them of these risks that would inhibit healthy growth, they called him to reschedule the meeting. The client had received a call that morning from the FDA forcing the client to remove a key product from the shelves that accounted for 40% of their revenue due to a quality issue. This client has since recovered but they learned the hard way that cultivating healthy growth requires a more balanced view of their metrics, with particular focus on employee and leadership measures.

As the captain of your team’s ship, keep a balanced view of your team’s performance to ensure the current and future health of your team. While on your journey, check the wake of your ship (lagging indicators) and keep an eye on the horizon ahead (leading indicators).

A Force Multiplier

What is healthy leadership exactly?

There is no one-size-fits-all style, but there is a secret sauce that is foundational to healthy leaders. This formula enables them to nurture positive relationships and results so all parties can flourish. The first, most basic ingredient in this formula is simple: Healthy leadership is not about the leader, but it does start with the leader. Healthy leadership is about all the people the leader serves, internally and externally.

As a leader, when you help others grow, you grow—and growing people fuel growing, healthy organizations. As you grow, your job is then to help others grow. After all, you aren’t solo performers. You work with and through others. A leader’s success is measured in what others achieve.

Strategy is 90 percent execution, and 90 percent of execution is people. So, your goal as a healthy leader is to inspire others to develop, flourish, and realize their own potential even if they do not initially see it themselves. When we ask our clients, “Who was the best leader you ever had and why?” they almost always mention a person who saw potential in them that they didn’t see on their own. That is also the ultimate reward of healthy leaders: helping others grow in beneficial ways as both workers and people. The predictable outcome of this process is a growing organization.

Now imagine the best version of your company. Top-performing employees are growing by using their natural gifts as they develop into tomorrow’s leaders. They are healthy, happy, and innovative. They embrace risk and challenges. Their ownership in the work they do mirrors how entrepreneurs run their own businesses. The teams in which they work have great communication skills and are synergistic, often making the seemingly impossible possible. They are motivated by the greater purpose of their work and willingly give their time and energy to fulfill that purpose.

The managers in the company see themselves as coaches to help each team member reach their full potential. These leaders understand that healthy organizational growth starts first from the inside—inside themselves. They are keenly aware of their own thoughts, words and actions, and their impact on others. They are always learning, growing, and creating.

You have created a culture of authenticity. The actions of all employees and the systems within the company align with the company’s purpose and goals. The feeling is that of a family. It’s supportive and caring—a sanctuary for high trust and outstanding results.

Despite current challenges in the market, your customer service, innovation, and employee engagement are at an all-time high. The company and its leaders are held with high esteem within your industry and in the community. You played a key leadership role in this vision of healthy growth. Your intentional efforts for growth are sprouting positive results. You are this leader, these are your employees, and this thriving team is yours.

That is what healthy leadership looks like. Just imagine. perform. Engage their minds and watch their performance grow!

Principles and Practices

Healthy leadership is grounded in healthy principles and practices.

The three healthy leadership principles (mindset) are:

Love: Do what is in the best interest of others.
Positivity: Manage negative emotions and increase positive ones.
Growth: Seek new insights, knowledge, and skills.

The three healthy leadership practices (skillset) are:

Clarify: Crystalize a desired future and motivation to get there.
Connect: Build ties between work and human needs.
Coach: Unlock the potential in others.

The three healthy leadership principles are like an operating system. In fact, let’s call it the PrinciplesOS. This operating system supports the “apps” of healthy leadership—the practices. As we know from technology, when you have a great operating system, the apps work better, independently, and don’t hinder each other. So, the effectiveness of your operating system (love, positivity, and growth) will either enhance or inhibit the effectiveness of your apps (clarify, connect, and coach).

Although the healthy leadership principles are vital to healthy leadership, much of the time, just like any operating system, they might be less visible or obvious then the practices themselves. In fact, we know that they create the engine that enables the apps: our healthy leadership practices. The alignment between principles and practices is key, particularly with today’s worker who deeply values authenticity and integrity.

In our client work for over 23 years, we have witnessed firsthand how these principles (mindset) and practices (skillset) enable leaders to inspire growth for all parties in our new, rapidly evolving world of work. Principles and practices that distinguished great leaders yesterday are basic requirements today. Sustained remote work challenges and the desire of team members to see the human behind the leader are forcing leaders to elevate their games to be more human, more connected, more engaged, clearer, more positive, and more vulnerable.

Healthy leadership is a process, not an event. Like staying in good shape, you must exercise each day, but you don’t exactly know when you’ll see the results. You can’t run for ten miles one morning and expect to see the benefits that evening. The challenge is, you feel the pain without knowing when you will see the gain. You must trust the process. So, let’s discuss how you can strengthen your leadership muscle.

Leadership matters, and healthy leadership inspires.

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