02/04/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2013

5 Ways to Know If You Are an Efficient or Effective Leader


Urgent, pushy people get results -- for a while. "Just get it done!" is the 'efficient' manager's battle cry. When that's their day-to-day approach, rather than the rare exception, it becomes ineffective. The toll is simply too high on coworkers and (ultimately) results.

In contrast, effectively balancing tasks and relationships leads to better working conditions and results that stands the test of time.

Aren't efficient and effective the same? The distinction came alive for me during a coaching engagement a number of years ago. My client was describing one of his team members to me, and he said, "She can deliver, but there's plenty of collateral damage along the way. Time and again she leaves a trail of bodies in her wake. If she doesn't learn soon that 'efficient' isn't the same as 'effective,' she's going to be looking for work in the not-too-distant future."

The Distinction

"Efficient" is what's best for immediate results. It means getting a specific task done in the quickest and simplest way possible, no matter how it impacts others. While that's sometimes necessary, it should be the exception and not the standard operating approach for a manager or leader. If it is, and they inflict enough colleague damage repeatedly, over time, the efficient manager is the one in trouble.

In contrast, "effective" means balancing what's required to get the job done well with those efforts impact the people doing it, allowing for both sustained relationships and sustained results. Tasks come and go, but colleagues (hopefully) build careers together. Therefore, how you collaborate with coworkers over many tasks matters a lot in being an effective leader over the long haul.

Assessing Your Risk Factors

Given that distinction, here are five "risk factors" for you to self assess:

1. Is there "never enough time" in your world?

Our sense of time -- whether there's not enough, or plenty -- is entirely subjective, most of the time. If you tend to be time-urgent constantly, you will likely put tasks ahead of relationships, and in doing so, burn some collaborative bridgework behind you. Work on distinguishing more accurately urgent situations from others, and you will find more opportunities to collaborate timely and effectively.

2. Do you tend to be agitated or frustrated often at work?

Hostility is caused by stress (and time urgency, by the way), and if your ongoing, ambient stress level is over a five on a scale of 10, it's likelier than not you're overly pushy and hostile while doing tasks, thereby burning out relationships with colleagues. How about a renewed look at -- and plan of attack to deal with -- the source(s) of your stress or hostility?

3. What percentage of tasks would you label as urgent?

If, over a period of years, it tends to run over 20 percent, you're either misreading the urgency of situations regularly, or you're not solving core issues in an effective manner. In an enduring over-20-percent urgent task environment, chances are you'll be skipping the niceties and going right for the bottom line. That's a recipe for efficient, but not effective management, and it simply can't last.

4. Given an important deliverable, would you rather collaborate, delegate, or get the job done on your own?

"If I could only clone myself," one executive told me, "then I could get everything done just right." In contrast to this way of thinking, effective collaborators/delegators value working together toward common goals. They are not doing it grudgingly -- they prefer it. If this seems out of place for you, chances are you are at higher risk for being efficient and not effective.

5. How many times a week are you apologizing to coworkers for your behavior?

Apologies don't make up for burning out others, or relationships, in order to get tasks done. They are, however, signs that behavior change is necessary in order for you to upgrade your way of working with others. In turn this will enhance the quality of life for yourself, and your colleagues.

In order to run organizations at optimal effectiveness, leaders need to monitor themselves and others for these risk factors, and use effective behavior, rather than efficiency, as a standard operating procedure. Doing so makes for a more livable work environment that yields better results.