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Screw the ROI! There are more important things to consider in leadership…

One of the most frustrating questions I get is when people ask me about the ROI on training human-centric leaders.…

At some point you just have to make a decision — are you going to do the right thing or not? Are you going to be a responsible leader who cares about people? A leader dedicated to the success and well-being of the people you serve?

Or are you going to just treat people like machines and grind as much out of them as you can for as long as they’re willing to put up with it?

FACT: You’re not likely going to get an immediate dollar for dollar return on human centered leadership development.

We’ve got plenty of evidence to show that companies that pay attention to human-centric leader ship outperform the competition. And I'll add that most of the people who immediately challenge me on ROI are not focused on long-term success and sustainability, but rather on what measurable results can expect today, this month––this quarter.

We don’t need another study to prove that people work harder, perform at higher levels and produce more when they trust and respect their leaders and know their leaders care. Those studies have been done and the results never change.

This is about treating people the right way. That's just the right thing to do. And doing the right thing is the very definition of moral courage––especially when it’s not immediately expedient or profitable. Of course, the cost of not doing the right thing can be devastating.

Contrast organizations that continually pay attention to human-centric leadership and those who invest little or nothing in developing their leaders as people. That's where you'll see the real difference. Fred Kiel’s seminal Return On Character is a great place to start if you want some sense of the dollar value. There’s a nice summary of Kiel’s work on

“Kiel found that high-integrity CEOs had a multi-year return of 9.4%, while low integrity CEOs had a yield of just 1.9%. What's more, employee engagement was 26% higher in organizations led by high-integrity CEOs.”

Kiel’s “high-integrity” leaders are those who embrace the characteristics and essential purposes of an authentic leader we support and develop through THE SENSEI LEADER MOVEMENT including Courage, Compassion and genuine Wisdom.

If you want to get a cold splash of reality regarding return on investment, look at organizations that pay little or no attention to human-centric leadership. Of course there’s the iconic melt-down of ENRON which can be traced directly to so-called leaders whose complete subversion of human values destroyed one of the most important businesses in the world.

When you ignore the human side of leadership the consequences can be catastrophic. Recent disasters on Wall Street, the continuing trouble at Wells Fargo and the Volkswagen emissions fraud can all be traced to a vacuum of human-centric values and leadership.

I’m grateful for the studies that clearly demonstrate the long-term value cultivating human-centric leadership, but this does nothing to mitigate my greatest frustration…

It’s just the right thing to do!

What else do you need? At some point, you have to decide what type of leader––and what type of person you’re going to be!

Are you going to lead people to fulfill a positive and sustainable cause?

Will you bring true value to the world through your leadership?

Or are you satisfied with achieving short-term objectives and profit by any means available, including fear, force, coercion and even fraud?

How do you want to be thought of as a person?

How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?

And what type of organization do you want to lead? One that simply exploits people and the environment to produce profit? Or one that contributes to the community and is socially and environmentally responsible?

These are all important questions, but sadly these are questions that too often get lost in the race to maximize short-term profits and produce immediate return on investment.

Of course you have to be profitable to survive. But history proves over and over that leaders and organizations that value people first are the most successful and longest lasting over time. Sadly, this history is continually lost and the mistakes needlessly repeated.

You will enjoy a return on your investment when you commit to the support and development of human-centric leaders––leaders who Inspire, Empower and Guide people to their very best.

But at some point, you have to just say screw the RIO. Train this type of leader for a higher purpose. Cultivate human-centric leaders because these are the types of leaders you want in your organization. Because they’re the leaders who care––about your people and your organization.

We lead people. We serve people.

And leaders are people too.

Let’s focus on being good people. Then and only then can we do our best work.


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