Results Intelligence: The Five Factors That Distinguish People Who Get Things Done

Leadership StrategiesBoard and CEO AdvisoryHuman Resources OfficersAssessment and BenchmarkingCEO Succession
min Report
Dean Stamoulis
November 30, 2018
14 min
Leadership StrategiesBoard and CEO AdvisoryHuman Resources OfficersAssessment and BenchmarkingCEO Succession
The most productive leaders begin with the end, aggressively seek out the right resources, know the rules – and when to bend them, don’t overdo inclusion, and accept no excuses.


Every era has its superstars who make indelible marks on the world. People like Thomas Edison, who commercialized both music and electricity, or Henry Ford, who put an automobile in every driveway, or Steve Jobs, who revolutionized the mobile world, stand out precisely because they are so rare. And while their accomplishments are often taken for granted over time, they each faced substantial headwinds on the path to success. What’s interesting is that none of these men were the first to dream up their products, they were simply the first to see them through to the point of being available for mass consumption.

Most executives will have impressive accomplishments listed on their resumes. Through our years of helping companies pick leaders, however, we’ve noticed that there are some who are exceptionally gifted with the ability to create quantum change regardless of the context or phase of their career. We call this ability Results Intelligence (RI). In this paper, we look at what defines RI, and how companies can use it to select and develop the right leaders for the future.

A reliable model for picking winners

RI is different from classic intelligence, or how much someone knows. Instead, it’s the ability to beat the right path to the finish line, regardless of obstacles that may emerge. People with high levels of RI can envision ways to accomplish large, complex goals that are not obvious to others, and they stick with them past the point when others would quit. By building a leadership team with high RI, companies can innovate more efficiently and effectively. They can focus on what matters, discard what doesn’t, and easily pivot to take on new priorities. All of this is particularly important now, given that accomplishing results is arguably more difficult than ever in the face of unprecedented volatility, disruption, and need for speed.

RI can be considered a complement to Emotional Intelligence (EI), which is the ability to consider and manage emotions in relating to other people. In the most effective executives, RI and EI balance each other out. If someone is too focused on results without paying attention to values and treating people with proper respect and understanding, unacceptable conduct can occur. Conversely, if someone is too focused on people’s feelings and reactions without thinking about results, productivity and execution will suffer. Together, RI and EI can help leaders make progress without alienating those around them.

When we reviewed our interviews with the executives who distinguish themselves for RI, we found some common themes in how they describe the way they work. Based on this analysis, we have identified five consistent facets of RI that can help companies screen for this ability in their hiring processes.

People who have high levels of RI tend to do the following five things extremely well:

Five hallmarks of Results Intelligence

Five Hallmarks of Results Intellignece

Begin with the end. Results-getters have a clear and precise end objective seared into their minds. They then reverse engineer; deconstructing final results into components and processes that need to take place. They tend to be excellent planners who start with highly specific goals and approaches. They hold frequent reviews to ensure accountability.

Aggressively seek out the right resources. Results-getters are single-minded about getting what they need to succeed. Whether it’s more people, more money, or some other type of resource, they are often seen as the squeaky wheel (but who ultimately gets the grease).

Know the rules – and when to bend them. Results-getters learn existing rules and processes, but then determine where they can skip steps to create efficiencies. For example, they might look to shortcut a project approval or capital allocation process when an initiative is particularly time-sensitive. The question that’s always in their mind: Which rules are firm and which are flexible?

Don't overdo inclusion. Results-getters are willing to face criticism for leaving out key people if doing so helps them advance their project more effectively. They seek buy-in and involvement with only the most crucial parties, living by the mantra that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Accept no excuses; even from themselves. Results-getters are objective and clear-eyed in their evaluations about results, and failure is not an option. When one route is closed, they will find another. They tend to have exceptionally high standards, they set a clear tone for their teams that nothing but the best will do.

Asking the right questions

This model provides a useful shorthand for finding leaders with RI – and perhaps some inspiration for those who could improve their effort-to-result ratios. At the same time, it sets up a logical line of questioning in hiring processes.

Where do you begin when developing an action plan to achieve a specific goal?

Good answer: Seeks to understand the big picture and desired end state, works backward from the end state to organize problems into logical buckets, is clear about which resources are needed, ensures the plans relate directly to the goal.

Poor answer: Overly general regarding magnitude of work, overly flexible and open-ended, uncertain what good will look like, has trouble prioritizing tasks.

How do you keep track of initiatives in your area of responsibility?

Good answer: Has a strong project management mindset, clear organized plans, includes phases, timeframes and accountability. Checks on progress frequently.

Poor answer: Comfortable with a hodgepodge of actions and roles, allows plans to drift without regular review.

Is it acceptable to you to break rules or defy common industry practices? Why or why not?

Good answer: Respects rules, but considers other ways to solve problems; believes rules can be a hindrance in some circumstances, uses gray areas to his or her advantage.

Poor answer: Always follows rules, too black and white in thinking, wants a clear rule book and consistently thinks about how things have been done in the past.

How do you decide which people to involve in a project or initiative?

Good answer: Has a strong orientation toward efficiency, is openly against bureaucracy and believes that consensus can lead to mediocrity. Believes in short focused meetings, avoids and removes those viewed as roadblocks.

Poor answer: Overly inclusive, likes to think out loud with others, does not emphasize scope, overly concerned about offending others.

Tell me about a time when you were unsuccessful in reaching a goal.

Good answer: Will not let himself or herself fail, believes there is always a solution, has visible discomfort with not achieving objective.

Poor answer: Rationalizes, works too hard to justify a failure, blames others.

Succeeding Faster

Nearly every organization knows the pain of new competitors emerging from nowhere and new technology changing old ways of doing business. In many cases, the creativity and capabilities of leadership to overcome these challenges are what make the difference between achieving future success and fading into obsolescence.

To help identify those leaders who help organizations make quantum leaps forward, we find the RI model is a powerful tool. Depending on the specific nature of the challenges, different components of RI may rise to the top for different organizations. Some need a stronger injection of visionary strategies and projects, while others need more focus on seeing big ideas to completion. Yet by considering both the ability to dream and to do, organizations are more likely to find individuals who can catalyze the full cycle of innovation, rather than completing high volumes of low-value projects, or leaving grand projects half-done.

So the next time you need someone to shake things up, don’t just look for someone who seems charismatic enough to pull it off or has great ideas for how to do it. Put them to the test. Do they think like someone who has high RI? Do they act like someone who has high RI? And most importantly, do they impress you with the speed and effectiveness with which they’ve gotten results in the past? If not, it may be time to move on.

Russell Reynolds Associates recently developed the Leadership Span model with Hogan Associates that predicts how well leaders adapt their style to changing circumstances. We find executives who can move between four sets of seemingly dichotomous competencies are those who are most likely to succeed in the C-suite.

Core Leadership Competencies


Results Intelligence takes a slightly different perspective on leadership competencies but overlaps in many ways with Leadership Span.

Those who have RI are calculated risk takers. They combine big bets with preparation and practical considerations. In Leadership Span terms, they would score high on many of what we call the loud traits – being disruptive, risk taking and galvanizing – but also some of the quiet ones, such as pragmatism and reluctance.

To learn more about Leadership Span, please click here, or visit our website

Case Study: Next Generation Power

As an energy company, PPL Electric Utilities faces a rapidly evolving marketplace. With it comes a need for leaders who can plan and execute innovative projects.

Electric companies once thrived purely on engineering and technical expertise. In today’s era of smart grids, distributed generation and data analytics, however, success means not just mastering the current systems but understanding what’s next – and how to excel with it.

To meet the challenge, PPL – a Pennsylvania energy company that traces its roots back to Thomas Edison – is not only investing in new technology, it has also committed to developing a new organizational culture. The goal: move employees away from hierarchical models and historical ways of working, and toward a more creative, vibrant dialogue about how to ensure future excellence.

“Foundationally, what we’re trying to create is a culture where people know they can come up with an idea, and that it will be heard and implemented. We want them to know it’s a place where they can reach their full potential,” said Gregory Dudkin, president of PPL.

A key part of the transformation involves developing a new type of leader, one who can readily adapt to changing circumstances and persist in the face of setbacks and uncertainty. The challenge for current PPL executives, however, was how to spot the people with the potential to fit this profile.

To help build a robust internal leadership pipeline, PPL undertook several steps to improve the quality of its new hires, including incorporating Results Intelligence (RI) into the screening process.

“RI was the missing ingredient for me,” said Dudkin. “It’s not only grit, where you have perseverance, but it means you also have the inherent skills to use all the tools at your disposal to achieve results. It means if you hit a barrier, you’re adaptable enough to keep on going.”

For PPL, integrating RI into hiring meant revising its interview guide. The new version includes questions such as “What is the first thing you do when tasked with a new project?” “How do you decide which people to involve in a project?” and “Give an example of a time when you had to pivot quickly during a challenging project.” Interviewees were then scored on their level of RI based on the approaches they described in their answers and the experiences they shared.

To further strengthen its hiring process, PPL launched an in-depth two-year study to analyze how new hires’ job performance tracked with their RI scores and other key variables. The study found that several RI components were significantly correlated with positive managerial ratings of the new employees’ impact on their team after their first 18 months to two years. In other words, how employees answered key questions in their job interviews could help predict their ability to make constructive changes in the organization.

For PPL, the most significant questions as they related to managerial ratings were:

1) Where do you begin when developing an action plan to achieve a specific strategy?

For PPL, this component indicates strategic mindset. Also known as Begin with the end in the RI model, this was the biggest capability that PPL leaders saw lacking among its previous hires. Historically, the organization hired engineers who were extremely bright and technically competent, but who didn’t necessarily see the bigger picture or have the mental agility to find new ways of accomplishing goals.

2) How do you decide which people to involve in a project or initiative?

For PPL, this component indicates resourcefulness. At its core, answers to this question indicate how well someone scopes a project, and how savvy they are about who is best-suited to help accomplish it. Also known as Don’t overdo inclusion in the RI model, or not feeling beholden to include people based on title or position, for PPL, scores on this question were tied to grit and persistence.

3) Give me an example of a time when you significantly stretched or challenged yourself

For PPL, this component indicates courage, in the sense of being willing to challenge the status quo and to hold direct reports and colleagues accountable for doing the same. Linked to Accept no excuses in the RI model, it helps indicate how high an employee’s standards are and how successfully they can convince others to meet high standards as well.

Based on its research, PPL is continuing to refine its interviewing guide and the competencies its leaders screen for in new hires. Over time, “I think we’ll see even stronger correlations” between RI scores and job performance, said Dudkin. “If you have these traits and the right leadership skills, it really sets you apart.”


ELIZABETH BACON is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Leadership & Succession practice. She is based in Atlanta.

DEAN STAMOULIS leads the Center for Leadership Insight at Russell Reynolds Associates. He is based in Atlanta.