When it comes to leadership, do you know how to set objective criteria? Christian Hasenoehrl provides insight on avoiding the pitfalls of common perception.
Leadership selection through promotion or recruitment, boards and senior executives routinely focus on certain skills, experiences or traits that at least appear, intuitively, to be important. Often they look for team players, operational experts, executives with previous leadership experience, and those who appear eager for greater responsibilities. Most rank leaders on subjective criteria or business criteria that is only tangentially related to leadership talent at best and not in the least predictive of future success in role.
Indeed, many perceived leadership strengths can, in fact, have quite the opposite effect. Great operators may be excellent deputies, but hardly good leaders. Team players may excel in a strong team but be lost at providing direction. Those simply hungry for greater responsibility may not have the first clue how to build relationships and exert influence.
More often than not, companies do not apply a terribly objective approach to leadership selection. In fact, not many organisations have validated selection methodologies in place that are predictive of future success. While skills, experiences and competencies are important factors, most assessments are heavily weighted on theses and based more on casual observation or second hand knowledge then on hard and predictive factors. A validated selection process will help most companies avoid the pitfalls.
The way to understand success, and increase the probability of replicating success is to study success. Our research has shown that top performers in all jobs think, talk, and act differently from average and poor performers. Top performers in leadership roles exhibit certain recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Understanding these patterns is the key to understanding outstanding leadership performance. Companies must therefore model leader selection on current and potential leaders that consistently demonstrate the highest achievements in profitability, revenue growth, employee engagement, supervisor evaluations, previous promotions, and organisational growth.
Gallup have found through a study of over 47,000 leaders from more than 200 organisations in 52 countries that leadership talent is the strongest predictor of future performance at the top of an organisation. In our research we have found that the five most critical dimensions of leadership are broadly speaking; Direction, Drive, Influence, Relationship, and Execution.
For example, Direction means setting the course for the executive team. This is a critical function of leadership. Leaders must envision the future, communicate that vision effectively, create strategy and determine appropriate goals and priorities that allow others to make progress based on the big picture.
Effective leaders also have high expectations; they are both personally and organisationally driven and set standards while challenging others to attain more. Leaders must also be influencers and must inspire followers to action. Compelling through persuasion, emotion, or charisma, the leader must generate confidence and support. Others look to leaders for guidance and decisiveness.
The best leaders find multiple ways to impact the performance, development, and growth of others. They invest in relationships and genuinely want people to succeed. Fundamentally, they know that any organisational success rests on the successes of each person within that organisation. Finally, outstanding leaders guide the planning and execution of critical tasks. From people assignments, to rearranging strategic plans, leaders must ensure that work is completed effectively, accurately, and efficiently.
Our research shows that leaders who are clear about the level of their talent in each of these themes and who work to enhance their leadership strengths have a significant impact on wider business results. Similarly, understanding aspects of leadership that are less natural and how to best manage these aspects forms the basis of personal leadership effectiveness and effective team building.
Such a leadership assessment framework can form the basis of development, selection, and succession planning. When used as a developmental tool, the leadership assessment measures the leadership effectiveness of each member of an executive team and allows the team to collectively identify their areas of strength and areas of opportunity as a team. This assessment helps organisations to understand current leaders and position them for the most performance impact within the organisation. On an individual basis, leaders can be coached on around each area and learn to build complementary partnerships with others to leverage their talents. The process should be designed to assist in identifying further leadership development needs to enhance each executive’s capability as a leader.
Much has been written about corporate hibernation, survival strategies and managing through the recession lately. While many organisations have turned to short term survival plans, this does have a huge impact on the type of leader required. Visioning may become far less important than execution during such times. Different leaders, or rather, different talents are required at some stages of the corporate evolution.
An organisation that promotes and develops people on the basis of their leadership talents is likely to gain a competitive advantage through a stronger talent base and better use of human assets especially during times that call for greater focus and time-bound strategies to ensure fiscal survival. Drive and Execution especially, are key success factors.
Christian Hasenoehrl is a Partner at Gallup. He is available at +44 (0) 207 950 4432 or via email at [email protected]