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Christian Hasenoehrl

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The critical dimensions of leadership


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]

2 Responses

  1. Leadership and cultural foundations

    Leaders take a lead, normally of some kind of organisation whether a country, a dinner part, a commercial enterprise, a public service, a bus, whatever. Setting a direction with committed ambition is clearly a reason for taking a lead and requires skills, knowledge and experience. Bringing the organisation along with you to achieve succesful completion of the stages towards the direction is a whole different ball game. Bringing followers along at conistently high levels of performance means no deviation, hesitation or repetition, and that means high levels of concentration by leaders and followers. Wellbeing and performance is something that hugely successful leaders understand, almost intuitively. They are rare. Most organisations under perform because of the inability to grasp the human dynamics involved in ensuring high levels of concentration on the tasks required and the motivation to perform beyond expectations.

    People generally behave in response to their understanding and meaning of the situation they are in at any given moment. In the workplace the interpretation of the meaning of a situation is largely determined by the cultural context of the work, and the expected behaviours that display the cultural context.

    Leaders who lay down cultural foundations of virtuous intent, based on the principles of commitment and trust, find follower engagement has greater strength than those who don’t. This translates into leader attributes and behaviours of attentiveness, intellectual flexibility, intelligence with humour, psychological status (wisdom), responsiveness, pressure creation and release, and some others, such as trustworthiness, honesty, integrity and selflessness. The leader who displays these and cascades similar characteristics throughout their follower organisation will increase levels of concentration, engagement and motivation, so long as followers are committed to the purpose for which they are following.  Leadership seduction is an asset that successful leaders display openly.


    Derek Mowbray


  2. Leadership Competency – Emphasis Varies with Level

    I am happy to see that more coverage is being given to this elusive subject. Good timing and insights, Christian. 

    I just had a friend ask me how to get rid of her "toxic" boss. Hence, as I was reading the article I could not help wonder, where did the boss go wrong?. I mean, was he already toxic when he joined the company or was there  something "in" the environment that turned him bad – as Dr Philip Zimbardo says, "Blame the barrel for the Bad wine". 

    Leadership has been my all time passion because, as the chinese say, "the fish rots from the head" (sorry, if you have heard me repeat this so often). It is the first item on my list when I am looking to introducing any change intervention. My experience says a one size fit’s all focus will not work. Leadership role varies with levels and therefore, the dimensions or competencies will correspondingly vary with levels – Board, CEO, Mgt and team. We also need to differentiate the real meaning of "Leadership", far from the tangible "status" such as being a "market leader" Leadership is not a position. It is a "recognition" you earn as you do your job in a team setting. There are many competencies that a person must master and demonstrate before you earn the respect of leadership. 

    If your people say, your emotional intelligence sucks, then your "key success factor" should, at that situation, be "Relationship". Hence, the application of leadership competency really varies according to the functional role and situation (Situational Leadership). Drive and Execution is paramount for all, including the tea lady who makes sure the temperature setting of the boil and duration of tea dipping is precisely timed to bring out the right aroma and taste for the guests to give an indication of how quality service is in the company. 

    Leadership drive, direction execution have great impact on the internal environment. All the more reason, I am at odds when justifications are leveled on sub-competencies like "political Savvy" in reference to knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut !. We all know what "office politics" does to communciation, trust, transparency, etc. Yet, how come it does not get the attention it deserves from top leadership. Also, by top, do we mean the CEO or the Board who put him there?. Which leadership is ultimately held accountability for the inertia on culture, performance and professional conduct. 

    These are among the deep learning challenges that leaders and followers should jointly explore in creating a dynamic, creative and harmonious workplace.  



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