Doing It Wrong
Sometimes being right is disappointing. I just read an article from the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman that concluded the same thing as I did in a blog post a few weeks back titled We Are Doing It Wrong.
The article talked about a study they did on almost 2000 participants in formal high potential programs. Usually participation in these programs is limited to what management defines as the top 5% of performers in their organization.
The study evaluated these individuals in leadership capabilities using a 360-degree assessment including their manager, several peers, direct reports and other colleagues. Their prior research had indicated that collecting data from this kind of cross sample could be statistically correlated to desired outcomes like employee engagement, lower turnover and higher unit productivity.
Here is the bad news; 12% of these HIPO participants were in the bottom quartile on leadership effectiveness and overall 42% were below the median. I would call that an epic fail.
The characteristics for selection may be part of the problem. Candidates were selected based primarily on four (4) criteria:
· Professional and technical expertise
· Taking initiative and delivering results
· Honoring commitments
· Fitting into the culture
That last characteristic is important because the research indicated that underperformers tended to emphasize (or overemphasize) a specific trait valued by their organization. This caused a kind of HALO effect or bias that caused their total profile to be overlooked.
Interestingly underperformers shared two primary deficiencies; strategic vision and the ability to motivate others. Good individual contributors don’t always translate into strong leaders.
I have been a practicing manager for over three decades. I remember the model I was originally exposed to as the fundamental skill sets of effective management- planning, directing, controlling, and budgeting.
We were still immersed in the precepts of Frederik Taylor’s scientific management model. Some were born to do, others born to manage or lead.
As a young human resources professional we were tasked with administrative activities and relieving managers of less valuable activities like setting expectations, providing feedback, coaching for optimal performance, and taking appropriate corrective action when performance didn’t meet expectations.
The models were still very much about compliance, if employees would be loyal (defined obedient) they would be rewarded with a degree of security upon retirement. Then we discovered outsourcing, down- sizing, and offshoring to optimize financial performance and the contract was broken.
According to a recent survey over fifty percent of people seeking additional managerial responsibilities do so to increase their earning potential.
Is it just me or do the results of this new study tend to reinforce that we haven’t entirely let go of this old thinking?
I happen to be a big fan of Paul Hersey’s definition of leadership – working through and with others to achieve organizational objectives.
We still have major issues with trust in leadership and capitalizing on the opportunities represented by true employee engagement, but to address them we need a different criterion for selecting and developing leaders.
Over the past three and a half decades my experience and research have led me to look for five (5) characteristics in selecting and developing leaders:
· Technical competence (mastery of the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job).
· An understanding and mastery of all three levels of trust (Deterrence, Competence, and Identity)
· Emotional Intelligence (this allows you to know which level of trust or leadership style to employ in a given situation)
· Emotional Balance
For me personally the technical competence is kind of the threshold, you need it to gain admission, but it is the minimum standard not the measuring stick.
My experience has also led me to believe that in the absence of emotional balance and self-awareness you will never really master the third level of trust on a sustained basis, and these represent the Achilles Heel of most leaders.
My experience has been if you have these attributes we can teach you the skills associated with successful management and leadership, but if you are missing one or more you will never be a highly effective leader.
I also personally believe that automation will make these leadership skills more important not less important.
The ship has sailed on whether or not employee engagement is real and it can affect the performance of an organization. Organizations where employees consider themselves highly engaged outperform their competitors in every key performance indicator and engagement is a universal rather than a North American phenomenon.
We still don’t like to talk about soft skills and we aren’t very good about teaching them. I saw something recently that said that the concepts of emotional and social intelligence don’t really exist because we can’t scientifically validate them, we should rely on IQ.
I would submit the results of the study reported in the HBR article give you a good idea of how that model works out.
Perhaps because of my professional development as a human resources practitioner the idea that leadership is based on behavior not words and that at the end of the day it is a relationship rather than a position these things resonate with me.
Thomas Jefferson described two camps relative to their view of people-
• Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all power from them into the hands of higher classes (Frederick W. Taylor and Scientific management).
• Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish them and consider them as the most honest and safe.
I would submit that if the term human capital is part of your vernacular and you see culture and employee engagement as the province of your human resources department and you haven’t adapted a new leadership model you have picked your camp.
The choice is yours to make, but given the competitive environment for talent, the demographic shift to Millennials being the single biggest group in the workplace, and the economic and social bleed from lack of trust and engagement you may want to rethink your models.