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Home > About Us > News and Articles >Leadership


One More Time, How Do You Grow Leaders
Who Truly Deliver Results?"

By David S. Knibbe, Ph.D. and Bradley W. Hall, Ph.D.


Imagine playing a key role in a successful business that truly "gets it" when it comes to building and sustaining competitive advantage over time. The "sweet spot" of such a company would consist of innovating and delivering products or services that customers value most.

Our stand is that job #1 of every great business is to attract and retain profitable customers. The priceless ingredient for such a business? Effective leadership.

Ponder these questions:

Do you believe that all roles in your company are equally important for complete customer and shareholder satisfaction?
Is the performance of key players in your business superior to those in competing businesses?
Are your leaders measurably improving year after year?
If you suddenly lost a key leader today, what would you do?
Are you accelerating the "readiness" of high potential leaders to assume crucial roles in your business?
If you are able to answer these and related questions, what did it take to grow such effective leaders and how do you define and measure success?

The Ultimate Measure of Leadership Effectiveness

The only pure and true measure of leadership effectiveness is sustained business results that are in alignment with desired goals, strategy and culture. We agree with Peter Drucker who said: "Leadership is defined by results, not attributes." We believe that leadership competencies and attributes are appropriate tools/guides for selection, training, and development but not for defining leadership success or failure.

If a leader delivers sustained business results but has a low survey score on a given competency, do we judge that they are "derailing" in their job? Or do we gather some facts and learn if the leader had compensating strengths, leveraged the talents of others, or if the particular competency was even relevant to the job?

We know of a VP in a company who delivered a $3million savings on a crucial project, plus other outstanding results throughout the year. Guess what? At their year-end review, the leader got slammed with lower overall rating for expressing their impatience during a senior staff meeting. The leader's business results were over-shadowed or "halo effected" by a solitary "slip" on an interpersonal attribute. Would the leader benefit from some "off-line" feedback on this incident? Sure. End of story and no repeat of the poorly demonstrated attribute behavior. Should their rating be dropped because of this incident? Absolutely not! Sustained business results are the ultimate success measure of leadership, not attributes. And performance processes should focus on accelerating and measure those results.

Our Stand on Training and Developing Effective Leaders

Based on our experience and research, we are convinced of the following:

First leverage a leader's strengths, then selectively address their job relevant weaknesses
Do not use a one-size-fits-all leadership model (but guiding values/principles are OK)
Sustained business results must rule, not leadership competencies or attributes
Build a strategy that first identifies "X number" of crucial leadership positions for the management and measurement of year-to-year performance improvement. To sustain competitive advantage (get and keep more profitable customers), these leaders must outperform their peers in competing businesses (also measurable through benchmarking).
Once crucial positions have been identified, objectively define "sustained business results" and how to measure those results for each role (evidenced-based is crucial)
Next define the best practices, or the essential, "must do" tasks to execute well to achieve that level of success
Then define the key skills, knowledge and experiences--and level of proficiency--required for each best practice to be optimally executed (the how of the job)
Use internal subject matter experts to design, deliver and measure T&D initiatives, using home-grown and public domain materials. They will command instant credibility and respect (use external experts as appropriate).
T&D initiatives should be job specific and measurable to be effective
Most external leadership training programs over-promise and under-deliver (high on cost and glitz, low on measurable, sustained value)
Remember to have a change management plan for any T&D initiative
If sustained business results are not your desired outcomes, then don't invest in the initiative
Align appropriate management & HR processes to these proven performance improvement drivers:

1. Fairness and accuracy of feedback and rewards
2. Risk-taking culture
3. Focus on strengths in appraisals
4. Understanding performance standards/expectations
5. Internal communication
6. Manager knowledgeable about performance management

Best Practices in Accelerating the Development and Readiness of Leaders

1. Identify and gain alignment around goals, measures and rules for the project; build trust and rapport; review past development efforts; assure that everyone is set up for success; etc.

2. Conduct a key position analysis and document:

Identifying the "what" of the job--the essential tasks, activities and best practices that lead to sustained business results
Identifying the "how" of the job--the core skills, knowledge and experiences that must be demonstrated and applied (referring to company competency model as appropriate)
Identifying the "how well" of the job--the success metrics that are used to determine if sustained business results are achieved

3. Customize an assessment program based on the position analysis; incorporate company leadership competency model as appropriate but remember results are primary. The assessment program could include depth interviews; use of internal surveys and tools; tests; observations; work samples; presentations; executive presence and vocal impact evaluations; etc.

4. Collect data and discuss results with leader and partner with them to create a robust, deep-dive development plan (goal oriented with measures). Capture assessment results in an "executive dashboard format," showing initial, interim (if done) and back-end assessment results and evidence of performance improvement and development.

5. Facilitate a "leadership development conference" attended by the leader, sponsor, and other appropriate persons (HR, etc.). Leader drives the discussion. Purpose is to discuss the leader's dashboard report and their development plan. Plan should include stretch performance goals, competency development goals, training, coaching, feedback, teach-back's, "white space" projects, etc.

6. Execute the plan and measure along the way, using appropriate leader/productivity tools, "return and report" meetings with sponsor, and other reinforcements, tough messages, etc. to help achieve optimal results

7. Align everything with company policies, systems and processes (HR, IT, etc)

8. Partner closely with internal resources (HR, etc)

9. Debrief results at the end and assure internal resources are available to support the leader as they move forward

10. In most cases of justified business necessity, extend the project on a one-time only basis (do not allow "comfort, routine and unhealthy dependency" to build between leader and external trainers and coaches)


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