Misjudging Leadership Ability
One of the most perplexing issues facing a leader in today's evermore complex world is the ability to judge ability. I find over and over again in my own life, most of my failures have come from failures in judgment of leadership ability.
So many theories on how to judge leadership ability abound that it is almost as big a problem in judging ability, as it is in judging which method allows you to judge ability better.
One thing I have been concerned about of late is the latter.
If our methods of modeling leadership judging of ability are flawed, then much of the time, we are going to make flawed judgments.
Something that is clear to me is that we need systems to differentiate between the noise of espoused ability and actual ability. Lately some of our work has begun to help us sort through much of the maze of theory to make several conclusions and here they are in no particular order.
1. Domain-Specific to Domain-General.
You must distinguish between the ability conferred by culture and experience and the ability that is actually available across culture and experience.
What I mean by that is to understand true ability, the ability has to be domain general and not domain specific--especially for leadership in modern day systems.
Leaders are subjected to wide ranges of tests of their ability and domain-specific ability is not enough. It is becoming more and more a test of the vertical complexity that will save the leader in situations where they have little or no domain-specific knowledge or experience.
2. Working Through Leadership Noise.
Much of what I am seeing today in judgment systems is based on noise--the elements of espoused theory vs. actual theory in use. Many judging systems in use today, such as those used from field of child development, that are being essentially extended into adult development may be seriously flawed--creating significant errors in judgment.
Yet, what can we do?
Sort through the noise and here's what to look for when you can.
Look for the capacity to use the concepts, not just repeat them. Because of connectivity today, almost everyone judging the capacity of leaders is either a domain-specific expert and uses that as a filter, or they get caught up in the leadership noise. Years ago, what you saw and heard was what you got. Things were simpler then. When someone talked like they had an education, it was in large part because they did have one. In today's connected world, we see people toss around educated terms that in large part fool most of the people doing the evaluating--because the models designed for child development, are incapable of sorting noise.
In child development, noise is not as important, in mid-aged leaders, noise is everything, and the leaders know it--being politically correct is as important now as it always was, but now, more people have access to the things that help you become politically correct.
3. Success and Effectiveness.
Fred Luthans did a study a long time ago, called Successful vs. Effective Real Managers, which was published in the Academy of Management Executive, 1988, 2(2): 127-132.
What does this mean?
It means that in this study of real managers, using speed of promotion as the measure of success, it was found that successful real managers spent relatively more time and effort socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders than did their less successful counterparts.
Perhaps equally important, the successful real managers did not give much time or attention to the traditional management activities of planning, decision making, and controlling or to the human resource management activities of motivating/reinforcing, staffing, training/developing, and managing conflict.
A representative example of this profile would be the following manager's prescription for success:
"I find that the way to get ahead around here is to be friendly with the right people, both inside and outside the firm. They get tired of always talking shop, so I find a common interest - with some it's sports, with others it's our kids - and interact with them on that level. The other formal stuff around the office is important but I really work at this informal side and have found it pays off when promotion time rolls around."
In other words, for this manager and for a significant number of those real managers we studied, networking seems to be the key to success.
Notice the key difference?
Networking is the key to success--not effectiveness.
I feel it has become easy to misjudge leadership ability, because frankly, no one really knows anymore what is required and there is too much leadership noise.
There are three key elements: the ability to lead across domains; evaluate through the noise and see what's truly at issue; and while networking is important, the final key is real leadership ability to manage effectively. This triangulation between domains, noise and effectiveness makes judging leaders easier and leaders who have these abilities more sustainable over a wider range of conditions.
When it comes down to judging leadership...we still have our work cut out for us.
To leadership ability.
Still time to reach my inner circle….
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