It’s important to realize that just because someone holds a position of leadership, doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Put another way, not all leaders are created equal. The problem many organizations are suffering from is a recognition problem – they can’t seem to recognize good leaders from bad ones. In today's column I’ll address how to identify bad leaders by pointing out a few things that should be obvious, but apparently aren’t.
If I only had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked, “is there a simple test that can quickly determine an executive’s leadership ability?” The short answer is yes, but keep in mind, simple and fast aren’t always the same thing as effective. There are a plethora of diagnostic tests, profiles, evaluations, and assessments that offer insights into leadership ability, or a lack thereof. My problem with these efforts is they are overly analytical, very theoretical, and very often subject to bias. That said, they are fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive. The good news is, there is a better way to assess leadership ability. If you really want to determine someone’s leadership prowess, give them some responsibility and see what they do with it. Leaders produce results. It’s not always pretty, especially in the case of inexperienced leaders, but good leaders will find a way to get the job done.
In a previous piece entitled Looking For Leadership, I share a number of concerns about corporate America’s obsession over leadership assessments. There's a not so subtle abdication of responsibility that has occurred as rationalizations take place around DISC scores, or justifications surrounding a 360 review are used to defend an ineffective leader. My question is this: what about real world tests? If your enterprise has trouble identifying leaders, or has a shortage of leaders, you don’t have a testing problem – you have a leadership problem. One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to create more and better leaders. I believe it was John Maxwell who said, “there is no success without a successor.”
Go ahead, test if you must, but paying attention to the following 15 items (listed in no particular order) will be much more practical, accurate, and effective. If your organization has leaders who fail to grasp the concepts outlined below, you may want to stop testing them, ranking them, and promoting them – instead consider developing them or exiting them.
1.Leaders who can't see it, probably won't find it: Leaders without vision will fail. Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire teams, motivate performance, or create sustainable value. Poor vision, tunnel vision, vision that is fickle, or a non-existent vision will cause leaders to fail. A leader’s job is to align the organization around a clear and achievable vision. This cannot occur when the blind lead the blind.
2. When leaders fail to lead themselves: A leader who lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy a person is, if they are prone to rationalizing unethical behavior based upon current or future needs, they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing. Optics over ethics is not a formula for success.
3. Put-up or shut-up: Nothing smacks of poor leadership like a lack of performance. Nobody is perfect, but leaders who consistently fail are not leaders, no matter how much you wish they were. While past performance is not always a certain indicator of future events, a long-term track record of success should not be taken lightly. Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not. It’s important to remember unproven leaders come with a high risk premium. Smart companies recognize potential, but they reward performance.
4. Beware the know-it-all: The best leaders are acutely aware of how much they don't know. They have no need to be the smartest person in the room, but have the unyielding desire to learn from others. I've often said, leaders who are not growing cannot lead a growing enterprise. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is their insatiable curiosity. If a leader isn't extremely curious about every aspect of their organization, trust me when I say there are huge problems on the horizon.
5. When there's a failure to communicate: When leaders are constantly flummoxed by those who don't seem to get it, there exists both a leadership and communications problem. Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in their position. Great leaders can communicate effectively across mediums, constituencies, and environments. They are active listeners, fluid thinkers, and know when to dial it up, down, or off.
6. It's all about them: If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. Any leader is only as good as his or her team’s desire to be led by them. An over abundance of ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits. Real leaders take the blame and give the credit – not the other way around. Long story short; if a leader receives a vote of non-confidence from their subordinates…game over.