Discovering The Leader’s PPE

September 16, 2020

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Having the right equipment is key to success in virtually every occupation or endeavor. Whether it is the right tool to repair something in your home or apartment, or a laptop with a speedy processor and the latest operating system, the right equipment can make the difference between success and failure.

What Equipment Does a Leader Need?

When considering equipment or tools for leaders, most often, there are two broad requirements. One is some technical capability having to do with the group or function that the leader oversees. The head of the legal department is usually a competent lawyer. The marketing VP needs to understand effective marketing practices. The head of accounting almost always has a strong understanding of and comfort with accounting principles and practices. In many cases, this requires some formal education or technical knowledge learned on the job over time. That’s one-half of the qualification for success.

The other half of being an excellent leader is behavioral. It is the half for which very few have received any formal development or preparation. While youth dream of working in different fields, very few think to themselves, “I want to grow up to be a leader in an organization.” While a handful of universities offer leadership courses, they are few in number and recent in origin. Further, for those working in organizations, our research shows that the average age for a leader receiving any structured feedback on their leadership behavior is 42. That is a bit stunning because the average age for a person’s promotion to a first-level manager or supervisor is 27. It becomes clear that most leaders have functioned, on average, for nearly two decades before receiving a reasonable amount of leadership development that includes feedback on their current behavior.

What development is needed? Our most recent research identifies 19 behaviors or competencies that consistently describe the most effective leaders. These competencies include; the ability to inspire and motivate those around you, setting clear goals, and the ability and willingness to communicate effectively. In one way, you could think of these behaviors as the leader’s PPE—qualities that make it more certain the leaders will succeed. When leaders function without these, they are in danger, because they don’t produce the best results.

Assessing The Condition Of Your Leadership Behavior

During the early days of the recent COVID pandemic, hospital staff used trash bags as gowns and wore bandanas as face shields. Many were infected and died because they lacked the right equipment.

How can a leader tell if their current behavior is up to the task? We submit that the best way of knowing is through some rigorous, objective assessment. That means a well-constructed, empirically constructed 360-degree feedback instrument. What exactly are the benefits?

1. Self-awareness. It is hard to perform self-diagnosis. People don’t know their blood is low in iron or have high cholesterol or high blood pressure without objective tests. Similarly, we don’t know our leadership strengths or vulnerabilities, unless we’re measured.

2. Self-correction. With accurate information, people can change their diet or take the vitamins or medications they need for optimum health. Self-correction starts with a precise diagnosis.

3. Development plan. The medical professional can recommend new behavior and prescribe medications that a person could otherwise not obtain. The leadership development professional can recommend ways that leaders can develop their strengths in non-obvious ways. Sometimes reading and book or going to a workshop to develop a skill is not the answer. There are evidence-based alternatives to the obvious ways to improve leadership behavior.

4. Motivation. The final positive impact of a good 360-degree feedback experience is the energy it creates in the individual to get better, and to continue getting better. That feedback may also come from an abbreviated “pulse” survey that focuses specifically on one or two behaviors.

Organizations thrive when they have excellent leaders. We know for certain that merely being on the job for a long time does not make a great leader. It comes from a deliberate effort, based on good information from trusted colleagues.

Can Leaders Change?

Some people are skeptical about the ability of leaders to improve. Like other kinds of change, success is highly dependent on the motivation and effort of each leader. That said, we have been impressed and feel there is a high probability of improvement. To test this, we gather data from 4,216 leaders in various organizations and geographies who participated in a 360-degree assessment, analyzed the results, and then created a plan to improve just one of the 19 leadership competencies. Comparing the pre-test results to the post-test results, we found that 85% of the leaders were able to make a significant improvement on one of the competencies. We are confident that leaders can improve. Poor leaders can become good leaders, and good leaders can become great, but similar to the value of PPE protecting healthcare workers, leaders need to be given accurate assessments and support to improve.

To learn more and sharpen your leadership skills register for our upcoming webinar, or take our 8-minute strengths assessment.

Joe Folkman