September 10, 2021
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” —Michelangelo.
What is the aim of current leadership development efforts? One way of determining the current aim is to identify what is happening in most companies. A few examples are:
The above targets represent good objectives—it is better to do these than nothing at all. The question is whether the above represent high aims or whether the organizations implementing these initiatives could be aiming much higher.
We know from our research at Zenger Folkman that the majority of leaders can become significantly more effective when they are given accurate information about their current practices and provided with help in constructing a plan of development.
For example, leaders who possess a behavior that stands out as a detractor from their effectiveness can move from the 18th percentile in their overall effectiveness to the 46th percentile. That is a huge gain! What had been a millstone about their neck is largely thrown off and no longer pulls them down.
The following graph shows results from 1,469 leaders who had one or more fatal flaws in their initial data. After working to improve over 18 to 24 months, this group made a significant improvement.
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On the other hand, those without any major flaw have been shown to move from the 55th to the 75th percentile. After receiving a 360-degree feedback process and putting together a plan of development, this group of leaders also improved.
The following graph shows results for 1,589 leaders, all of which had no significant weaknesses or fatal flaws. In the initial results, these leaders came in at the 55th percentile. By working on building one or more strengths, they moved from the 55th to the 75th percentile. In other words, they move from barely above average into the top quartile of leaders.
Why don’t more senior executives set these kinds of expectations for their leadership development team? It may be that it doesn’t occur to them, or they don’t realize that it is possible. They may not think their current leadership development staff could pull off such a dramatic change. The flip side of the coin is that the leadership development staff has done nothing to prompt that request. That combination creates the situation where we coast along, aiming low and hitting that target. It takes action from both senior executives and leadership development teams to create a culture where everyone is aiming high.
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(This article first appeared on Forbes)
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