Measuring leadership: how can we do it effectively?

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What are the building blocks for confident, focussed and trusted leadership?

This series 'Building great leadership' covers everything you need to know, from identifying and developing leaders, to giving effective feedback and measuring success.

How do you measure leadership?

Analysts may look at purely financial outcomes or the longevity of a company.

Marketeers may instead concentrate on strength of product or on customer satisfaction.

And whilst all of those measures are valid, those who take a holistic view of organisations may also point to the effect which leaders have on people development and on innovation, on affecting the wider marketplace and on society.

Search the web and you’ll find many different ways of looking at leadership effectiveness. In this article we are going to illustrate the importance of measuring leadership by studying one method which has been ‘tried and tested’ by thousands of leaders over a number of years across the globe. 

Making the extraordinary happen

In their book Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner highlight the fact that great results in the marketplace can only come about from making extraordinary things happen within an organisation; and the key to that is leadership.

In fact, an ongoing survey which they conducted revealed that the best leaders bring out two to three times the talents in others compared to the worst leaders. And when you are helping others to that extent to give of their best, then it’s hardly surprising that the organisation flourishes.

Kouzes and Posner’s research into leadership behaviour has been ongoing for more than thirty years. In that time they have collected and analysed tens of thousands of leadership case studies, supported by extensive interviews with numerous leaders. This has enabled them to identify five key practices and thirty behaviours which characterise great leadership.

From their work they have shown that measuring the frequency with which leaders engage in those specific behaviours within the context of the five practices enables individuals to build an understanding of their own leadership strengths and weaknesses.

Whilst a 360° review may initially be seen as a threat...it can be a vital aid to leadership development.

Understandably, receiving feedback from peers, direct reports and managers can be a daunting prospect but those who have experienced this sort of review have found that it can act as a powerful and motivational force for future development.

One of the particular strengths of the 360° review is that it not only helps people to see themselves as others see them, it also provides a benchmark against leaders in a range of disciplines across the globe. So whilst a 360° review may initially be seen as a threat, when viewed in its true context as a developmental tool, it can be a vital aid to leadership development.

Why measure leadership

Before we go on it might be worth pausing a moment to reflect on exactly why it is important to measure leadership. There are some who may say that because an individual attains a leadership position based on their existing and proven qualities and abilities, there is no need for ongoing measurement. 

But to say that is to deny the fact that leadership is a journey which requires growth and re-evaluation if it is to continue to deliver excellence.  And never forget that leaders can exist at every level of the organisation, so to deny those starting on their leadership journey the chance to evaluate and improve is effectively to deny them the chance to develop into the great leaders of the future.

Measuring leadership is therefore an important element of leadership growth: helping individuals to understand their strengths and build on them and to know their weaknesses and work out ways to address them. Accurate measurement of leadership behaviour fuels this process and gives the leader the certainty that they are focusing their attention in the right areas.

So what are the five practices and thirty behaviours which characterise great leadership? Well in the interests of brevity, let’s just take a quick look at the five practices:

  • Model the way. Far more than words, modelling the way requires the creation of values and principles and then acting in accordance with those values in order to set an example.
  • Inspire a shared vision. Having a vision is one thing, sharing and inspiring others to work with you to deliver the vision is something else. It requires clarity and engagement, helping others to become involved in the process.
  • Challenge the process. This requires leaders to step away from business as usual and to ask the difficult questions, to be innovative and to be prepared to take risks in order to deliver the future.
  • Enable others to act. No one is an island and any leader who thinks that they can do it all on their own is not a leader. So this practice is about delegation and collaboration, about building trust and ability which will help people to grow.
  • Encourage the heart. Saying thank you, providing positive feedback, helping people to build their own level of self belief all help to engage your employees in the task ahead. And in today’s business climate which increasingly looks to collaboration to build innovative solutions that means not only recognising individual excellence but also recognising and celebrating collective success.

How does it benefit an individual to understand how they measure up against any of these five practices? Quite simply, great leadership starts with self-awareness and when you know what works and what could do with a little improvement, when you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, it is a short step to creating a meaningful and robust plan for future development.

Quite simply, great leadership starts with self-awareness

In fact, provided 360° reviews are conducted on a regular basis, they can also act as a conduit for discussion and ongoing improvement as well as acting as a consistent measure of improvement.

It’s said that leadership is a lonely position but in truth leaders at any level of an organisation sit in the middle of a web of interconnectedness; affecting and being affected by those around them. 360 reviews not only reflect that interconnectedness but also enable individuals to benefit from combined wisdom of the wider business community.

Catch up on the rest of the 'Building great leadership series.

Helen Green
Leadership Collaborator
Quest Leadership Development
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