Monday, February 15, 2016

Leadership: It's in the 'DNA'

I cannot overstate my belief in the importance of leadership in the functional effectiveness of groups of people. These groups include the greater society, organisations and teams. Organisational and team effectiveness, for me, needs to be measured both as quality and output of the group, and employee satisfaction (I nearly used the word happiness but that is so hard to define that I avoided it, but the idea is in the mix somewhere given people spend so much of their life at work-I think it should be as good an experience as possible).

Now, you’d be thinking that I am stating the obvious. The problem is that I don’t think it is obvious to a lot of leaders in organisations or in any social setting where leadership might exist. This is based on years of seeing atrocious leadership where organizational/social dysfunction is a result.

One of the key problems that organisations (and people electing leaders in other social setting) make is that they often don’t differentiate between leadership attributes and leadership skills. There are some people who will never be able to learn and apply effective leadership skills because they have the wrong attributes. The latter are not readily learned later in life given they are embedded in our genes, body chemistry and brain structure, or are habituated.

Those with the right attributes are worth all the training that can be thrown at them because they have the right ‘DNA’, so to speak. Let me expand on this by briefly describing a model of leadership for the 21st century that I developed a year ago and that was published by a colleague (Lisa Marue Blaschke from Germany) and I in a book on learning.

The capacity to accept and manage ambiguity


            Low need for control
            Openness to Experience (one of the Big 5 personality traits)
            Moderate on perfectionism scale (Big 5)
            High Stability (low anxiety) (Big 5)
            Honesty and integrity
            Flexibility and adaptability

(The Big 5 personality traits are acknowledged in the psychological research as being excellent and stable predictors of human behaviour)

            Reflexivity and review
            Flexible project management skills
            Effective communication of ideas
            Creativity and innovation
            Fostering an adaptive organization or team
            Developing high performing teams

The ability to foster engagement

            Flexibility to change approaches as circumstances change

            Interpersonal effectiveness
            Ability to self-regulate
            Understanding of how to motivate others
            Ability to foster a shared purpose and vision
            Performance review and corrective action
            Skilling the workforce
            Maintaining direction
            Customer focus
            Conflict resolution and negotiation
The capacity to learn

            Willingness to change own ideas or beliefs
            Courage and integrity

            Reflection, reflexivity and action learning
            Ability to research and learn
            Having wide and accessible networks
            Ability to share openly with others
            Knowledge management skills
            The ability to foster collaborative learning
            Ability to apply learning
            Technical capability
            Growth and development       

The ability to use open systems thinking

            Willingness to empower others

            The capacity to frequently scan the external environment
            Ability to foster participative democracy/collaboration decision-making and process
            Capacity to work in a team as leader and member
            Ongoing internal and external analysis of effectiveness (continuous             improvement)
            The ability to filter information (research skills)
            Customer focus
            Action orientation
            Business awareness

Hopefully, the reader can see the difference between attributes and skills, even though I have not expanded much on the dimensions. I think it is necessary to employ on attributes in the first instance, given appropriate technical skills to perform the work. However, technical skill deficits can be made up through training. Selecting a leader with the wrong attributes can be very expensive. So, the emphasis on employment or promotion should be on attributes. Clever organisations get this. Many less than clever organisations do not. The election of leaders in social contexts, including our politicians is also less than clever in many instances. In short, we need to get the selection process right.