Some Basic Understandings About Leader Development
Leadership is perhaps among the few subjects in behavioral sciences about which much more has been written than actually is known. Though most of us can make a fairly good judgment about the leadership qualities of a person retrospectively (after his/her major achievements) but identifying leadership potential and predicting a future leader based upon currently available information is a challenge of different order. Though leadership is critical for all sorts of groups but for organized groups, like a large business organization, leadership becomes the critical factor simply because the stakes of individuals (especially employees and investors) followers are very high. Therefore a systematic management of continuous supply of leadership talent is essential for survival of organizations. And measurement is prerequisite for effective management of any process and so is for managing supply of leadership. But there are no easily available answers to questions -
1. What should we measure, in an individual, as indicators of leadership potential? Or what mix of individual traits, behaviors, and achievements would make a good sample for making decisions about leadership development and deployment?
2. What is the best way to collect those samples such that the information collected is valid, objective, effective and acceptable to stakeholders?
My objective in this blog is to share my own analysis of some of fundamental understandings around the first question that have been widely endorsed in the leadership literature.
Leadership has been understood as an attribute of person, nature of a role and as a category of behavior. Leadership as an attribute of a person has attracted maximum of scholarly attention consequently we know better about what sort of personal characteristics make up the leader potential and thus are predictive of a future leader. Though almost every known personality trait and behavioral disposition has been studied in relation to leadership but we don't yet have a nice model prescribing a parsimonious set of individual characteristics that (if measured correctly) should be sufficient for deployment of an individual to a leadership position. One of the reasons is that leadership itself is not a coherent construct. It doesn't mean the same thing across different contexts. If we list out 20 different leaders from different cultures, times, domains etc. we could find equally effective individual leaders with very different sets of personality traits and behavioral styles. Similarly we can find two different individuals of similar personal qualities but at very different levels in terms of leadership position in their respective contexts. A much more refined/ deeper understanding of these individual traits along with leadership context is yet to evolve for us to be able to practically identify, develop and predict leaders with a consistency and efficiency similar to doctors produced in a medical school. The purpose of above discussion is not to provide a gloomy outlook but present a more realistic picture of leadership landscape.
Two fundamental factors (individual abilities) of leadership that are widely appreciated as predictive of effective leadership include-
1. Having the systemic perspective - Vision
2. Ability to mobilize efforts of other people - Appeal
These two factors often don't go together (rarely found both in the same person) and are in turn related to two different phenomena of leadership processes of - Emergence and Performance. Also these two factors can play out differently in different kinds of social systems. An important implication of this disconnect between emergence and performance is that one person may have the capability to perform effectively in a leadership role but not able to win the confidence of the relevant stakeholders (e.g. voters in a democracy, senior management/board in a corporate). But the vice-versa can be even more harmful when a person has got the qualities to influence the acceptance of stakeholders and get the selected (or elected) for leadership role but doesn't possess the knowledge (vision) to make effective decisions. Therefore having a right vision forms the core of effective leadership and primary function of appeal is like a lever and amplifier to the effectiveness of vision. It's the appeal that helps a leader to emerge and get the role of leadership in the first place. If the election is by passed by selection of a person of vision to the role of leadership then still different kinds of issues can arise due to disconnect between vision and appeal. A leader may make an excellent decision (policy or strategy) but may struggle to implement the same.
Prescribed Measures of Leadership
Vision: Comes from combination of high levels of information processing ability (also called intelligence or the raw talent) AND deep knowledge of the relevant landscape
Appeal: Comes from deep passion and knowledge in human relations AND demonstration of socially shared values
Finally, there is no single set of personality traits that defines leadership ability as such, but there are certain common traits which are necessary prerequisite and certain others that are sufficient for success of leaders. We can broadly classify the leadership traits into two categories of 'stable' and 'malleable'. The stable traits are more or less unchangeable through external interventions/exposures and have got their underpinnings in genetic and biological make-up of the person. Whereas the malleable traits are more like habits/thinking patterns that have major underpinnings in learning and experience. These can be modified with systematic exposure/training. In the above classification the raw talent (intelligence) and the social sensitivity (passion in relating with others) are largely determined by biological (genetic) factors and very difficult to modify but these both are prerequisites of leadership and need to be complemented by acquisition of knowledge and socially shared values.
a. Our current understanding of leadership is not so refined and deep to enable us develop and predict future leaders with very high consistency and efficiency. Therefore a completely objective (so called evidence based) approach may not be advisable at this point in time. However, that doesn't mean we leave the leadership completely to chance or only the subjective judgments
b. For more effective use of objective information we need to gear our processes towards measuring only those broader individual qualities that have been already widely endorsed by scholars so that at least our decisions are better than chance and random outcomes
c. What can be measured should be measured and the rest should be left to existing leaders with proven abilities. They can be assumed to have the best intuitive judgments about potential leaders
d. We should also think of accommodating the qualitative approach (systematic theoretically grounded biography - using case study method) as another important complement to facilitating the process of identification of potential leaders
Judge, T. A., Bono, J. E., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. W. (2002). Personality and leadership: A qualitative and quantitative review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 765-780
Judge, T. A.,Colebert, A.E. , & Ilies, R. (2004). Intelligence and Leadership: A Quantitative Review and Test of Theoretical Propositions . Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 765-780
Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978) The social psychology ot organizations. New York: Wiley
Pfeffer, J. (1977). The ambiguity of leadership. Academy of Management Review, 2, 104-112.