Tough task of leadership excellence

Travis Bradberry shared great insights which I can’t help reflecting upon.

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Through the latest years being encouraged by the new achievements in IT and the evolution of the psychometric tests many industries more and more rely upon the assessments and big data as a means to rate human potential and predict future success or failure. The basic idea is based on comparison of the person with statistically calculated reference.

The extensive use of these methods now covers the leadership positions as well.

To a certain extent it is seen as a consequence of the competency-based approach which is often illustrated with a web where each radial line is related with specific competence. While the point on each line renders the competence level. It is believed that the matching of the pictures means the increased chance of success.

Ben Horowitz in his book «The hard thing about hard things» raised quite a radical question. If the person is successful now do we really have confidence to say that he is not successful in future. And it is a hard question.

In the journey of assessing human potential we got used to automization and utilization of instruments like 9-box matrix. But let’s be clear. When we assess the performance in retrospective we have facts at hand. But when we talk about the potential we have only indications and opinions. However we make judgements on this basis without the ability to compare it with the alternative. After making the decision we can’t go back to try once more.

Trying to respond to human factor which makes all the process quite subjective tests evolve either towards test bundles which have more weighted view and higher prediction potential or towards the idea of tests adaptation for specific conditions in the industry or related to company’s culture.

However there are two factors which might be limiting elements for the process effectiveness.

The first one is related to the level of complexity. It is growing. World is getting more and more complex. In order to cope with growing complexity a person responds with the more complex behavior. If we imagine the extreme situation or unpredictable spikes (hard decisions) we can presume that everyone has its own limits. If the person reaches own limit his/her effectiveness and efficiency will drop dramatically. But may we state that we can measure it statistically? Does really statistical data on human potential especially when we talk about soft skills has the same relevance on the range edges? When the success is really forged? Do companies succeed through everyday small decisions or the turning points divide winners and loosers?

The second one comes from the field of successor management and mentoring and is related to speed. The decisions on high-level profiles determine rather long-term perspective for the person and consequently for the company. Even if the company has a strategy can we really state which profile is better in 3 years from now? Look on top-500 companies. Only 2 companies which were in top 10 in 2012 are still there in 2016. If the changes are so quick what is the level of validity of the profiles we are matching people to? Is it the best way for the companies which choose differentiation and innovation as key strategic references?

Travis took us back to the core talking about the value of the base which can be tested and should be enforced: strategy, actions and results. While stating that the upper level is always personalized. The challenge for the certain years in certain industry in certain company should be met appropriately by «a unique combination of skills, perspective, and guided effort that enable true excellence. The adaptive leadership skills can take a leader at any level to places others cannot go.»

Summarizing I would like to emphasize that the task of leadership development is a task for personal transformation not competence acquisition. Qualitative growth is always done in a way which is natural for each specific person. If we grow something unique we shouldn’t take principles which are applied for the batches. It won’t pay off.


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