Leadership Assessments? Boon or bane?


A leader per se is a title of authority.

The leader of a country or an organization is represented by the person of the highest executive authority in the respective setting. In organizations this would be the CEO or Managing Director, though organizational understanding seems to expand this to include the level of authority that was traditionally known as Senior Management, C-level plus maybe direct reports.

Now, becoming or being a ‘leader’ does not confer nor imply the possession of leadership competencies, it simply confers or implies a certain level of hierarchical authority.

Organizations and management literature seem to be obsessed with typecasting, or better said ‘stereo typing,’ leaders into behavioral styles that confer success to organizations. The background is provided by the belief that copying the style of certain leaders that brought highly visible success to larger organizations, e.g. Jack Welsh for GE, Louis Vincent Gerstner, Jr. for IBM, etc., would confer success to any organization.

Since Daniel Goleman postulated 6 leadership styles in his landmark 2000 study ‘Leadership That Gets Results’ and DiSC’s 8 leadership styles there has been a considerable number of new styles, e.g. the charismatic leader, the servant-leader, etc., due to the problem that research found being compliant with a certain leader style does not necessarily make you successful as a leader.

Successful here meaning; making an organization successful by being the requisite leader.

Besides the explosion of stereotypes an explosion in self-assessment, self-evaluations instruments for budding or existing leaders went hand in hand helping to put candidates into pre-fabricated boxes, of ‘what is my leadership style’ over ‘what kind of leader are you’ to ‘power style profile’ plus specific ones such as ‘self-assessment for trusted leader’, ‘authentic leader self-assessment’ and ‘how charismatic are you?’ just to name a few. So, there are many self- evaluations/self-assessments for a leader to choose from.

The question is whether there are any benefits gained from using them. Here we must contradict current wisdom and postulate that besides a ‘feel good’ effect for the respective leader if the results of the assessment confirm that (s)he belongs or assesses majorly in the currently most fashionable style, dangers outnumber the benefits by a very large margin. These dangers are on so many levels. Let’s look first at the dangers for the respective leader. Here the self-assessment according to the leader stereo-types will push people into the requisite boxes and initiate a change behavior that may be beneficial neither for the person nor the organization as it perpetuates the spurious belief that leaders will be leading the respective organization to success if only they comply with the certain fashionable style. Yes, admittedly, there are certain benefits for the leader associated with increasing self-awareness, self-discipline and the like through these assessments, but nevertheless we have a dangerous mind-set here which overrides the benefits gained in these circumstances.

A leader as the authoritative person who believes (s)he will be beneficial for the organization if only (s)he acquires all the aspects of a certain leadership style irrespective of the needs of the organization spells doom for the same no matter how self-aware or self-disciplined this leader is.

Let us now come to the underlying problem with this current thinking that actually implies leader equals leadership competency. The current cult of the CEO and even if we expand it to the current leader cult spells a clear and present danger to the sustainable performance of organizations even if one does not go as far as believing that this postulates a resurgence of Douglas McGregor’s theory of category X and category Y people.

We postulate that we are evaluating the contribution to the sustainable success of an organization by the behavior of its leaders (leaders as defined above.) Does the behavior of its leaders influence the sustainable success of an organization? The answer to that must be a ‘yes, but..’ Yes, because it is the prerogative of the CEO to set the vision for the enterprise, and this vision must be communicated, shared and lived. Also core values – the ring-fence of the system – must be, if not formulated, at least signed off and also communicated, shared, and lived by the CEO. But the overall influence on performance especially in larger enterprises is relatively limited and nowhere near what we and CEOs themselves are made to believe.

Taking all contexts into consideration the benefit of style self-evaluation/self-assessment instruments must be judged as negligible with dangers being evident.

So is this whole talk about leaders and leadership as critical for the sustainable performance of an organization nothing but a lot of hot air?

Not exactly, leaders and leadership are critical to the sustainable performance of an organization, but that we have to change the framework.

In order to be effective, leadership will have to be decoupled from leaders.

Leadership per se has nothing to do with authority. Leadership is an umbrella name for a set of requisite competencies.

This is fundamental and critical.

Leadership is a cluster of requisite competencies. Competency meaning ‘actionable knowledge’ (Knowledge, behavior, process) Over the years a set of requisite core-competencies have emerged that any leadership cluster should contain, such as ’building trust’, ‘enable people to deal with adaptive change’, ‘ability to mentor/coach’, ‘ability to represent a group’, ‘ability to inspire’, ‘enable people to share vision and values’, etc.

An organization can only be sustainable successful if this leadership competency cluster is present as part of the generic competency requirement throughout the whole management team – at all levels – of the organization. Every manager, has to master the core competency requirements under the leadership umbrella for him and the organization to be sustainable successful. Self-assessment/self-evaluation in this context looks very different. Here it is an assessment of requisite competency and that is invaluable. The continuous self-assessment whether one possesses the requisite competency and possesses it in all three dimensions – knowledge, behavior, and process – is critical to success.

So, the benefits of self-assessment of leadership style in the authoritative context are doubtful at best.

The benefits of self-assessments of leadership competencies in the requisite competency environment and assessing knowledge, behavior and processes, are critical to the success of the assessed and the organization

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