This post is inspired in part by a 11 january, 2011 article in the national Post titled “Leaders matter”, by Mary Teresa Bitti, page FP10.
The article makes several intriguing observation:
- “About 50 people (leaders) caused the global markets to collapse. They had that much power and arrogance and the systems and processes we have in place valued that arrogance and compensated for it.” (Quote from Sussanah Kelly with DHR International)
- According to a Richard Ivey School of Business Report “Leadership on Trial: A Manifesto for Leadership Development” leaders failed on several frontsL competence – conducting suitable environmental analysis; character – poor values and ethics; personality traits – overconfidence, hubris and hyper-competitiveness; and, commitment – failing to put in the hard work necessary for proper corporate governance.
I have had a long standing question about almost all leadership development programs that I have come across: There is no discernible approach to ensuring that the investment delivers any noticeable return. I am aware of the long standing dilemma regarding being able to measure ROI on development. This dilemma has been around for at least fifty years that I remember. Yet little progress has been made. Why?
Also, nearly all organizations have used competency based systems to recruit, develop, promote and often recognize for over twenty years. So these practices apparently failed too. Or maybe it was really successful in that we focused on the wrong competencies along?
Also, when it comes to values, we really need them when we are dealing with difficult decisions. I would argue that you only know what your and others’ value are when the going gets tough and/or we make choices when nobody observes us. It is easy to be honest when others are seeing what you do.
I have also noted that there is huge premium on “rapid decision making” and “being practical”. These are behavioural attributes that make no sense when the stakes are high or decision complexity is nuanced and rife with value considerations.
I would propose that the two critical operational attributes found in sound decision making in situations of complexity and value complications are:
- Do you know and have abiding respect for your core values and the ones that are important to impacted stakeholders?
- Do you know how to arrive at a decision with process transparency, that is, are you logical in a way that is reasonable under the circumstances.
The first attribute is knowing what is important to yourself and to others it is self awareness and respect for why we need to be moral in times of decision dilemma.
The second attribute is one that assume you arrived at your conclusion in a reasoned way, AND, even if the decision turns out problematical, others will see that you considered the appropriate aspects. Also the attribute is essential if you want to learn from yours and others decision mistakes.
I would always examine how a proposed leadership development program assists in building strong positive habits around the above two attributes.
I only know of one way to determine the essential level of “morality” in a person – TEMPT THEM in ways where they believe they can get away with it. We all know how to answer the interview and exam questions (e.g., Is it okay to take home for personal use a company car, computer, pad of paper or pencil?).
Why, do I pay particular focus on these two attributes? It is because leadership deals with the unexpected, the novel the out of the ordinary decision type situations. These are situations that have some level of ambiguity about them, hence the call to “practicality” is not appropriate (in fact even dangerous) because the historical practice is not there. These are the situations where we see the tangible face of uncertainty and risk.
Nearly all organizations espouse some level of commitment to value systems. The issue for me is how they abide by them over time and how do they respond to situations where violating a value is known. I recall a story that suggested that Jack Welch (GE) admitted that the most difficult decision was when dealing with a high performer who achieve the results at the cost of violating GE’s values. He knew what he had to do (let them go), but it was difficult non the less. Added to this story was the acknowledged choice when dealing with a person who did not meet the numbers but exemplified the values (give them another chance). The point in our expectations of leadership is they deliver on both performance dimensions over time and they know when they have to do the hard value based work before choosing.
I would be highly encouraged by any leadership development process that built up these capabilities in our future leaders.