Oct 062008

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

I have coached many CEO and senior executives. Some of the patterns that I find at during the early stages of a new engagement are almost exact replicates of patterns that I found in prior engagements. One that occurs most frequently is lack clarity on how performance is measured. In many engagements, achieving this clarity comes first.

At the start of most engagements, I run a leadership assessment designed to highlight areas that need work. This lack of clarity usually shows up in the data collected. There are generally two ways that most of my clients seem to have avoided this critical clarity. The first is that they do not think about it much at all. The second is that they have assumed that the published metrics are the only important ones. Both of these ‘avoidance strategies’ are overcome during the coaching which follows the assessment.

My assessment programs draw data from several levels of the organization. Over the years, I have found this to be a much more reliable way to get an accurate leadership assessment. When it comes to leadership, context is important. Many times a client will be self-sabotaging by choosing contexts that limit their possibilities. At other times, the misperception of attitudes and agendas within that context is limiting. The assessment provides very good information – actionable intelligence.

Good leadership coaching helps the client understand the dynamics of their context – how that dynamic has evolved – and their role in its evolution. Leadership coaching focuses on the potential for leadership within the context that the leader faces. Sometimes you need to change the approach to leadership – sometimes you need to change the context. Failure because you are over-matched by the challenges you face is one thing – but failure because you just did not understand what was required is a genuine tragedy.

The second source of challenges is the tendency to think that published standards are the ones that a client is actually being measured against. As Yogi Berra used to say “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” In many cases, the published metrics are only the background context against which the more important ones are set. One of the benefits of my assessment programs is that, since it draws data from several levels within an organization, the true metrics tend to come into sharpened focus. A friend is fond of saying ‘Don’t make today’s journeys using yesterday’s maps’. The new map that results from the assessment very often shows a much clearer path to a better future.

Most organizations have some form of performance appraisal process. During the traditional appraisal, the client presents their view on what they contributed – on what their value is to the business. They then have the opportunity to get feedback. However, the process is flawed because, for the most part, the feedback is in response to the executives initial input. By collecting the data simultaneously, I avoid the pollution that generally results from the more linear process.

From the perspective of the client, assessments can be stress-producing experiences. Traditional assessments can also create tensions within the organization and stress important relationships. Certainly, the results are important to both. The results will have a significant influence on the client’s salary increase and potential bonuses that you receive. It will also impact their future with the company. However, a flawed process may generate misleading, and sometimes destructive, results.

If, as a subject of a leadership assessment, you are not clear on how your success will be measured you are less likely to work towards and achieve what you are capable of achieving. Leadership assessment is one of those processes where structure and accuracy matter very much. It is the best interest of both the subject of the assessment and the organization to get it right. This is where an executive coach can play a very important role. The coach can view the process from both directions and keep the interests of both sides clearly in focus.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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