Oct 112008

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Many of my leadership coaching engagements begin with a leadership assessment. Our objective is to establish two data sets that will give us a clear picture of the leadership characteristics – strengths and weaknesses – and a solid basis for planning an extended coaching program. Most of my clients are working in organizations where some of the leaders at the top have failed while some have performed exceptionally – they have experienced both. The base lines, which we establish through the assessment, provide two important measures. The first is a clear picture of how the client views himself or herself as a leader. The second is a picture of how the client is viewed within the company. I cannot emphasize too much, how important it is to start with both data sets.

A leadership assessment is relatively easy to run and generally takes less than three or four business days to complete. Once the data has been analyzed, I organize two sessions. The first is with the client – presenting both sets and discussing their implications. The second is with the senior team of the company. Both sessions tend to be real ‘eye openers’.

The first data set gives us a picture of the self-image that the client has of themselves as a leader and the concept of leadership that they are operating under. The second tells us a lot about how that concept and its implementation are being received within the company. We also get a clearer idea of the concept of leadership that dominates the corporate culture and its impact on the performance and future of the company. Both of these ‘pictures’ focus on the same person – in the same context – but the vistas that they describe are often quite different. With leadership assessment, the differences are as important as the details each data set. Quite often, a client will be unaware of how they are being perceived as a leader – and that misconception is very often the major source of the difficulties that they are facing. Just as often, the data highlights a serious problem with the concept of leadership within the company. Here are a few of the major ‘problems’ within the dominate concept of leadership that can be highlighted.

1. Aloofness: Leaders are a group apart from the workers in a company – they belong to a special ‘club’ that entitles them to that aloofness. There is no need for them to engage in any but a supervisory role
2. Hubris: A leaders is arrogant and presumptuous. They are, after all, the senior people in the company and operate under a different set of rule
3. Volatility: Leaders are entitled to sharp swings in mood and attitude towards the workers. The have a license to be aggressive – sometimes both verbally and physically – in their efforts to produce results
4. Distrust: Leaders think that people are essentially bad, lazy, inconsiderate or unmotivated. It is necessary to herd them as you would cattle
5. Passive Aggressive: Leaders do not need to give direct feedback to workers – it is better to keep such things inside and mount yet another assault on their ‘bad tendencies’
6. Perfectionism: Leaders – although not perfect themselves – are driven to get their employees to be perfect. Nothing is perfect and the workers need to be constantly reminded of their shortcomings.
7. Excessive Caution: The culture of the company militates against innovation and risk-taking. Leaders are constantly putting on the breaks and reining in down the free thinkers
8. Arbitrariness: Leaders do not have to ‘play by the rules’ – they make them and have the right to change the rule in mid-process
9. Easy going: Leaders need to be popular with the troops and should not insist on high levels of results

These are just a few of the results that the assessment program highlights. Most leadership assessments yield a pattern of ‘problems’. Each client and company presents a different set of challenges. Some leaders are more vulnerable than others to one or more of these ‘behaviors’. Some companies react more strongly to some of them. The importance of the leadership assessment is that it lays all this out in a manner which is easy to understand – and that will serve as the basis for an effective leadership-coaching program.

Often, because of the assessment and presentation of the data, I end up with more than one client. The individual client now has a clear idea of their strengths and failings as a leader and a leadership coaching program can designed and implemented. Often the senior management of the company comes to realize that there is a real problem within the corporate culture – and the company becomes a client. That realization may lead to either ‘team-wide’ or ‘company-wide’ programs that are focused on redefining leadership within that culture. On more than one occasion, the problems have appeared so daunting that the board of directors has stepped in and required a company wide program because the data has clearly indicated that shareholder value is suffering.

The bad news is that a dysfunctional leadership concept can cause great damage to an executive, company and the interests of the shareholders. The good news is that, very often, a program can be organized which reduces or reverses those negative effects. A principal goal of my leadership coaching is to improve results by evolving a new and more productive definition of leadership. This is one of the most important contributions that I can make to the future of an executive – the individual client – and to the company. For the executive, the lessons that are learned carry with them the possibility of a brighter, more successful and richer future. In those cases where the company has also become a client, I have seen major changes in the company’s fortune. Friction is reduced, leadership acts more effectively and the employees of the company become more motivated and productive.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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