There Is a Gap Between Our Leadership vision and Our Impact On Those We Lead (Friction Source #4)

03/28/2014 10:33 am ET | Updated May 28, 2014

Leadership Impact Gap 2The final and perhaps most damaging source of friction and drag that may be destroying value in your organization, and exhausting you in the process; there is a gap between our leadership vision and our impact on those we lead (Originally introduced in this blog; "The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process").

One of the forefathers of leadership thought, James MacGregor Burns, famously declared that, "Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth." Over the last hundred years, leadership thought and practice has traversed the varied terrains of charisma theory, behavior theory, as well as situational and contingency approaches, to name just a few. It's all very confusing for leaders and change agents alike.

Here's the short path through this chaos. It doesn't matter what your noble intentions are, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, or whether your mother loved your brother more than you as a child. In order to dramatically increase your effectiveness, what we need to know are three simple things: How would you like to motivate and encourage others to behave? How are you actually motivating and encouraging others to behave? And if we discover a gap between your intentions and reality, are you interested in doing something about it? This is the concept of impact.

When leaders are asked to articulate their vision for their impact, they generally articulate a desire to motivate and encourage team members to reach high levels of achievement, approach their work with creativity, develop others and work effectively as a team. When we measure their actual impact, which we do using a highly valid and reliable instrument developed by Dr. Rob Cooke of Human Synergistics International called Leadership/Impact, we find they often motivate a very different set of behaviors. These behaviors include motivating others to follow the rules, oppose ideas, compete with their peers and avoid responsibility.

ANZ Ideal Vs ActualIn other words, we are taking the chaos and creating more chaos. The picture to the right is a graphic representation of the gap I'm describing. On the left is the average "ideal" impact. On the right is the average "actual" impact. In my experience, there are three main reasons for the gap. Firstly, two thirds of all leaders are unaware of their impact on others. This can be because they have never asked, because people are too afraid to tell them, or because nobody in that particular environment knows any better.

Secondly, we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions. This is a phenomenon social scientists call "illusory superiority"; a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive abilities, and to underestimate their negative abilities. The very same reason that 93 percent of us believe we are above average drivers!

Finally, we are the product of our environments and conditioning. I may genuinely value creativity and innovation, but I operate in an environment that demands compliance. In spite of my noble intentions as a leader, consciously or unconsciously, I actually reinforce the status quo.

Research CEOsTo the right is the "test/re-test" data for the leaders in our doctoral research. On the left, you can see that their first measure, in aggregate, is even worse than the average of all leaders in the database. On the right, you can see that their re-test data looks like an "ideal" impact. Once again, these leaders have learned to dance with the chaos and, as you can imagine, their world feels very different today than it did then. To dance with the chaos, you need a big brain and a small ego.

The chaotic world in which we now live and work offers us ready made excuses for under performance in our organizations, and varying degrees of disorder in our personal lives. But as you've probably determined from the four sources of friction and drag, much of this pain is self-inflicted.

We do not have to settle for mediocrity or exhaustion. These are choices we are making, consciously or unconsciously. There is a better way, and relatively small changes can have a profound impact on your organization, your leadership and your personal life.

The challenge is not whether you are succeeding or struggling, because in a highly changeable world, one can become the other quite quickly. The real challenge is, in the words of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden, "Are you good enough to get better?"