If you dissect the stunning business collapses of the past decade, you'll find that the corporations' senior leaders - very often, The Top Senior Leader - have been personally responsible for the debacle. And, it wasn't bad technical business decision-making that caused the problems leading up to the disaster. It was leadership behavior that caused, for example, a complete lack of corporation-wide trust, or a shut-down of business-critical communication up-flowing into the executive suite, or insidious untruths that de-motivated every important business partnership. In some of the most famous cases of corporate meltdown, it was all of the above and more.
Skeptics of behavioral analysis believe that technical training and IQ are the main determinants of leadership success. But take a look at the sweep of human history. All of the behavioral characteristics that insure a modern organization's success are the same behaviors that assured the survival of our clan species. They're hardwired. Our research into health, happiness, and leadership shows that the same behaviors that make us feel happy also induce biochemically healthy states, and those same behaviors are the bedrocks of excellent leadership. We are, it turns out, physically rewarded for doing the things that make our clans - and teams and organizations - thrive.
The problem is, behaviors can be hard to parse out, and we need a way to decide just how well our leaders are leading. Plus, in advance of the blow-up, we can avert disaster by identifying and analyzing behavioral success factors - and making changes where they're needed.
The following is a simple, tried and true questionnaire that forms the analytical template my partner, Greg Hicks, and I use when we're working with Senior Executive Teams. It's based on a model of ideal behavioral attributes of leaders that comes from our own years of research into leadership, happiness and health. (You'll find that the questionnaire works in both the American work place and the international arena.)
You can run this on your own leader, or, if you're in a leadership position, you might try it on yourself. Regardless of whom you're rating, no one has to answer these questions except you - although it's fun and quite revealing to do this with your team.
We've got nine questions that can be rated on a scale running from 1 to 10. 1 is low, 10 is high, middle scores are indicators of how the leader leans to one side or another. (Or, create your own rating scale. Perhaps "excellent" to "mediocre," or, if you want to have some fun, "over-the-top brilliant" to "egregious.")
1. Are the leader's intentions clear? (Not the goals, which are really measurable outcomes, but clarity around the way the leader intends to behave, and the attitudes he or she wants to convey?) 1 = unclear intentions / 10 = clarity.
2. Does the leader blame - framing himself up as a victim of circumstance? (We want accountable leaders who "own" their jobs.) 1 = a lot of blaming and "victimhood" / 10 = "owning" his/her job.
3. Can the leader identify the diversity of work styles on her team and use them effectively to get the job done? (Leaders who take the time to understand diversity of approach are far more efficient and have the "right" people doing the "right" jobs.) 1 = doesn't know self or others / 10 = great understanding of diversity and how to use it.
4. Are the leader's own skills, passions, and interests embedded in the nature of her work? (A leader who is passionate about her job is far more motivational.) 1 = un-passionate about work / 10 = passionate about the nature of both the job and the nature of the business (art, insurance, banking, etc.)
5. When roadblocks arrive, or when failures happen, can the leader convert them into learning and forward momentum? (We all want the "Learning Organization.") 1 = gets stuck in "failures" / 10 = finding opportunities within failures and roadblocks for positive growth
6. Is the leader flexible? (We despair when we don't have options, and thrive when we feel there are opportunities for change and growth.) 1 = rigidity / 10 = multiple scenarios in problem solving, innovation, creativity
7. Does the leader express authentic appreciation for jobs well done? (Feeling valued is something we all want.) 1 = withholds appreciation / 10 = expresses heartfelt appreciation to others for a job well done
8. Does the leader coach, mentor, share information, and contribute to the community? (Giving is a hallmark of excellent leadership.) 1 = withholds ideas, information and help / 10 = gives freely of him or her self
9. Does the leader tell the truth - most importantly, can he give and take accountable, mature, and meaningful feedback? (Without critique, we stop growing as individuals and as an organization.) 1 = unable to give or receive feedback and critique (or even worse, lacks integrity) / 10 = honest, open to feedback, able to share critique in a mature and accountable way
Those leaders who consistently score low are probably doing damage already and you wish they'd exit the organization quickly. They likely fulfill the insulting and unfortunate media stereotypes that roast anyone who attempts to lead - good or bad.
I'm willing to bet that your high-scoring leaders are people you see as excellent. A leader who scores in the top range, is full of integrity, open to ideas, great at collaborating, and entirely willing to convert downturns and "failures" into learning experiences. (Remember, you haven't failed if you've lost a couple of hands but are still in the game.) This is the kind of leader we need in this extremely difficult economic era.
The good news is that all of these attributes are learnable. Hopefully, the senior leaders in business and politics who don't do them, will learn them quickly.