Category Archives: Engagement & Performance

Leadership: What We Know – Part 2

The world of job analysis was overturned in the 1970s when McClelland began using a competency focus to understand the requirements of a particular role or job. It wasn’t McClelland’s intention to generalise but the publication of a 1982 book by his colleague, Richard Boyatzis, led to an explosion of interest in managerial competency frameworks. In the UK, particularly, this facilitated the growth of the Management Charter Initiative and competency-based learning and development. Over decades these approaches have progressively influenced practice in, particularly, Australia, New Zealand and the development of craft, technical, apprenticeship and managerial development internationally.

In the management domain, a strong argument can be made that most competency frameworks have identified four clusters of capability. The first of these is concerned with intrapersonal skills and includes growing awareness of and the application of emotional intelligence, as we now know it. The second focus is on the interpersonal skills of relationship building and the third is concerned with business skills. Finally, it has become widely accepted that there is a fourth leadership skillset that concerns vision, strategy (both allied to and using the business skills mentioned earlier) and building and motivating an engaged, high-performing team of people. It is helpful to consider that this four-stage model is developmental. The development of intrapersonal skills typically takes place during the pre-teen years and may be followed by the application of these capabilities interpersonally in the late teens and beyond. Business understanding and competency may be more amenable to formal teaching and coaching, action learning and other experiential methods of development can be used, powerfully, to enable the association of the first, second and third focus areas. Finally, leadership skills may or may not be added to the individual’s toolkit. It has generally become accepted that this developmental model also represents a trainability continuum. The first cluster of intrapersonal capabilities is not highly trainable – their very nature often warrants highly individualised approaches to learning. The second cluster is also less easily trained and may require considerable investment in experiential learning, feedback and coaching. The third cluster certainly includes a body of knowledge that can be relatively easily defined and may include core professional understanding plus organisational and wider business expertise that can be sector-specific or related to the maturity, complexity, type and/or scale of the business. Here we see the curriculum of the typical MBA. Applied leadership skills frequently develop later and the design of appropriately engaging developmental experiences provides the opportunity for great innovation and creativity.

Organisations may apply important nuances to the four clusters. One recent global client wanted to highlight the importance of leaders demonstrating, in their early careers, that they are ‘personally well-functioning’ and able to ‘operate effectively and to adapt to challenge, ambiguity and change’. The second cluster may be expressed in terms of the individual’s ability to make things happen through others by applying their interpersonal capabilities: outcomes rather than latent behavioural skills may be most evident in the descriptions of these competences.

Business skills need to be expressed in terms that are easily understood in the leader’s sector and, whilst there is some ongoing public and private sector business practice convergence, these two organisational spheres are clearly not the same in every respect. Similarities and differences need to be captured in descriptions of competences that resonate with the users of any framework of competences.

The extent to which the fourth cluster will have a strong future orientation will depend upon a number of factors including the maturity of the sector and the various changing and challenging opportunities and constraints the organisation faces.

Whilst the nuances are important, there is little evidence to suggest that the fourfold taxonomy of competences is less than comprehensive or has been superseded. When,  in 2001, Jim Collins published his groundbreaking book, “Good To Great”, a rare example of a business book based on actual research, Collins –  and his team – were able to conclude that leaders that took charge and improved organisational performance scored well on the four competences outlined above and had two other qualities. First, they were modest and humble, as opposed to self-dramatizing and self-promoting and, second, they were phenomenally persistent.

A question arises concerning the way in which leaders influence organisational performance. (They certainly do so: Joyce, Nohria and Roberson (2003) showed that CEOs account for about 14% of the variance in firm performance.) Leaders appear, through their personality, to influence the culture and the dynamics of their senior teams.

It was long thought that managerial incompetence was largely about managers not having the “right stuff”. Recent research shows that it is more to do with managers having the “wrong stuff”: some kind of “personality defect”. Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) summarised the results of reputable research and found that failed managers typically had poor interpersonal skills (they were insensitive, arrogant, cold, aloof and overly ambitious); they were unable to get work done (because they betrayed trust or didn’t follow through, for example); they were unable to build a team and they were unable to make a transition following a promotion. The associations with the four clusters are very clear.


Boyatzis, Richard E., “The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance” Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-471-09031-1

Collins, Jim C, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”, William Collins, October 2001, ISBN: 978-0-06-662099-2

Nohria, Nitin, William F. Joyce, and Bruce Roberson. “What Really Works.” Harvard Business Review 81, no. 7 (July 2003).

Leslie, J.B. and Van Velsor, E. (1996). A look at derailment today: North America and Europe. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 1

The British General Election campaign in May 2017 was dominated by discussion about the character of the leadership ‘offer’ being made by party leaders May and Corbyn. May’s commitment was to provide “strong and stable leadership”, whilst Corbyn was widely associated with a more collegiate style of leadership. This projection of a promised brand of leadership is not uncommon in election campaigns but it tends to beg the question: “what exactly do we know about leadership?

The reality is that, despite the importance of the subject, we securely know relatively little about it and many opposing positions can be honestly taken on leadership effectiveness. This is problematic for at least two reasons. First, because leadership is the key to organisational effectiveness, with good leadership, organisations effectively and efficiently deliver what is needed and those within them enjoy well being and a sense of aligned engagement. Second, and more importantly from a moral and ethical perspective, bad leaders create havoc and misery that sometimes blights generations and entire countries for years.

The complexity of the relationship between leaders and their followers is certainly one reason for our general lack of secure knowledge. It is also true that mountains of paper have been piled up and many writers have drained deep wells of ink with scant regard for evidence and, sometimes, an overwhelming  desire to sell yet another “airport book”. Even where evidence-based studies have been completed with rigour, over a period that warrants our attention, it has often been perfectly possible to draw divergent conclusions about what was really happening in the research!

Leadership does not, of course, occur in a vacuum. There are those who would argue that leadership in society generally is of less consequence than other forces of greater magnitude and influence than human control. Opposing this view would be those who would argue that, at important junctures in history, human leadership emerges and does indeed result in critical change.

Taking this second view as a starting point we can begin to understand the likely importance of two aspects of human personality. The first concerns how the individual sees themselves (their ‘identity’) and the second how others see the individual. Various tools commonly used in leadership development have these twin perceptions at their heart. 360° feedback, done well, effectively brings together these perceptions; a well managed Development Centre achieves more with greater reliability and the Johari window is a tool that brings together these twin perceptions.

A person’s ‘identity’ is hard to identify and work with. Recent reports suggest that the analysis of social media data combined with other aspects of the ‘electronic fingerprint’ being left by many people can provide clues to how a person sees themselves. The potential misuse of accumulated data of this type is clearly evident.

Reputation, on the other hand, can be examined in a range of ways. Generally, assessments will distinguish between impressions created when an individual is at their best and an alternative and related impression created when that same individual is at their worst. Leaders with well-developed social skills will frequently be adept at masking the dark side impressions. However, the ability to keep the mask on over a sustained period is rare and our ‘dark side’ tendencies typically emerge over time. Trust is often eroded in line with the mask slipping and people becoming more aware of the darker side of an individual. The gateway to many opportunities in life is reputation, as many leaders explicitly or implicitly recognise.

Simple frequency analysis has gradually allowed us to understand which leadership characteristics (we might dub them ‘leadership virtues’) are most important to the led. In order of importance they are: integrity, decisiveness, competence and vision. Because integrity is the most important virtue it follows that the single most important question we can ask of potential leaders is this: “Can we trust you not to abuse the privilege of authority?”

A significant meta-analysis shows that from trust in leadership there springs improved job performance; job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002).

As a counterweight to the focus on the individual leader and their personality, we also need to be aware of the context within which leadership is exercised. Those people that rise to the top of a university are likely to be characterised by a different cluster of talents, capabilities and personality traits than those that are in charge of a major league football club, for example. They may or may not have a talent for leadership. However, whilst leadership is circumstantial, Alberto Silva (2014) has asserted that “… groups choose as leaders only those people who they believe to have leadership skills, and people that do not possess leadership qualities will not be considered as leaders by any group in any circumstance.” It seems to be true that the characteristics associated with effective leadership are actually surprisingly similar across industries and cultures.

Hogan and Kaiser noted, in 2005, that leadership has tended to be defined in terms of influence exerted or in relation to the ratings given by more senior leaders. Hogan and Kaiser take the view that the litmus test of leadership should be this: does this person demonstrate that they build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition?

So, two key leadership questions emerging are these:

Can we trust this person not to abuse the privilege of authority?

Has this this person demonstrated that they will build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition? Alternatively*: Do we have enough evidence to show that they will build and maintain a group that will perform well relative to its competition?

*The second alternative question above may appear difficult to use. If this is the case, and the person being considered has no evident track record in this area, a good replacement question is this: “Does this person have basic knowledge about how to take a group of people and turn them into a high performing team?” Surprisingly, perhaps, this turns out to be a very effective differentiator!

Does talent management and leadership development where you are pay attention to these key questions?



Dirks KT, Ferrin DL., ” Trust in leadership: meta-analytic findings and implications for research and practice”. Journal of Appl Psychol. August 2002, 87(4): 611-28.

Hogan, Robert; Kaiser, Robert B. “What We Know About Leadership”, Review of General Psychology, Vol 9(2), Jun 2005, 169-180.

Silva A, “What Do We Really Know About Leadership?”. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly 2014, Volume 5, Number 4.

Information sharing, pathos and apologies

It is widely believed that leaders should share information with those they lead. The arguments to support this as ‘best practice’ draw widely on studies of staff engagement. These repeatedly show that, by explaining the connection between employees’ individual jobs and the organisation, leaders and managers can greatly increase employee satisfaction with their day-to-day work. The commitment to communication also rests on the belief that, whilst trust evolves, ebbs and flows it is essential to staff engagement and motivation. For leaders and managers, the evidence shows that employees who trust them are most likely to follow through on goals set. Trustworthy leaders and managers are also more likely to get a flow of honest feedback on the challenges their staff face: which is invaluable.

At the strategic level, as Alkhafaji stated (1997), “no matter how brilliant the strategy may be, unless the business team understands and accepts it, performance will suffer.”

The “terms” of understanding and acceptance depend on leaders being able to communicate relevant information credibly. Leaders typically base their own judgements on both hard data and softer information. Many will take the view that the data is easier to communicate than the softer information. Of course, what is easier for one leader to accomplish may be more challenging for another and track records certainly play a part in creating the foundations for each call to action. Agreeing, perhaps instinctively, with Aristotle, many leaders I have worked with know that credibility depends upon a rather subtle demonstration of competence, good intention and empathy.

Modern business communication has tended to elevate the attention paid to what Aristotle terms “logos”. This is often, and to a great extent rightly, associated with logic, the hard data and the apparent proofs of our case. Business leaders, perhaps because they are business leaders, will often avoid paying attention to “pathos” in their communication. However, as we will see, this failure to consider the emotional impact of communication can have catastrophic impact on how it is received and responded to. More generally,  and perhaps through a fear of being seen to be overly emotional, much business communication appears leaden, stilted and impassive: not the tinder that lights fires of commitment as Henry V did on the Feast of St Crispian. (As Richard Olivier explains so eloquently in his book “Inspirational Leadership”, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 905879 00 7).

The dangers of a failure to attend to engage emotionally with people are well illustrated by the response of the CEO of United Airlines to an airline-overbooking situation on April 9, 2017. This resulted in a fare-paying passenger being dragged bodily off an internal US flight. When the gruesome video footage went viral and the CEO, who had previously been named U.S. Communicator of the Year, failed to apologise he was widely criticised. In avoiding emotional response and failing to give a profound and heartfelt apology for the terrible manner in which the passenger had been treated on a United plane the CEO stoked fear. He did not appear to understand or to respond to the fact that relationships between United, its public, investors and actual and potential passengers were breaking down. His initial communication did not include an effective apology that would right these collapsing relationships. He did appreciate that passengers felt unsafe at the hands of United. Later attempts to correct the impression given were seen as too little and too late.

An example of a generally well-judged communication style that combined logic and emotional intelligence comes from Steve Jobs. Jobs appeared to completely understand the need to marry logos and pathos when sharing information with Apple’s market. His style was typically as calm, enthusiastic, and confident when launching high stake products as others might be in their living room. The author and Associate Professor of Management Garr Reynolds put it this way: “His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. […] He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.” Sometimes this was no mean feat when the subject matter might have been a little dry!

In making the judgement call about the use of the hard data and the soft information, Blanes I Vidal and Moller (2007), call attention to the importance of the leader’s belief about the accuracy of the soft information available. When a leader strongly believes (and is self-confident about) her/his judgement about the available soft information she/he is more likely to share it and this, Vidal and Moller show, can increase the organisation’s surplus.

Conversely, Blanes I Vidal and Moller’s work suggests that information sharing can help to reduce the autocratic predisposition of self-confident leaders. Information sharing can help organisations to avoid overconfidence-driven courses of action. This happens because, when workers have access to information, for example about a possible merger, they are able to form opinions about its potential viability. Because this opinion affects their motivation, the leader can find themselves effectively constrained from pursuing courses of action that are unduly based on her/his ‘gut feeling’ or instincts.

This is not what is generally thought of when “the flow of honest feedback to the CEO” is being discussed but it can certainly be powerful.


Alkhafaji, A.F., 1997, Strategic Management: Formulation, Implementation and Control in a Dynamic Environment, New York: Haworth Press.

Blanes I Vidal, J., and M. Moller. 2007. “When Should Leaders Share Information with their Subordinates?” Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 16, pp. 251-283.

“Post-truth”: Word Of The Year

The FT reports that Oxford Dictionaries has made “post-truth” its word of the year for 2016, citing a surge in the frequency of its use in the context of Britain’s EU referendum and the USA’s presidential election.

Dictionary compilers say that the word was probably first used in 1992 – though then it was used to mark the time when the truth was known – “post-truth” was the “after the truth was known” situation. In 2016 the word is coming to denote “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Truth is a comprehensive term that, in most of its nuances, implies accuracy and honesty. Truth is also the currency of our analytical mind. A tension has however been created both through our frequent use of “truth” to refer to the idea of being authentic (or “true to oneself”) and the now widely accepted qualifications that truth may be subjective or objective, relative or absolute. Thus, “truth” involves both the quality of faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, sincerity, and veracity and that of “agreement with fact or reality”. We are increasingly confronted by the living reality that an individual may be sincere – and yet wrong – at the same time.

Trust is, however, an emotive “currency” of the heart. In organisational life it may be part of the foundations for the individual’s faith or belief in a mission or the value of the common good. Trust has both a prior evidential aspect (in that it is developed over times past) and yet it is also closely associated with expectations about the future (particularly the behaviour of another person). It may deliver an accompanying feeling of confidence and security depending on the degree of trust and the extent of the associated risk.

Without truth and trust built into the gears of the organisation it may grind to a halt. There is much discussion about the individual leader’s and manager’s trustworthiness. This is sometimes fuelled by the results of employee engagement surveys and, of course, a trustworthy leader/manager is of great value. Yet it is also true that employees want to be able to trust the whole managerial system. They want to believe in the organisation as a result of the quality of its leadership, its consistent application of sound managerial practices and the equity of its people systems. This type of systemic trust arises when all managers use the same management framework and are held accountable to and act consistently within the values, systems and practices of the organisation. It does not therefore rely exclusively on personalities or on individuals, who may be here today and gone tomorrow.

Organisational action planning to address poor trust scores identified through an employee survey sometimes focus too narrowly on the behaviours of leaders and managers and may overlook organisational design and work processes. This is shortsighted because each of these impact on the working environment for all employees.

Effective organisational design engenders trust by creating the conditions where there can be work clarity and relationship clarity. This good design passes the test of being easily and consistently explained and understood. It fundamentally enables managers and staff to be clear about how work is organised and delivered.

Systems of work are the organisation’s policies, procedures, forms and information and communication technologies. They operate all day, every day. They never take holidays – unlike managers. Some work processes may rankle initially and require improvement but when they are sound, known and repeated employees will eventually get used to them and follow them. There is rare skill in designing and implementing light systems that reinforce legislation, policies and what is valued in the organisation and embed required behaviours in processes. Almost anyone can create a heavy system that wastes time, creates confusion and burns money!

The recurring challenge in volatile, uncertain and complex environments is to hold to truth, build trust, grow leadership and use effective organisational design and work systems to engender engagement.

Distributed Leadership

Leadership teams in any organisation today typically face a volatile and uncertain operating environment and, consequently, need to be both high performing and adaptable. In this new √itas Consult series we will be exploring those characteristics of top teams that lead to high performance and adaptability.

In 2011 Roselinde Torres and Nneka Rimmer wrote[1]: “Top teams … must be more than just high performing. They also need to adapt and thrive, regardless of the turbulence they face.”

Roselinde Torres and her team at the Boston Consulting Group had undertaken research examining a possible association between a company’s performance versus its peers and the adaptive capacity of its senior-leadership team. They found a correlation between the two factors. They also found that employees enjoy a more emotionally rich and engaging experience when they are part of adaptive teams. Torres and Rimmer found that adaptive top leadership teams adhere to four operating principles (and these will form the focus of this short series of articles).

  1. Distributed Leadership. Torres and her team found that successful adaptive team leaders believe in the value of sharing leadership at the top and developing leaders at every level.

There may, of course, be a considerable gap between believing in the value of shared leadership and actually practicing it! In coaching I have noticed the importance of listening for indications that team members have similar understandings of their team’s main objectives and that they actually take steps to ensure a focus on collective goals. This can be demonstrated through their approach to managing the performance of their own team members.

It is frequently clear when team members are actively providing emotional and psychological strength to one another. This may occur through acts of encouragement or expressed recognition of other team members’ contributions and accomplishments. If this social support isn’t evident then a significant support for shared leadership is absent.

A third powerful support for shared leadership is in place when a team’s members have input into how the team carries out its purpose.

Carson et al. noted[2] that “When team members are able to speak up and get involved (they have voice), the likelihood that many of them will exercise leadership increases greatly. The opportunity for voice also facilitates shared leadership by strengthening both a common sense of direction and the potential for positive interpersonal support in a team. When teams are focused on collective goals (having a shared purpose), there is a greater sense of meaning and increased motivation for team members to both speak up and invest themselves in providing leadership to the team and to respond to the leadership of others. The motivation to participate and provide input toward achieving common goals and a common purpose can also be reinforced by an encouraging and supportive climate. When team members feel recognized and supported within their team (social support exists) they are more willing to share responsibility, cooperate, and commit to the team’s collective goals. Thus, these three dimensions work together to create an internal team environment that is characterised by a shared understanding about purpose and goals, a sense of recognition and importance, and high levels of involvement, challenge, and cooperation.”

104px-king_henry_v_from_npgRichard Olivier, writing about Shakespeare’s great leader, Henry V, notes that a 15th century king might be expected to move his Lords towards the achievement of a vision by laying that vision out, then announcing that he will sort out the strategy and only then telling his Lords what to do. Such a leader, thinking that their only way of maintaining their identification with a great project is not to share ownership, invariably cuts themselves off from the very support they need. For Henry V the temptation not to share leadership must have been strong: in Elizabethan times the monarch was considered to be touched by the divine. However, Henry V shares leadership generously and Olivier is able to write: “Henry V is wise enough to know that if he wants others to invest themselves in the project he has to share it with them. There is no more effective way of doing this than to get them involved in planning the next steps.”[3]

Sharing leadership at the top and developing leaders frequently go hand in hand. Not only so, but the most challenging decisions, programmes and changes often create exactly the opportunities needed to foster distributed leadership. When the U.S. pharmaceutical company, SmithKline Beckman, and the U.K. consumer products company, the Beecham Group, were engaged in merger planning, the leader of the Merger Management Committee, Robert Bauman, recognised this. “The best way to achieve management alignment was to have the Executive Management Committee work on a task together. The harder and more important the task, and the more integral its members felt the EMC was in accomplishing that task, the better the chances of them coming together.”[4]

As Jon R Katzenbach puts it: “team performance at the top is all about doing real work together”. “Real work”, as Katzenbach defines it, is not the same as open discussion, debate and the delegation of authority. Real work undertaken together is about the members of a leadership group applying different skills to produce a performance improvement that could not be achieved by any one member alone.

At the very highest level of team engagement I would expect to find participants using language that suggests an interdependent community. This is what Todd Hybels discovers as a young leader and later discusses with his father, Bill:

“Community is more than just working with other people. It’s doing life deeply with one another as we serve together. And there’s a huge difference between the two.”[5]

That’s highly distributed leadership.

[1] “The Five Traits of Highly Adaptive Leadership Teams”, Boston Consulting Group: Sourced 2 November 2016. In this article the authors discuss “The Value of Adaptive Advantage” research undertaken by the BCG Strategy Institute. The research showed that the more adaptive companies are, the more financial gains that company generates. They also consistently outperform their industry peers and sustain superior performance over time.

[2] Carson, J. B, Tesluk, P. E., & Marrone, J. A. (2007). Shared leadership in team: An investigation of antecedent conditions and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 5, 1217-1234.

[3] Olivier, R., (2002) “Inspirational Leadership: Henry V and the Muse of Fire – Timeless Insights from Shakespeare’s Greatest Leader, p.47

[4] Bauman, R. P. et al., (1997) “From Promise to Performance: Journey of Transformation at SmithKline Beecham”, p. 35

[5] Hybels, B., (2002) “Courageous Leadership”, p.74

The Rise Of Badges

Blue-Peter-badge-002Many people have gained a formal academic or professional qualification of some sort during their lives. But informal skills acquisition doesn’t usually attract proper recognition. This is why ‘badges’ to accredit this kind of learning are gaining in popularity. Traditionally seen as indicators of quality, badges are generally used to demonstrate a person’s affiliation with a scheme, association or professional body. In education, however, they can be used to reward learners for achieving a certain level of knowledge, acquiring a new skill, demonstrating a level of competency, or displaying a desired standard of behaviour.

As people become more comfortable with learning online, this has created an opportunity to design “digital badges” to accredit completion of informal courses. Demand from learners has partly ignited this trend, as badges provide demonstrable credit in return for effort. Accrediting informal learning drives user engagement and motivation, as recognition and reward is gained through sharing the success with others online. Learners can broadcast achievements to colleagues and friends across social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. It’s this aspect that is driving increased participation. We expect to see badged learning increase in popularity. Badge schemes in mainstream online environments are gathering momentum and have been successfully applied within World Vision’s global, corporate university. Initiatives like Mozilla OpenBadges and Moodle, a virtual learning environment are easily combined to enable learners to display their Badges on their profiles.

Badged learning has a useful role to play in achieving important objectives like fostering a learning culture, encouraging self-directed learning and improving employees’ digital skills – as the Open University have recently recognised. Learning and development specialists are increasingly acknowledging their benefit in the workplace. Badges can form an integral part of individuals’ continuing professional development (CPD) programmes and help to structure learning pathways by allowing prior achievement to be recognised and advanced learning to become an appropriate starting point. Simply put, badges allow staff to earn verification as they acquire new skills and improve their competency levels. And they enable learners to display an icon on their online professional profiles, and list on their CVs the courses they’ve completed and certificates they’ve gained.


Engagement And Performance

Do you manage or lead a team? Do you know – and use! – the two simple questions that engage people in your team?


If you don’t, then I highly recommend a recent short, podcast from “The Look & Sound of Leadership”. It’s on “Engagement & Performance” and you will find it by clicking on this link: Engagement and Performance

THenschelThis podcast is by Tom Henschel, an executive coach to senior leaders and executive teams. Originally trained as a classical actor, Tom received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The Juilliard School, Drama Division. He was a professional actor for more than twenty years before becoming a trainer, leadership team dynamics specialist and coach. His practical, pithy and popular “Look & Sound of Leadership”™ series of podcasts – never more than 15 minutes long – are an excellent source of development and come highly recommended.