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Front-office self-assessment is good for the firm

The difference between being a good leader and thinking you are one

by Tommy Weir

Look in the mirror and take a long look to see how well you are doing as a leader. This can be very scary, as a mirror reveals reality and all of the blemishes that we try so hard to hide. It has probably been a long time since you took a real look at the quality of your leadership and you will be anxious from the results.

Guess what? You are probably not doing as effective a job as you may have thought, at least according to your followers. For this past year the average difference, globally, between how effective managers say they are and how effective the non-managers say the managers are is a startling 12 percent, according to the Kenexa Research Institute’s Employee Confidence Index. This is a significant gap that organizations must address.

It is no surprise that leaders think they are better than non-managers say they are, as they seldom take the time to look in the mirror. Isn’t it strange that in organizational life, leaders try to cover-up, hide and masquerade their leadership quality when every employee sees the real story and knows the truth?

In this region, the typical manager’s reaction is to argue about the results, blame others and make excuses for the difference. Because of pride and prestige, they find this research a very hard truth to swallow. Immediately upon learning that they are not as effective as they think they are, managers start making excuses and blaming everyone possible. Here is a list of common reactions:

They blame the organization, saying it did not give them the support needed.
They blame the human resourses deparment, saying they hired these people who are questioning the effectiveness of their leadership.
They blame the global recession.
They blame the employees saying they do not know what quality leadership is.
And, they conclude that the employees are just wrong.
They blame everyone, except for the real source of the leadership deficit, which is themselves. Instead of blaming and making excuses for their lack of effectiveness, the managers need to take responsibility, recognizing that they are not performing as well as they think. Then, and only then, will they be in a position to do something about it and to get better.

Business, political parties and governments are at great risk if they do not pay attention to what the research says. It may be revealing that the level of employee engagement is off, employees are loyal to themselves and not the organization, and the organization is not receiving top performance from the non-managers. The employees are stating a painful reality that organizations need to address in order to mitigate the risk associated.

So what should an organization do to improve reality to the level of perceived leadership effectiveness?

First, an organization needs to discover the truth through a global standard leadership effectiveness survey.

Then, leaders need to see and accept the reality of what the non-managers say about the effectiveness of their leading. No more blaming, hiding or masquerading. They need to accept the results and be accountable for them. 

Finally, organizations need to invest in developing the effectiveness of their leaders. This should happen through organizational systems, processes and approaches that provide accountability and through leadership development.

In this region, only 50 percent of organizations invest in developing their leaders. And for the majority of the ones who do invest, the development is limited to aspiring leaders — not the ones who already occupy the managerial posts. The result is less than optimum effectiveness in leadership, as most managers do not continue to improve their capability once they attain the aspired managerial position. 

If an organization wants to mitigate its risk exposure, it must get serious about its leadership reality/effectiveness and do something about it.

This 12-point difference reminds me of the monkey who climbs all the way to the top of the tree. Once he reaches the top he looks back and sees a crowd of people staring up at him. As he looks at this crowd he sees them pointing and smiling. Success! Right? But what is it that the people are seeing when they look up from the ground to the monkey in the tree? They are laughing as the monkey is exposing his backside.

Are you at the top of the tree? What do you see? What do the non-managers see of you?

Tommy Weir is managing director of leadership solutions at Kenexa

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