Four Concepts to Consider When Evaluating a Leader

Leadership Clues:

4 Questions to Test for Leadership

Here is a short checklist of the top four key concepts to consider when evaluating a leader or to screen candidates for key leadership roles.

As an executive coach for twenty years and former consultant, I’ve learned a few techniques for observing leaders. The following characteristics are a reflection of an individual’s values. Taking the time to meet with an individual before agreeing to serve as coach has helped me recognize clients with a high potential for success as well as those who seem to be stuck on a losing streak. These proven techniques may be of use to you as you build work teams, leadership or executive teams, and corporate boards: any initiative to select and engage leaders.

The two key factors I seek is consistency in process and flexibility in implementation. is the ability to consistently apply their knowledge and experience. Consistent actions and management decisions are best flexible when applied following an evaluation and understanding of the causal and coexisting factors. This article will explain how you can apply this approach for self-evaluation as well as in the leadership role of mentor and role model.

Just as a good detective seeks clues, it is important for leaders to step back and evaluate their personal stresses or weaknesses during times of change or transition.

Example clue to assess leadership stress:

A formerly successful businessperson now seems to be floundering, unable to assess each situation and unaware of impending factors. Others have noticed that the leaders’ actions reveal a need to remain in control and personal recognition rather than team and organization success. Cautious, possibly defensive, the business leader may refuse to trust decision-making and problem-solving to others, withholding information that creates new problems only the individual can resolve. This process exposes the team and organization to long-term distraction from its mission and vision.

Example situation when stress may occur:

Success can be overwhelming. One example is when a business has grown so fast that the founding entrepreneur begins to feel unnecessary. This ambitious individual knows that taking action is the best way to work through a problem situation. By forging ahead and making rapid-fire decisions, it is easy to forget that the process of growing yields failures as well as successes. Accustomed to being the winner, a business leader focused on doing rather than learning may become ensnared in what could become a self-destructive pattern.

The following four questions to ask of yourself, are necessary to begin a journey of self-evaluation.

How do you recognize the signals of someone who has closed themselves off to learning? The following are the top four key concepts I employ when considering a new client. Executives might find it useful as a personal self-checklist or to screen candidates for key leadership roles.

Answer each question quickly, without contemplation. Assign one point for every question you answered yes and two points for every question you answered no.  

Question #1: Are you replaceable?
Question #2: Do you trust your employees?
Question #3: Do you involve a cross-section of your staff in key decisions?
Question #4: Do you get your “money’s worth” from high-paid staff?

Scores above 5 may be a clue that you may be caught in a losing cycle.

Let’s look at each question with an example of how the various approaches can affect business success.  
Examine your responses….
Are you replaceable?

There is always more than one way to do something, and there is always someone who can replace us. This concept hit the owner of a manufacturing firm like a physical blow. His firm had experienced outstanding growth, but then a personal crisis forced him to think about retirement as a viable option. Within a week of considering life without work, he decided that the company needed to re-brand and the firm had to acquire a new division. These huge reactive decisions brought chaos to the firm, jeopardizing the business and requiring him to invest long hours to deal with the new problems. He succeeded at pushing back all thoughts of retirement for many years.

Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it. – Colin Powell

Do you trust your employees?

  Lack of trust in your employees is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a manager, your job is to develop your people: Your success rests on their success. A quick clue that a newly on-boarded senior manager will have difficulty assimilating is a lack of attempt to develop rapport with existing staff.   In one case, a manager immediately replaced existing direct reports with colleagues enticed from companies he had worked for in the past. He built a team with people he thought he knew and trusted, choosing to not engage or form relationships with peers and indirect reports at the new firm. His team did not build relationships with other teams or learn the corporation’s culture, history or mores. His new team was unable to recognize or draw upon existing resources or past leanings, working in isolation without support. The team’s projects continually failed. Within two years the manager and his entire team left the company. We cannot live only for ourselves.

A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects . – Herman Melville

Do you involve a cross-section of your staff in key decisions?

Good decisions sprout from equal parts of dissension and humor. A team composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds will challenge and inspire, opening new doors that one mind alone cannot fathom. One manager sought to expand her company and intuitively hired an experienced COO whose personality was completely different from hers. Unfortunately, when he started to present new approaches and question past practices, she rejected any ideas that questioned the status quo. Annoyed by the multitude of options presented, she eventually replaced the COO with someone who had been on staff for years. The company’s profitability rose briefly and has since settled slightly below its previous norm.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. – -St. Francis of Assisi  

Do you get your “money’s worth” from your high-paid staff?

Assigning a dollar value or establishing a return on investment is always complicated, particularly for the manager who wants to see the results for every dollar spent. Ignoring the intangible benefits of planning and gathering resources, this type of leader will assign tasks that are easy to evaluate and, in their simplicity, lack depth. For example, seeking to gain media presence, one company president rejected the need to build a foundation for a marketing program as being too costly, demanding that an article about a specific topic appear in the local paper every month. The result was an illusion of success: the effort did not achieve the company’s marketing goals and lacked client retention or follow-up.

As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts. – Buddha  

The one common thread in all of the situations presented here is that talented people do not lose the drive to succeed – they will be effective when they are able to broaden their focus, to join with others as a team and effectively direct their efforts.

As a manager’s success grows, confidence blossoms, sometimes overshadowing the need for continued personal and professional development. The resulting clue is when the leader refuses to take advice from team members, inadvertently creating a wall to knowledge exchange.

Perhaps we forget our limitations with each success. Questioning ourselves, challenging our assumptions and radically changing our routine as well as our environment may be necessary to remind us who we are and what we are seeking. There is always something new to learn. Achieving your goal is just the beginning of the journey: Use your experiences to continue to develop and succeed.

Learning becomes powerful when ignited by experience and understanding. – Lucille Maddalena

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