There are dozens of leadership models developed and published every year. As an assessor I have worked with a fair share of them. My work involves taking a leadership model, identifying criteria and then designing an appropriate assessment process based on that criteria.
No more than 4 criteria
One key thing I’ve learnt is that fewer criteria is better than more and Daniel Kahneman has backed this up. According to Dan, focus on no more than 4 criteria and stick to that criteria throughout.
As a trained assessor and psychologist, I am passionate about working with models that have data and evidence behind them. Sometimes we don’t always know where the data comes from or how the data is analysed. But as a pragmatist if the model is built on many examples from the real world, so much the better.
Reflects context and challenges
The model must set realistic expectations and enable a degree of flexibility to take into account particular challenges of a role or working within an organisation.
Elena Botelho, is the co-author of The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors that Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders. Her book draws on research and in-depth analysis of more than 2,600 leaders drawn from a database of more than 17,000 CEO and C-suite executives. The research is undertaken by a commercial company and so not likely to have the rigour of an academic study. With that caution in mind, I was somewhat excited to come across a model with a large database drawn from the business world.
Her research has identified four behaviours of highly successful leaders:
1. Decisive – They are decisive and understand the importance of speed over precision when making decisions. According to Botelho, most people assume that CEOs have an uncanny ability to make the right decisions more often than other people. But her research indicates that it is the speed and will to make the decision in the first place which makes the difference.
2. Adaptable -They adapt boldly, especially when faced with the discomfort of the unknown. “Of the four behaviours, this is the one where people are most likely to underestimate their ability—and that is costly.” Botelho explains people assume change will be painful, so they resist it. But her research shows that the most successful leaders are good at letting go of past behaviors, habits, and commitments that will not serve them in the future.
3. Reliable – They are reliable and deliver what they promise, when they promise it—without exception. This behaviour sounds simple, but isn’t easy to practice consistently. Botelho describes the importance of being on time and doing what you say you’re going to do. She offers another tip: “Highly reliable leaders are thoughtful about setting expectations right up front.” This behaviour not only improves the likelihood you will succeed in your role, but also increases your chances of being hired in the first place.
4. Engaging -They engage with stakeholders without shying away from conflict. These leaders focus on leading to deliver results that benefit the company as opposed to leading to be liked. They keep all stakeholders including customers, employees, and shareholders engaged.
Candidates assessed against this model need to demonstrate abilities across the four behaviours. But there is a recognition that not all individuals will be equally effective across the four behaviours but also that different contexts require some behaviours more than others. For instance, adapting and responding to changes in the environment whilst still appearing to be reliable and consistent in delivery. Or being decisive whilst taking time to ensure all key stakeholders are engaged. Whilst the model enables a degree of contextualisation, actual success at the CEO level comes from an ability to manage the obvious tensions across the four behaviours.
As each of these behaviours are learnable, it’s a model I can get on board with.