https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Matterhorn_Riffelsee_2005-06-11.jpgWhat do the most effective senior leaders do differently to their least effective peers? The Leadership Circle’s Founder Bob Anderson and Global CEO Bill Adams provided a fascinating perspective on this question at the TLC Australasian conference in Sydney last week, where they shared an advance look at their latest research.

Context

A decade ago, Anderson produced a study demonstrating how great leadership drives bottom line results (and how poor leadership does the opposite). Specifically, he showed that 38% of perceived business performance can be attributed to leadership effectiveness.

Completing the picture

The TLC instrument has always provided a quantitative ‘by-the-numbers’ view of what that effective and ineffective leadership looks like. Anderson and Adams’ latest research completes the picture by taking a qualitative look at the data. They analysed what colleagues actually say about senior executives that they judge to be the best – and the worst – leaders.

They took the results of 17,000 leaders who had completed The Leadership Circle profile in 2010 and separated out the most senior executives: people who were company Presidents and above. From within this group of top execs, they created two sub-groups, based on their TLC profile results:

Group 1: Top 10% of leaders

Group 2: Bottom 10% of leaders

They then analysed the written feedback that had been provided on each exec by colleagues as part of the TLC 360 process, to see what themes emerged. The results of the analysis were both fascinating and stark. Here are the highlights of what colleagues said about the best and worst senior leaders.

Rank

 

Top leadership strengths of highly effective senior execsTop leadership liabilities of highly ineffective senior execs
1.Strong people skillsIneffective communication style
2.VisionaryNot a Team Player
3.Team BuilderTeam Not Fully Developed
4.Personable & ApproachableOver Demanding
5.Leads by ExampleToo Self-Centric
6.Passion and DriveMicromanages
7.Good ListenerInattentive Poor Listener
8.Develops PeopleImpatient
9.Empowers PeopleLack Emotional Control
10.Positive AttitudeTeam Not Held Accountable

 

The Cancelling Effect: Leadership that doesn’t scale

All the senior executives in the study had significant strengths. After all, they’d all made it to the top of their respective organisations. The difference between the two groups was in how they were performing once they’d made it to the corner office.

Leadership

Strengths

(aggregate)

Leadership

Liabilities

(aggregate)

Ratio of leadership strengths to leadership liabilities
Top 10% of leaders11132554.3 to 1
Bottom 10% of leaders5936670.9 to 1

 

The best leaders thrive in senior roles…

Colleagues said that the best leaders had more than four leadership strengths to every one leadership liability. Their strengths multiplied their effectiveness. This allowed them to continue to thrive even when dealing with the larger spans of control and levels of complexity that come with C-Suite and other very senior roles. They demonstrated a leadership style that scales.

… and the worst leaders don’t

On the other hand, the worst leaders’ strengths were cancelled out by their leadership liabilities. While they had successfully risen up into senior roles, their colleagues believed they were not leading effectively in these roles. As Marshall Goldsmith put it in his wonderful book title, “What got you here, won’t get you there.” Their leadership style did not scale.

Conclusion

Leadership effectiveness drives business results, and thanks to Anderson and Adams’ latest research, we now have a clearer view of what effective (and ineffective) leadership looks like. If you read the lists above and thought “Oh no, our executive team has many of those leadership liabilities.”, the good news is that leadership style is malleable, and those behaviours can be changed. Indeed, if done well, the change process itself will bring the leadership team closer together and drive positive culture change across the entire organisation.

And if the executive team already has a culture built around positive leadership behaviours, these can be dialed up even further to create a powerful differentiator. To paraphrase Patrick Lencioni’s latest book, in today’s volatile, hyper-competitive world, effective leadership is the last remaining source of sustainable competitive advantage. Building leadership capability is a critical success factor, both for individuals and for organisations. The company’s future performance depends on it.

If you’d like to talk more about how to drive positive leadership change in your company, do not hesitate to contact me.

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