“Effective leadership.” These may seem like two fairly straightforward words, but many individuals would find it challenging to articulate their own definition of effective leadership, let alone find a consensus definition of the term among their colleagues, whether peers, direct reports, or bosses. So how do we help support leaders in becoming more effective if we can’t agree on what that means?
While the nuances of the definition will always vary across individuals and organizations, we can discover some noteworthy patters when we look at which characteristics emerge as critical to effective leadership within different observer groups – and points of contrast across these groups are certainly thought-provoking, and sometimes a bit surprising.
A few contrasts worth noting:
- Overall effectiveness: Bosses associate persuasiveness and control with overall effectiveness, while peers and direct reports see leaders who are highly consensual and place a lower emphasis on themselves as more effective
- Future potential: bosses value production, persuasiveness, and control; bosses and direct reports both value excitement; while peers and direct reports find deference to authority and technical expertise more important
- Blind spots: the difference between self ratings and other groups’ ratings is more significant than any of the differences between the observer groups
With research from Maria Brown and coaching insights from David Ringwood, the webinar offers ample food for thought for anyone who coaches or develops contemporary leaders.
Did you miss the live webcast?
Catch up on anything you missed in the webinar by watching the video or getting the slides here.
There was a lot of research to take in, and just under an hour to get to all of it, so there were many questions still lingering after the broadcast. Maria and David both took the time to provide their answers below. Read on for questions and answers from the webinar…
Q & A from the Observer Differences webinar
Q: How do you translate a leader’s effectiveness from the private sector to a large club or a non-profit?
A: Many aspects of leader effectiveness are context specific. Broad studies such as the one we discussed in this webinar give us an understanding of general trends in leadership, which provide some initial insights as well as information for working with diverse groups of leaders. However, if you know that you will be working with a specific population (e.g., leaders in a large club), then it might be beneficial to find results that pertain to that group in order to gain an understanding of any nuances in leadership effectiveness for that group.
The LEA assumes that there is no one right or wrong way to lead – what is perceived as effective in one context might be far less effective elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that observers measure effectiveness relative to their expectations, and this too can be very contextually sensitive.
Q: I was wondering which norm group was used for the data and results we are seeing?
A: This study used the United States 2017 norm.
Note: Several in the audience expressed surprise at the emphasis (or lack of emphasis) on specific characteristics. It is worth noting that this presentation only examined three competency measures. When we look at effectiveness in other competencies in our best practice analyses, we find different behavior combinations. Contact email@example.com for more information.
Q: I’m surprised there isn’t more focus on people skills (e.g. empathy, consensus) – how long ago does the raw data go back in terms of the people rated? I think in the past there have been gender differences related to “excitement” – does this show up at all in this research?
A: We saw that empathy impacted overall effectiveness across all three observer groups. One reason it did not come up as relevant for the other two competencies may have to do with the particular competencies we explored in this study. The results might have been different had we looked at a different set of competencies. For example, some of our recent studies found a relationship between an emphasis on empathy and consensual, and higher ratings on the competencies of Insight Into People and Willingness to Listen.
These data were collected between 2015 and 2018. It is a fairly recent sample covering a 3+ year window.
Gender differences were beyond the scope of the current study. However, we recently conducted a global study with around 80,000 leaders and found that female leaders are more likely to emphasize excitement than male leaders.
Q: If Strategic is always so important why pay attention to anything else?
A: Strategic is emphasized by leaders who are rated as highly effective in various areas. In fact, it was the most important behavior in all of the best practices analyses we presented today. However, this broad finding is most likely the result of the three competencies that we selected for this study. In a different study, where we looked at relational/people competencies (e.g., Sensitivity to Other People’s Feelings or Willingness to Listen) in a sample of 28,000 leaders in the United States, empathy was the most important predictor of effectiveness.
Effective leadership requires a complex combination of behaviors that can be in competition with one another. Which behaviors a leader should develop will depend on their effectiveness goals.
Q: I consistently hear from my client leaders saying they need to “delegate” more; delegation has been low in all data so far; what’s up with that?
A: This study looked at 3 of the LEA 360’s measures of effectiveness. Delegation has shown up as more relevant when we have looked at effectiveness in other competencies (e.g., Ability to Develop People). Also bear in mind that there is a difference between delegating tasks (Delegation) and delegating ownership (Control). The ratio between these two LEA behaviours are worth considering as a combination.
Q: Also, tolerance for ambiguity lower for (boss) in communication; why?
A: Communication in the LEA 360 measures clarity of communication and letting others know exactly what you expect from them. The finding that bosses do not associate communication with tolerance for ambiguity might be related to the direction of communication in that particular dyad. The boss is expected to communicate his/her expectation to his/her direct reports but the current findings suggest that bosses do not appear to expect the same when their direct reports communicate with them in this context. Don’t assume that high Communication is always good; it tends to work with less experienced direct reports, when there is a lot of change, or when tasks are mission critical. High Communication is far less desirable when dealing with experienced direct reports, straightforward or repetitive tasks. This may be more relevant to peers and direct reports, but likely to be less important for the boss.
Q: Regarding the difference in perception of boss and peers, have you also compared people from different levels, i.e. senior executive’s vs middle managers?
A: Observer groups in this research were categorized by how they relate hierarchically to the leader being rated (e.g., above = boss, same level = peer). However, we have not looked at observer group differences at specific management levels. Given our experience with this type of research, we can assume that there will be some subtle differences depending on level.
Q: Has MRG looked at who is the best predictor of future potential, e.g. follow up research to see who got promoted within 2 years?
A: As you saw in this study, the LEA 360 includes an item that measures observer perceptions of future potential. This allows us to identify which leaders are seen as having the potential to advance professionally without imposing a definition of high potential. We have not looked at whether perceptions of high potential translate to promotions.
Q: With regards to tolerance for ambiguity – bosses, total variance explained is 25% only, much less than the others. How significant is this figure?
A: This is a great question and it highlights the importance of considering the whole picture in the coaching context. This value suggests that the relevant behaviors have a smaller impact on effectiveness than we saw with the other groups. However, the combined LEA behaviors still explained 25% of the variance. This would suggest that relevant leadership behaviors should not be discarded as unimportant, but rather that they should be considered along with other factors (e.g., organizational, personal, contextual) when coaching leaders who are trying to convey greater effectiveness to their bosses.
Q: It seems cultural difference (national as well as organisational) contributes to blind spots. Has MRG compared across countries?
A: We have not conducted a study on leader blind spots by country but that is a great idea.
Q: I have found many clients rate excitement high and outgoing low; can you help expand on that?
A: High excitement individuals are high energy, and can use that to get and keep other involved. Being outgoing relates to being informal and establishing interpersonal relationships with relative ease. It is possible that your clients demonstrate high levels of energy in established relationships or even in forced relationships without actively seeking out interpersonal connections.