Mike Greyling: Using Statistics to Improve your Business

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A Strengths based approach to profiling Leadership Styles

What constitutes a great leader? Does a particular mix of personality traits and skills set one on the inevitable path of a leader, conquering countries or winning netball matches? Perhaps, but it is also true that a great leader is not necessarily effective in all situations and a world leader might have been hopeless at motivating her school netball team.

Different leaders are needed in different contexts and environments to achieve a variety of goals. This idea is encapsulated in Paul Hersey’s and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory, which espouses that there is no single optimal leadership style, but that the most effective style depends on the type of people the leader is working with and the nature of the task. There may be some leaders who are able to adapt their style in a chameleon like fashion, but they will invariably be better suited to certain leadership styles than others. The key to being a successful leader and to harnessing the leadership skills of people in your organisation is to be aware of individual leadership strengths.

Proponents of the ‘strengths movement’ such as Marcus Buckingham, claim that it is far more effective to invest in developing and using one’s strengths than working to overcome one’s weaknesses. Giving individuals more opportunities to use their strengths is also a good deal more motivating than putting them in situations where they must struggle to bridge performance gaps.

If we are looking for strengths, we may also find them in unexpected places. It is rare to find a person who is not a leader in some senses and in some situations in their lives. Often though, an individual is unaware of the leadership role they may be playing. They may not be aware of how they’ve influenced others and the nature or extent of their impact. There may in fact be unofficial leaders in an organisation that have a greater impact than those in positions of higher authority. Identifying the leadership strengths within an organisation provides a springboard for leveraging these strengths – wherever they may exist.

It is important to note that in assessing leadership style and strengths, there are no right or wrong answers. A leader cannot have a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ profile and no leader’s profile is better than another’s. They can, however, be determined to be more or less appropriate for dealing with different kinds of situations or challenges.

To get a handle on the current state of leadership in an organisation, (which includes all leaders, not just the CEO) we therefore need to get a handle on each leader’s assets and the conditions that can ensure the best return on these leadership assets. It is for this reason that DMSA has developed a tool to assess an organisation’s potential Return on Leadership Assets.

Return on Leadership Assets (ROLA) Model

This assessment tool looks at three primary elements. Firstly we establish the set of Leadership Assets for each leader. Using the strengths approach means that each leader’s strengths are defined not relative to other leaders but relative to their own other competencies. While some may have higher levels of leadership skills than others, this is not important here. In order to maximise the Return on Leadership Assets for each individual leader, we need to know what each leader is best at.

Next we need to determine the contexts in which each leader operates best.

For example, some are able to exercise their skills most effectively in a crisis, some in times of change, some in conflict situations, circumstances requiring collaboration and some in a stagnant situation that requires change. Conversely, there are disabling contexts for each leader – circumstances in which they are likely to be less effective. By identifying the contexts that enable or disable utilisation of their strengths, we can become aware of when to call on their expertise, and leaders themselves become more tuned in to the opportunities they have to really make a difference.

Finally, we determine at which level each leader is likely to have their greatest impact. Certain leaders are capable of influencing change in the environment, such as challenging legislation. Others may have their greatest impact at the organisational level, such as in dealing with the challenges posed by a new competitor. Then there are leaders who can use their powers of influence best at a group or team level, for example by creating a sense of cohesion and a common sense of purpose. Other leaders exert their impact primarily at the individual level, spurring people on to achieve more than they would ever have thought possible.

The purpose of assessing Return on Leadership Assets is to gain insight into where and how leaders can be most effective, which enables them and their organisation to optimise their impact.

Further reading

What constitutes a great leader? Does a particular mix of personality traits and skills set one on the inevitable path of a leader…
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