Leadership is a group outcome

I’m not a big fan of competency models.  They can be interesting as a measuring stick for basic performance, but they tend towards generic “best” practices and don’t seem to be very useful to the people I’ve worked around.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a successful person dissect his/her performance along the lines of an existing model.  abe_lincoln

It’s troubling to me that “fixing” yourself up according to an ideal set of competencies is a path towards success.   But the really big flaw in this approach is the focus on individual competence.

Bob Sutton echoes this thought in his recent post of Flawed, Suspect, and Incomplete Assumptions about Managing People .  I trust his instincts and value his persistence in defeating these types of assumptions.  I think they are a big problem for businesses today.

I’ve been watching people perform in a wide variety of settings for quite some time and I’ve come to believe that leadership development is a waste of time.  And I’ve wasted lots of time on it, trust me!  Instead, I’ve shifted to relationship development.  Helping people function better together has way more impact than teaching people insights about themselves that they can generalize to better behavior in the future.

Also, consider the idea that leadership is not a competency at all.  It’s really an outcome.  When I behave successfully with others to solve something, start something, finish something, we’ve accomplished leadership.

Most great leaders are actually collaborators in great actions that change the course of events and create big impact.  Consider Abraham Lincoln… (read Team of Rivals) how much time do you suppose he invested in leadership development versus improving his connections with others?   Next time you consider spending training dollars or valuable time on leadership training, spend that money, time, and energy on improving the performance of your relationships with others instead.

Some tips for better (team) interactions:

1. Spend more time together.

2. Improve your dialog, building on ideas instead of “winning” with the best one.

3. Compare the number of questions versus statements you make as a group.

4. Connect with advisers outside of your team.  Invite them in to your team to give their perspective.

5. Ask someone on your team to give you advice on your own participation.

Work successfully with others and leadership will happen!

  • I couldn’t agree more on the overall point. Nothing compares to outcomes gained from the humility of dialog when done well by a group. It builds trust in a way that identifying an individual leader does not.

  • Great thought, John. We are spending a lot of time and money on leadership assessment and leadership development for our CEOs, and there is an important component of leadership that pertains directly to relationship building and harnessing of relationships. I wonder if some combination of leadership and relationship development would be important to stress? Looking at how a CEO may approach your 5 points for team interaction would give me a lot of insight into his capabilities.

  • John Foster

    Hi Peggy:
    Thanks for your comment! I’m sure everyone can improve their individual skills and should always be working on that, so realistically a combination is important. Yet, I believe strongly that leveraging someone’s strengths is a better path to success than trying to “fix” gaps in their core skill set. But this means relying on the strengths of other people in order to be fully functional. So in terms of “bang for the buck” I can be extreme in my point that improving relationships with others is a better return than coaching or training on a person’s individual behaviors. One exception might be “studying up” on business concepts or a relevant subject area that is core to a business.

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