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Leadership: How Can Leadership Programs Be Measured?

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Leaders don't inflict pain; they share the pain. - Max Depree

Leadership matters. Any one person may influence the behavior of others at any time. The nature and intent of that effect decide leadership's influence, direction, and outcome. Organizations depend on leadership for direction, momentum, and a plan for sustainable success. How do we recognize leadership exists? How do we develop leadership? How can leadership be measured? These are questions his section looks to explore.

How do we recognize leadership or know that it exists? Characteristics and results define leadership. Yet formal leadership development focuses exclusively on features, relying on the hope that consequences will ensue. Unfortunately, leadership is seldom measured beyond an intuitive or anecdotal approach.

Never be reluctant to admit that you do not know. No one knows everything. So, if you do not know much about leadership, all that must be done is to read up on it! Never be reluctant to admit that you do not know. For example, a person in a leadership role is considered "successful." We want to replicate the leader's success, so we try to replicate the leader's characteristics, skills, values, competencies, actions, and behaviors. We enlighten and try to emulate these qualities in others, but we seldom get the same results. Corporate America is full of "competency-based" leadership development programs, what one might call the "injection mold" approach. Competency-based leadership development undoubtedly influences organizational culture, but not always the desired effect. Leaders who somehow "measure up" to the desired competencies do not always produce desired results.

Ultimately, producing results is the reason we study leadership, the reason we look to develop leaders, and the very reason we need leaders. So, it makes sense that leadership has also been measured based on the results, regardless of how they were achieved. We need to look no further than Richard Nixon or Kenneth Lay to recognize the downside of such one-dimensional measures.

The leader's role is to set up the conditions (the culture, the environment) under which others can take proper action to achieve desired results. "Desired results" are best defined by the team or organization's vision, mission, values, and goals. Therefore, leadership is best measured by how well followers execute the vision, mission, and goals while "living out" the desired values. This leads us to a new premise: that leadership should be measured by the results produced and how they are made, as so often said. However, there is a third critical element: by whom are the developments made? If the leader has the desired results, then this should rightfully be attributed to individual action without any contributing effect from the behavior of others.

There is a clear link between communication and leadership -- the primary reason for contact and leadership is to prompt a behavioral response or action. Leaders must communicate by speaking, listening, reading, writing, and movement. Leaders produce results, and as other authors have said, "Leaders get results through people." Follower behavior, not leader behavior, defines leadership. This might lead one to wrongly argue that there is a slight difference between leadership and coercion. Coercion, or creating an environment using fear or incentives as motivational tools, may work temporarily yet is seldom sustainable. Performance declines, conflict ensues, or people leave.

Using the intuition I had on leadership, I thought that authoring this article would indeed be worth the trouble.

The brand of leadership we look for in contemporary life is best defined, developed, and measured based on whether intended results are achieved, how they are completed, the value of these results to others, and whether followers take discretionary action to achieve the leader's vision, mission, and goals. Leadership depends on the achievements of followers. Leadership development must be tied to the intended results of those who lead more than the competency sets of those who lead. Effective leadership can be found in followers' daily attitudes and habits. Leadership can be measured by the achievement of discretionary goals by followers.

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