During a recent consulting project, we were asked to identify the leadership competencies required to lead a fast growing and successful organization.  The project was the first phase of a succession planning initiative.

inconsistent-message

Senior Management Must Be Consistent!

Using our leadership assessment competency identification exercise, we asked the board of directors for their opinions about what management skills will be required to lead their organization in the next decade, including ranking the importance for each competency.  The results were intriguing!

Before sharing the results, consider this scenario.

The two-minute warning just sounded. The score is tied.  You are one hundred twenty seconds from the end of your season. You enter the huddle to call what will be your last series of plays.  A play is sent in from the sideline. A few seconds later, you get a second one.  No wait….you hear a third, and now a fourth.  Run, pass, screen, sneak.  Which play do you call?

What would happen if you had four coaches and each one considered himself your boss? Who do you listen to?  If you fail to score, will your performance be judged fairly or by four different standards?  What if you execute the play perfectly but don’t score due to an extraordinary defensive effort?  Will the other three coaches consider you as subordinate if you don’t call their play? Even if the play called was the best one for the situation, do you even have the skill to pull it off?

This scenario is not limited to the turf of football playing fields or basketball courts.  It occurs every single day in board rooms and manager offices across the country.

What we discovered using the leadership competency assessment was that this organization had fourteen “bosses” or directors.  Each director had his or her own ideas and priorities about the competencies required to be a leader in this organization.

Everyone agreed “leadership” was an essential competency.  This was not surprising.  What was puzzling was that 11 of the 14 directors placed “leadership” within the top 4 competencies and considered it very important, the top rating.  One director ranked it 15th but only important. That’s a significant difference in opinion coming from the top echelon.

Additional gaps about what it takes to lead and manage only widened as we worked through the list of the top 8 as defined by the directors.

Interpersonal Skills:

  • 7 of 14 directors ranked interpersonal skills within the top 4 and considered it very important
  • 4 of 14 ranked it as between 12th and 18th and important.

Employee Development/Coaching:

  • 8 of 14 ranked ’employee development/coaching” within the top 8 competencies and very important;
  • 5 ranked coaching from 10 to 13 and important, and
  • 1 ranked it 22nd and not important.

Decision Making:

  • 3 of 14 ranked “decision making” within the 3 competencies and very important;
  • 9 ranked it between 11 and 21, and 21 ranked it not important.

Flexibility:

  • 3 of 14 ranked “flexibility” with the top 8 competencies and very important;
  • 2 ranked it 20th and not important.

Persuasion:

  • 2 of 14 ranked “persuasion” within the top 2 competencies and very important;
  • 6 ranked it 20th or above and not important.

(For the record, the low rankings were not the same respondents each time.)

Leadership and management needs to be in sync.  The culture of the organization is defined by how leaders lead and managers manage. Finding talented managers and leaders is perilous enough in today’s labor market. But when employees receive mixed messages from different bosses within the same organization, good people don’t last long. No manager can realistically expect employees to be skilled and proficient in a laundry list of variable competencies.  Competencies are skills, abilities, and knowledge required for the job, not a list of personal approaches to managing others. Expecting employees to meet the performance expectations of a myriad of bosses holding a different play book is a perfect set-up for sub-par performance and confusion.

What leadership competencies will your business require for successful growth during the next three to five years? How does your organization identify and evaluate essential leadership and managerial skills? Is your team in agreement and do your employees know what is expected?