“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”
Our own research, using a proprietary management practices index used in employee engagement surveys in diverse industries, indicates that interpersonally competent leaders do a better job of holding on to high potential talent, increasing engagement and creating psychologically healthy workplaces1.
It’s no surprise that talent in all types of organizations overwhelmingly report that one of the worst aspects of one’s job is typically his/her boss (approximately 75% rate bosses as the number one cause of work stress). Survey after survey worldwide, including our own, continues to indicate that leaders make a difference2.
One expert on leadership who has hypothesized the level of managerial incompetence is psychologist Robert Hogan. He suggests that the “base rate” of managerial incompetence in corporations can range from 30% to 75%, with recent studies suggesting that the average is probably closer to 50%3. Even when two people claim to “love each other” relationships over time may not turn out as expected. In fact the average per capital divorce rate in the US today isn’t too far off from 50%–organizations may not exactly be characterized as families but they certainly are teams that bring people together for a common vision and desired outcomes. So, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that not only do leaders possess different personalities, interests, values, motives and skills but some are pre-wired to possess “followership” capabilities.
Leadership isn’t a profession—it’s not like other licensed occupations that attempt to provide some degree of training, certification and protection of a public they serve. Academic degrees and programs don’t necessarily ensure that leaders learn or that they actually transfer knowledge and skills back to work (besides, how many people agree that most academic degrees today should come with expiration dates?).
Our best “human handicapping” pre-employment selection methods all seem to be stronger at actually predicting who are more likely to fail than those who are likely to succeed (most validated assessments used today to select leaders typically correlate with diverse performance and satisfaction outcomes in the range of .30 to .40). So finding good leaders is probably a lot of “art” and to a lesser extent a “science” as we know it today.
If we are to believe the growing research in the multiple intelligence arena, “learning agility” and “interpersonal competence” might have some pretty strong depositional aspects that are resistant to coaching, training and formal education (e.g., the effect sizes in 360 feedback behavior change research are quite small suggesting what we know intuitively—zebras don’t easily change their stripes). OK, I know some of my colleagues who are pretty talented psychologists, coaches, trainers and OD practitioners will have at least one or more real good “success stories” to bring up. But, those success stories seem to be the exception and not the rule.
I’m grateful that Robert Hogan and Robert Kaiser didn’t actually list names of some of the incompetent leaders they suggest are out there in high numbers—I’m sure my name would have been found on that one.
So, toss a coin and let’s say “heads” means you are a competent leader and “tails” means you are not. It appears that the statistics behind coin tossing may be a fairly accurate measure of the state of leadership competence today in most organizations….Be well….
- Nowack, K. (2006). Emotional intelligence: Leaders Make a Difference. HR Trends, 17, 40-42. [↩]
- Nowack, K. (2009). The Neurobiology of Leadership: Why Women Lead Differently Than Men. ESCI-UPF Negocios Internacionales, Paper presented at the Life09 I Congerso Internacional de Liderazgo Femenino, Barcelona, Spain [↩]
- Hogan, R. & Kaiser, R. (2005). What we know about leadership. Review of General Psychology, 9, 169-180. [↩]