What Is a Leader to Do?

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

I recently read an HBR blog by Sunnie Giles that reported the results of a study of 195 leaders representing 30 global organizations.The leaders were asked to identify the most leadership targetimportant competencies for leadership. The study reminded me of a complementary article in Forbes by Glenn Llopsis,  about the competencies employees expect in their leadership. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two studies and also look at the overlap with the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence requirements related to leadership.

The top seven leadership competencies in the eyes of leaders (per Giles) are:

  1. High ethical and moral standards
  2. Setting goals and objectives and then empowering employees to achieve
  3. Clearly communicating expectations
  4. Flexibility to change opinions and admit mistakes
  5. Committing to ongoing employee training
  6. Communicating often and openly
  7. Being open to new ideas

The top seven expectations of leadership as expressed by employees (per Llopsis) are:

  1. Specificity in expectations
  2. Empowering employees to achieve
  3. Sharing her/his vulnerabilities
  4. Honesty
  5. Demonstrating personal accountability
  6. Showing respect for employees
  7. Authenticity

While the language is somewhat different in the two presentations, there is a lot of overlap. I must admit, I have always believed, as the leaders do in the HBR study that a key expectation of leadership is open, frequent, and two-way communication. While some of the employees’ expectations in the Forbes article require communication, it is not specifically called out as a top employee expectation. Yet when we visit organizations on Baldrige site visits, no matter how effective communication is, we usually hear an employee desire for more communication.Furthermore, Baldrige Award recipients are generally role models for effective two-way communication.

Baldrige role models also demonstrate their commitment to learning as an organization and to personal learning and development of employees. While empowerment (identified in both studies) requires knowledge, the employees did not specifically call out the need for leadership commitment to employee development.

Looking at the employees’ expectations of leaders, they identified both respect and authenticity, which were absent in the leaders’ set of top competencies. Many of the competencies the leaders chose imply a respect for employees, such as empowering them, openness to their ideas,  and willingness to admit mistakes to them, but respect is not specifically mentioned.

The one term that appears to me to be truly unique to the Forbes study is authenticity. Authenticity requires a level of empathy and personal sharing that was not included in the leaders’ description of needed competencies.

Taking a step back and looking at the Baldrige criteria, there are two of the characteristics that are not specifically identified in criteria questions. Those characteristics are sharing vulnerabilities and authenticity, both in the employees’ expectations of leaders. Indeed authenticity would require a degree of admitting to vulnerabilities. Many of the Baldrige questions when taken in aggregate would lead to leaders sharing their vulnerabilities and to their being authentic, but we do not specifically ask how they demonstrate these competencies.

As we approach the next criteria revision cycle, I am interested in how people feel about adding specific references to vulnerability and authenticity to the criteria requirements for senior leadership (item 1.1) or to the visionary leadership core value. I welcome your thoughts!

And while you ponder that question, I ask leaders and employees to think about both lists of competencies and see how your organization performs.

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11 Responses to What Is a Leader to Do?

  1. Eileen T Branscome says:

    Appreciate the content. Authentic/genuine is an important element of a leader. It resonates trust. Trust is the foundation for any team.

  2. Guy Higgins says:

    I’ve been reading and hearing about “authenticity” for a while now, and it remains completely unclear what that means in terms of leadership. I hope it means more than “not being a fake” but I don’t know that. I’m also not sure what people mean by being “vulnerable.”

    I’m wondering how lasting these terms are — will they go the way of other leadership buzz words?

    Guy

    • Harry “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon” says:

      Guy, thanks for the comment. In my mind authenticity and vulnerability are enduring characteristics of leaders. Authenticity means being yourself, not displaying an alternate personality when you step into a leadership activity. It ties to vulnerability which means being human. It means admitting to your weaker areas and looking for colleagues to complement your weaknesses. It means admitting when you made a mistake and accepting input from others.

  3. Marcia Ellis-Anderson says:

    This is benchmark for good leadership, and the relationship with employees will increase profitability for the company.

  4. Bill Denney says:

    Excellent as usual, Harry.

    Few subjects have been so extensively written about and so often poorly executed. That it is the first category belies the fact that it is embedded throughout the Framework.

    I was grateful, as a young manager, that a senior person gave me a copy of, What Leaders Really Do, by John Kotter. At the time, it clarified much confusion.

    It may be implied, but what seems to be missing on the lists is ‘engagement’, an important leadership skill required by the Framework.

    My dear departed friend, Colonel Pat Townsend, Marines Retired, lectured and wrote extensively about ‘Leadership and Love’ and he reminded me of this quote:

    “You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader. You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance.”
    —General Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff

    • Harry “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon” says:

      Thanks for the comment Bill. I think the competencies in this blog post sum up to engagement. They are the elements of engagement in my mind.

  5. Hong SE says:

    Nowaday, leaders or leaderships are very different in our old days. Our past leader demonstrates the hands-on (technical knowledge), expectation & direction, how to groom the employee in terms of technical skills and soft skills. We show full respect and support to them.

    But now the leader are desk-top bound, they do not need to be hands-on (technical knowledge), they just need to hire correct person to help him out so they are people manager. Expectation and direction are directed from their supervisors to the lower level, resulting the person who are ready to attain the results are at lower hierarchy.

    May be this is trend that works in current approach.

  6. Anil Pandey says:

    Very pertinent and true findings

  7. sheila marie cenabre paradela says:

    thanks for these

  8. Kay Kendall says:

    Authenticity is key to employees trusting in senior leaders, which has been shown to have a high correlation with employee engagement. I’m less clear on vulnerability being added to the Criteria. Some people are just “wired” to let very few other people see them be vulnerable, but they can be effective leaders. I can even name some leaders of Baldrige Award winning organizations that fall into that category.

    But excellent, thought-provoking post as usual, Harry.

    • Harry “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon” says:

      Thanks for the comment Kay. Maybe the side of vulnerability that is most significant from the authenticity perspective is admitting to mistakes when a leader makes them. This was one of the competencies that leaders expressed as important.

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