What sort of leader do you aspire to be? Perhaps someone like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, or Mark Zuckerberg? A plethora of research and literature in leadership development are deluging bookstores claiming they have found the secret recipe of success by outlining key competencies that made leaders like Jobs, Branson, Buffer and Zuckerberg. We, often, blithely absorb these key findings and emulate their characteristics. However, does imitating these leadership characteristics really guarantee it will work for you?
MarcusBuckingham, renowned strength strategist and author of his latest book StandOut, discusses an unprecedented and fascinating approach to leadership development in the June 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review. This new approach is based on strategies content creators use on the web: personalization.
Let’s consider Facebook for example. Log on to your Facebook page right now. Look at the column on the right, and you will discover there are ads that are somehow uniquely relevant to you. One of these ads may include certain restaurants that are near your residence, high school or college related ads related with your graduation year, or companies that you are vying to get work for. How does Facebook know all this? Because you unwittingly told Facebook on your profile page. Much like Facebook asks the question “Who are you” first and then tailoring the advertisements based on your profile, leadership development needs to follow a personalized model that focuses on “who you are” – namely your singular attributes and strengths that make you stand out – instead of following a formulaic model in which you are being boxed into a one-size-fits-all model of becoming a leader. A majority of organizations have subscribed to this ‘best-practice leadership.’
Scale Concepts, Not Techniques
Ralph Gonzalez, a top-performing manager at Best Buy has done something extraordinary. He has taken the team from the bottom 10% to top 10% on every key metrics. His leadership style was inspired by the young Fidel Castro. He named his store “La Revolucion,” posted a “Declaracion de Revolucion” in the break room, and made supervisors wear army fatigues. In order to boost the morale of the team he used the whistle to celebrate and reinforce positive behaviors happening in the store. So, whenever he spotted exemplary behaviors, he would blow the whistle. He scaled this technique to his entire department. The result? It brought overwhelming energy to both employees and customers.
Now, as leadership development experts in Best Buy identified this phenomenon and tried to scale this technique organizational-wide. They began attempting to code this whistle blowing technique into the fabric of Best Buy. Buckingham notes that there was “talk of whistle hierarchy: green whistles for store managers, white ones for supervisors, regular silver ones for front-line blut-shirts. There was talk of checklists: the 12 conditions when whistles may be blown, and the 20 conditions when they must never be.” What once started as a vibrant expression of a particular leader’s personality was fast mutating into a standard operating procedure. Executives realized this mutation would not avail and killed it before it spread through the organization.
Buckingham makes a penetrating observation: “The problem has to do with authenticity. A technique that’s perfectly natural when used by one leader may look forced, fake, and foolish when used by another. Richard Branson on the steps of a virgin America jet brandishing a champagne bottle and surrounded by a coterie of comely flight attendants make a bold, dashing image. Warren Buffett striking the same pose on one of his NetJets would not.”
The key lesson in this case study is that leadership concepts are scalable, not techniques. You can teach the concept of leaders capturing moments of excellence and celebrating it, but how these leaders apply the techniques may differ according to their unique leadership style. That is, what worked for Ralph wouldn’t work for people that lead differently. It simply will not be authentic.
What is Your Algorithm?
Hilton Hotels’s head leads a leadership development program that much on the personalized, authentic leadership development program. Here are five steps you can follow:
STEP 1: Choose an algorithmic assessment. Whether it is using existing personality tests like Myers-Briggs, DISC, Strengths Finder, Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument. They can create their own as well. StandOut, an online strengths-assessment developed by Buckinghman’s company employs a situational judgment test where people would indicate their likeliest response to a series of situations. I determined mine after going through the assessment and the top two strengths were connector and provider.
STEP 2: Give the assessment to the company’s best leaders. Choose the top-performing managers and identify what their strengths look like. Discover what fueled their success.
STEP 3: Interview a cross section of leaders to discover their techniques. Embark an in-depth analysis of what makes these leaders unique. Identify specific techniques make them unique. Some managers may benefit from using some of the techniques that are part of their leadership style. The challenge is to convey successful leaders’ practices to the developing leaders who have similar strength roles.
STEP 4: Use the algorithm to target techniques to the right people. Companies deploy the survey to all emerging leaders and cultivate them by providing practices derived from top leaders who have the same two strengths. For example, if you are Hampton employee, every Tuesday and Thursday, you receive an app that delivers a new tip around your leadership. For example, “David (lead strength role: Advisor) recently received this top: “Cultural differences are never an excuse for not getting alone. People will default to culture to explain rocky exchanges. More often than not, the issue is tied to something far simpler and more pragmatic. Get people back to the table to work it out. You will excel at this kind of pragmatism.”
STEP 5: Make the system dynamically intelligent. They system to needs to be smart in that it should get to know you better over time. This means with every app, this should add more detail and nuance to your leadership profile. The system should also know if the most effective leaders bank more tips than others, or fewer.
Below is a video about Marcus Buckingham's new book StandOut. I've gone through the assessment myself (click here to check out the assessment) and the report is exhaustive. The report provides practical tips and advice. You can either purchase the book which comes with the online code or purchase the assessment itself. Definitely worth the investment!