Evaluate your leadership team fit

ESTIMATED READING TIME – 6:40

Learning goals for this activity

– Understand why evaluating leadership abilities is important to talent optimization.
– Be able to list and describe the four steps to take to ensure effective leadership.
– Describe how you can identify leadership competencies that map to your strategy.
– Recognize some approaches you can take to fill a competency gap.
– Know why it’s important to promote a philosophy of leaders at every level and be able to describe an “agile” leader.

Why evaluating leadership team fit is important to talent optimization

The execution of a given business strategy will require certain leadership abilities. For example, an organization that seeks to increase quality and predictability will require executives who are able to design systems and processes, communicate effectively, and coordinate complex cross-functional initiatives.

A senior leader in an organization will naturally be proficient in a given leadership style based primarily on their behavioral style. For example, a highly extroverted leader may naturally be adept at collaboration and persuading others. That same executive may need to develop leadership abilities that don’t come as naturally, such as an ability to design complex systems. Quantitative tools such as surveys, skills inventories, and strategy maps give context to a leader’s behavioral profile and abilities.

To ensure effective leadership for your organization, you must:

  1. Map leadership competencies to the strategy.
  2. Identify senior leaders’ fit to the required competencies.
  3. Develop and execute a plan to address leadership gaps.
  4. Embrace a philosophy of “leaders at every level.”

1. Map leadership competencies to the strategy.

Remember that a core tenet of talent optimization is the need to take an objective, data-driven approach to aligning people with the business context, and this starts with mapping leadership competencies (like managing change or making decisions) to your business strategy.

For example, if your organization’s strategy calls for innovation, competencies around leading for the future or leading through agility will be critical. By contrast, a strategy that emphasizes command and control may require leadership capabilities such as leading quality initiatives or leading through systems thinking. The leadership competencies required to build and maintain a fluid organization are quite different than the leadership competencies suited to slowly developing, consistent environments.

To create your map, start with each key initiative or strategic activity that’s included in your strategy. Next, identify the specific leadership skills and behaviors required to successfully execute the activity. Now you have an inventory of the needed competencies required for strategic success.

2. Identify senior leaders’ fit to the required competencies.

The next step is to evaluate which competencies your senior leaders have—and which competencies they’ll need to develop to execute the business strategy.

Again, it’s important to take a data-driven approach here. You can measure the leadership abilities of your senior leaders by using some combination of personality assessments, proficiency ratings from C-level executives and peers, or 360 reviews. What’s most important is to evaluate this data in the context of the leadership abilities dictated by your chosen strategy.

Ideally your senior leaders will fit your desired leadership competency profile, but you are likely to find gaps relative to the organization’s leadership requirements.

3. Develop and execute a plan to address leadership gaps.

When you identify gaps between the leadership abilities needed and those present in an individual senior leader or a group of senior leaders, you must turn your attention to closing those gaps.

First, it’s possible for senior team members to develop their leadership abilities. Self-awareness and willingness to grow will often allow senior leaders to avoid stagnation or negatively impacting company results. A senior team member who’s adept at taking a structured, systematic approach when working with customers may be able to develop a similar ability when designing internal controls and methods. It’s important to know that people can stretch and grow through self-awareness and deliberate practice. However, if a strategy calls for specific abilities and a leader is unwilling or unable to address this need using the approach above, then they should be removed from the team.

One way to close a gap on the senior leadership team is to purposefully hire a new senior team member. For example, a leadership team may be staffed with innovative, customer-centric executives. If this team is lacking executives who have a natural ability to develop systems and processes, these may be required qualities of an incoming executive such as a senior member of the finance team.

If there’s no opportunity to add a new team member who has a missing leadership ability, another option is to delegate initiatives to less senior team members. Continuing the example, initiatives related to systems and processes may be best led by a senior manager “a level down” from the executive team. In this case, the executive team would need to empower the senior leader and also determine how best to work with this individual to ensure success.

4. Embrace a philosophy of “leaders at every level.”

While some organizations reserve the term leader for its most senior members, this is too limiting. The better aim is to have leaders at every level of the organization. While the scope of leadership may be more limited for middle and first-line managers, their opportunity and responsibility to lead are the same. Even individual contributors should regard themselves as leaders since they influence the work to be done and those around them.

There are three primary reasons for striving to create leaders at every level. First, even the most adept senior leaders aren’t able to scale the business on their own; they need lower level leaders to reinforce their intent. Second, a leader may exit the organization; this will create a leadership void that must be filled. Finally, developing future leaders will create higher levels of employee engagement and leadership readiness as the organization evolves.

The importance of leadership agility

The concept of agile leadership is becoming increasingly important. Agile and flexible organizations are better suited for—and positioned to take advantage of—changing situations like market forces or technological advances.

As a leader, you must be willing and able to be flexible in terms of your leadership style and methods—and so must the rest of the leaders in your organization. Leaders are sometimes called on to direct multiple groups of contributors simultaneously, and that means they need to find ways to effectively engage with different personality types.

Agile leaders flex themselves to meet the needs of their teams while maintaining steady progress toward the task at hand and the company vision.