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The Leadership Competency Trap

The Leadership Competency Trap

For the last couple of decades organizations have been dangerously in love with "leadership competencies." The explanation is understandable, although the consequences have been ugly. The explanation is that organizations need a trustworthy way to evaluate and develop their employees. Thus, they began paying attention to the qualities and characteristics of their much better performers. Several times they will hire consulting firms to collect information over time in an effort to obtain statistically valid results. The outcome is a set of leadership competencies (e.g., shows initiative, powerful communicator, command of relevant technical skills) used as the backbone of the evaluation approach, the talent development process, and at times the hiring approach.

Only 1 problem - this approach is fundamentally flawed for at least 4 reasons. For the sake of our discussion, I will concentrate only on the evaluation procedure.

Initial, there is a presumption that a high performer should be highly rated on all competencies in the model.

This is incorrect and it is ironic given that none of the high performers upon which the model was built had been high on every of the competencies. Most high performers will be quite strong on about half of the competencies, and merely human on the rest. Thus high performer A is spectacular on competency 1 and two although high performer B is awesome on competency 3 and four. Nonetheless, what we end up with is a model with competencies 1, two, three, and 4 - and then we use it to rate mere mortals (the good quality "B" players who dominate most organizations). Therefore we're measuring them against a model that nobody ever lived up to fully - nice.

Second, we don't use the ratings correctly.

Generally, supervisors appear at the competencies, rate a person, then move on. The process wraps up by talking about how deficiencies may possibly be addressed. The most important question was by no means asked: "How can we better leverage the things you are truly excellent at - your strengths." What a shame, simply because time spent attempting to fix what folks don't naturally excel at is time wasted that ought to have been spent maximizing the value of a person's natural strengths for the organization. I'm not naïve, yes, some shortcomings do want attention, but as a common rule we are not supposed to harp on the lower ranked competencies nearly as significantly as enhance our use of the powerful ones. Recall that the original superstars upon whom the model was built were not strong on all fronts, only about half - and they leveraged those competencies to the hilt.

Third, cementing the model into a huge process with supporting software becomes unbearable "overhead." Once the overhead is cemented in location, there is no important ongoing effort to enable the model to breathe and evolve. Too bad, considering that your talent pool, your competitors and the markets you serve undoubtedly continue evolving. What works for you right now, may well function tomorrow, but not most likely subsequent year. Systems should have built in rejuvenation abilities or your initial successes will grow to be unproductive anchors around your neck within a couple of years.

Getting sit-down evaluation sessions once or twice each and every year is a joke no matter how very good your model may be. But this approach is taken by the vast majority of organizations. It is shocking to me, but it is accurate - the "infrequent" and "formal" approach dominates the landscape. This is not optimal for the following reasons: the time gap among instances of overall performance and feedback concerning every instance, the overtly negative evaluative context surrounding the sessions, the large amount of time expended by all parties to prepare for the session, etc. The massive expenditure of time and funds can and ought to be replaced by much more "frequent" and "informal" performance conversations. Make it a normal part of positive discourse in the organization, not a feared and dreaded rare event.