New criterion for business leaders


  • Business
  • Thursday, 24 Apr 2003

BY K.P. LEE

ARE YOU morally fit to be a leader? A new assessment criterion for business leaders could exclude you from a top management position if you do not possess personal attributes such as adaptability and humility or are found not to be genuine or excessively greedy. 

According to the Leadership Blueprint, a leader’s personal attributes should be ranked highly as critical factors in his ability to make a success of his organisation.  

Leaders who are greedy and egoistic can be just as bad for an organisation as those who lack the skills and experience to run the business. 

Human resource consultancy Development Dimensions International (DDI), which recently revealed the new set of criteria, said this view challenged the traditional practice by many companies in basing leadership potential strictly on past performance.  

DDI said that although industry knowledge, professional experience and management skills were all prerequisites for leadership roles, there was an equally important set of values for identifying potential that had been overlooked.  

The consulting firm has highlighted personal attributes as a serious consideration in assessing leadership potential when identifying individuals who hold the most promise for an organisation’s future. 

DDI president Bob Rogers said that it was clear from examining the recent failures of senior executives in large companies that what these leaders lacked wasn’t skills as much as integrity.  

“Characteristics like greed and lack of authenticity have gotten in the way of organisational success,” he said.  

Rogers said that identifying the flawed characteristics of some now-dethroned leaders was a key to avoiding a repeat of the same leadership mistakes. “Those leaders were not authentic. They did not bring out the best in people. And they were not receptive to feedback,” he said.  

Rogers said that many of the companies who recruited “big name” senior executives at a big price tag brought into their organisations many big problems too.  

He said that frequently, these executives lacked a cultural fit with the organisation and did not share the same values and goals as most other employees. 

“The initial PR bang of the hire is followed by an echo of disillusionment,” he said.  

According to Rogers, these “big names” were often accompanied by equally large egos, which can become significant negative forces, engulfing the position and overshadowing the goals of the organisation. 

“The big ego leader is driven by greed rather than the legacy of the organisation, which is reinforced with high salaries and inflated compensation packages.  

“Greed and ego have been a destructive combination for many companies recently.  

“We have to do a much better job of identifying who are the right leaders and who are the wrong leaders,” he said. 

In contrast to a big ego leader, Rogers added, a strong ego leader had the confidence to make decisions and the passion for results that will benefit the organisation – not themselves.  

“They share credit and centre stage? when things go wrong, they look at themselves first, learn from their mistakes and are strong enough to admit their shortcomings,” he said.  

For this type of leader, DDI recommends that businesses “go back to the drawing board” and pay more attention to the potential that lies in their workforce.  

The firm’s findings show that there is a higher success rate of growing leaders from within the organisation. 

DDI said that organisations needed to recognise these personal attributes and traits “which employees bring with them on their first day to work” and focus leadership development on those with the most potential. 

That's bad news for some because, as Rogers said, these traits are mostly inherent in a person and cannot be developed, via training for example. “These are fundamental parts of the personality that are developed early.” 

Rogers said potential leaders, once identified, should be groomed early.  

He recommends examining the landscape of the organisation for people who demonstrate potential, some of whom might be early in their careers.  

“Begin that process during an employee’s late 20s and early 30s to ensure that their personality is fully developed,” he said. 

Once performers with the right attributes are identified, organisations should establish an accelerated development programme to prepare their leaders for the future. 

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