November 9, 2017By Sriram Padmanabhan
We have a romantic notion soldered into our minds by movies and mythology, that good leaders have a magnetic personality, or that they are born, not made. This is pure poppycock.
The truth is, some people do well in leadership roles - in certain situations. They might not have done as well in other situations. And with adequate training and practice, most people can be good leaders in a few situational contexts. But what exactly do we mean when we call someone a "good" leader?
Historically, we call people good leaders if they were successful - if their clear and timely decisions helped their organization achieve its goals or stay out of trouble. A ‘good’ decision led to positive outcomes for the organization, and a ‘bad’ one didn’t: it is the same with leaders.
By positive outcome I don’t mean a warm fuzzy feeling in the immediate aftermath of the decision, but tangible value creation or preservation over a period of time. Time is a factor: the longer the period of positive impact, the better the leader’s decisions.
So the quality of a decision depends on the results achieved. The results in turn depend not just on the decision itself, but the context in which it was made. The same decision can lead to dazzling success in one situation, and utter failure in another. It is meaningless to speak of ‘good’ decision-making or leadership outside of a context (other than obviously illegal or unethical behavior). Until we know the landscape and dynamics of the market, and where the firm is situated within it, and what it is attempting to achieve, we cannot begin to analyze whether a leader's decisions are appropriate or not.
Finally, dozens of decisions are made every day by the leaders of every organization. It isn’t meaningful to check if each of them has individually led to positive outcomes. What we can do is check the overall impact on the organization, across all the decisions the leader made over a duration.
All together, then: a ‘good’ leader is one whose decisions broadly and on average, lead to positive long-term outcomes for the organization, when measured against a tangible set of goals, in a specific context.
It’s not who you are, but what you do - and what happens next - that determines the quality of your leadership. But this means that we can only know for sure whether someone is a good leader or not after they’ve been a leader.
This problem has stumped organizations (and nations, for that matter) for millennia. This is precisely why the assessment and development of leadership potential is so tricky and error-prone, why identity bias, nepotism, favoritism, the myth of the inherently magnetic personality, and other inanities creep into the calculations. Firms resort to psych evaluation to eliminate the subjectivity, but psychology is still a surrogate, a derivational step away from knowing likely behavior and its potential consequences.
At Cymorg, we believe we have the answer to this ancient problem. If you are curious, watch this space, or get in touch! It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things that successful generals do, other than charging madly on horseback...(photos courtesy DailyMail.co.uk, the Baltimore Sun and www.checkhookboxing.com)Written By
President and Founder of Cymorg, a digital Leadership Development solution that combines gamification, data science & business simulations.Know More