By Dave Busse
I have come across a seemingly rare situation so many times in coaching that I have realized that it is actually a frequent pattern. While working with successful and thriving clients, I have been frequently shocked to learn that they did not do well in the school system up to and including being dropouts.
This repeated discrepancy and my family’s personal experience has caused me to deeply question our academic system and how we measure capacity and subsequently in the workplace how we identify and track talent.
Leadership Competencies in Evaluation Systems
So just to get things started I would like to challenge a closely held belief about leadership competencies within the coaching and the larger Human Resource Management world.
One of the holy grails in the staff development world is ‘leadership competencies’. As a coaching industry, we tend to love it when we discover a new set of leadership competencies (they are really easy to sell too!). Those shiny sets of tools that allow us to declare them as new and improved and somehow effectively and efficiently describing who and what a leader should be.
The challenge with these types of tools is the process used to collect the data. As a process, it can be beautifully statistically validated that they measure what they measure and are repeatable and reliable…but does what they measure actually matter?
Leadership Competencies in History
The same process used at different times in history and in the future would have and will produce startlingly different results. I suspect, and perhaps this is my greatest fear, that competencies immobilize us and restrict growth rather than promote it.
Take for example the era of 11th century during the time of Genghis Khan. By any standard, in any era, Khan was an incredibly successful leader. He ruled most of Asia from horseback. A master of systems, he created the first recorded pony express as part of his communications systems.
However, the competencies that would have been found statistically significant would likely include the execution and torturing of captured enemies. Khan found it effective to flog staff or employees who expressed opposition and led the deadliest acts of mass killings in human history.
Although we can dismiss this as a different era of history, my concern is that if Genghis Khan’s followers had used our current competency system, would his leadership practices have been perpetuated for even longer than they were?
Personal Experience with Inaccurate Competency Systems
I first saw the harsh evidence of what the competency type of system does with one of our daughters. She had significant learning disabilities (a competency-based process) and struggled severely in school.
There were so many times that I heard teachers say something along the lines of, “she is a lovely girl who will get along fine in the world because she is so personable.” What they really meant was, “she will make a great waitress so long as she doesn’t have to make change.”
My daughter is now in her 30’s and is driven to address poverty. She has won several awards for her leadership and the results she has produced with immigrant children in sports.
If we hadn’t encouraged her to look beyond the learning-disabled label, I hate to think of how her talents could have been wasted.
Thinking Beyond Leadership Competencies
With my coaching clients and other leaders, you will find some of their abilities on most competency profiles, however, they have something else that is as yet undefined on evaluation systems.
I personally love the pursuit of codifying knowledge, yet by codifying something it can be more difficult for change and growth to happen. Use competencies with extreme caution! Perhaps that is the warning label that should be on every competency-based assessment.
To me, the value of coaching isn’t that we perpetuate someone else’s leadership style or competencies but rather how we discover the coachee’s most impactful style that best serves the world.
- How are you accounting for those currently unmeasurable abilities in your talent assessment process?
- How are your evaluation systems helping or limiting your company’s growth?
- Can the qualities and characteristics your leaders need be codified?
About the Author
Dave Busse is a partner at Essential Impact, an award winning leadership coaching company. Along with his EI team, Dave has helped hundreds of companies in a wide variety of industries implement coaching for specific changes in organizational culture.
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