Our Need for Better Leadership Behavior Measurement

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

Do You Need Better Leadership Behavior Measurement?

If you read my recent post on empowerment, engagement, and creativity, you may have come across a link that by itself could change how your organization is led every day. For years, I have been touting the benefits of better leadership behavior measurement, using bottom-up assessments, on at least an annual basis. That link can be found near the bottom of that March 2019 post (and in the next paragraph).

I came across the Leadership Index, which was developed by FedEx as part of their Survey-Feedback-Action process, more than twenty years ago. Since that time, I have both used the index, and seen the power of its use, in multiple organizations. This bottom-up approach worked well before social media became prevalent. Now, the ability to spot check leadership effectiveness from a behavior perspective is both easier, and more necessary, to do on an even more frequent basis.

DISCOVER MORE: Measuring Leadership Behavior Effectiveness

Shifting Attitudes Regarding Proper Leadership Behavior

As an avid sports fan, I found that manner in which the public reacted to Tom Izzo’s behavior during a recent NCAA playoff game timeout to be fascinating. First of all, I had experienced far worse behavior from my high school football coaches back in the day. At least Coach Izzo kept his hands to himself. He did, however, yell quite passionately at Aaron Henry for not hustling like Coach Izzo felt he should. His players understood and supported the coach – social media was, to a great extent, outraged.

To me, I was less surprised about the public reaction than some might suspect. For the past few years, I had seen this coming. More and more of my TapRooT® root cause analysis public course students had begun to express frustration with the challenge of daily management in recent years.

Specifically, they felt like they could not even look at people wrong without expecting to visit Human Resources for creating a hostile work environment. They felt it was getting harder and harder to get people to follow the rules and meet expectations. At the same time, I knew that there were still too many leaders in place that treated people with much less respect than they should.

LEARN MORE: A Matter of Job Ownership

To What Degree are Our Leaders Really to Blame?

As I was reading the daily ‘sports page’ on April 2, 2019, I came across an article that prompted this post. The leaders were pushing back. At a meeting of the four NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball coaches prior to the event, the topic of proper coaching behavior came up. All four coaches presented good arguments that supported their need to at times ‘get emotional.’

They also talked about the fine line between appearing angry versus passionate when coaching. Famed women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma even remarked that ‘most coaches were afraid of their players.’ Where should the ‘good versus bad behavior’ line be drawn?

These four coaches highlighted the same concerns some of my students had raised. Emotionally defanged leaders are struggling to keep their younger, and sometimes even their older, team members on task. The threat of going to HR with ‘leadership behavior problems’ was allowing people to do what they wanted to do at work versus what they needed to do. Something needed to change before we ended up with totally chaotic, unmanageable situations. Have you seen elements of such a trend in your workplace?

How Vintage is Your Leadership Behavior Measurement System?

One of the most vintage, and defective, work systems I come across in organizations involves how we measure leadership effectiveness. All too often, leadership behavior is rarely measured. Second, we often evaluate leadership effectiveness by the efforts of people who work for the leader, versus the efforts of the leader themselves.

Too often, leaders allow leaders to act as they wish as long as they get good numbers. There are better solutions out there. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of organizations take the initiative redesign their vintage leadership measurement and development work systems to include these better practices.

EXPLORE MORE: How Effective is Your Leadership Work System?

How Better Leadership Behavior Measurement Can Help Fix This Problem

When leadership behavior is measured, it is often only once a year, or less, as part of a larger culture survey. Part of the solution lies here. The absence of measurable evidence makes it easier for either party – the leader or their people – to make problems look better or worse than they actually are. Some leaders do behave badly, while others who quietly do a great job often go unnoticed.

With today’s tech however, we can push short 3-5 question ‘spot check’ behavior surveys to the phone of each team member on a very frequent basis (if they allow such notifications). The use of this evidence in trend form can help identify and diagnose the depth and breadth of a leader’s behavior problems. In turn, there is less reliance on emotionally charged, event-based opinions.

EXPLORE MORE: How to Measure Employee Ownership

How Do You Capture the Positive and Negative Aspects of Leadership?

In Coach Izzo’s case, the television camera captured the magnitude of his displeasure immediately. Interviews with his players however revealed multiple examples of caring actions he had regularly displayed over the course of not just this season, but during each player’s time with the basketball program. That said, I still feel that he may have went a bit overboard, especially in this day and age. What do you think?

All too often in organizations, we fail to capture both the positive and negative aspects of leadership as part of our leadership behavior measurement approaches. We focus too much on where we end up metric-wise versus how we obtain better measures contribution-wise. This is one reason why OSHA discourages the use of outcome measures – safety incentive links, and instead, advocates recognition practices that focus on what was done to help achieve performance gains.

Improve Leadership Behavior to Drive Positive Culture Change

I have often said that you can have the most charismatic CEO in the world, but if she only speaks to the staff once or so a year, she can’t undo the cultural impact of the messages each team leader sends every day. Effective leadership behavior measurement, at the grass roots level, helps gauge the degree that every team leader consistently reinforces the work culture we desire.

Also, when leaders ask every work team member to regularly assess their leader’s behavior, it becomes more difficult to use ‘bad behavior’ claims against a leader if something does not go the employee, or the team’s, way. If leaders monitor leadership behavior over time, action can be taken to correct problems before they get out of hand. The correlation between such behaviors and process outputs can also be better understood and leveraged.

DISCOVER MORE: Ten Ways to Change Work Culture

Giving Leaders Team-based Behavior Feedback Drives Personal Change

With the FedEx SFA process, there is no tolerance for poor performance. Poor performing leaders are given the support, and some time, to improve their performance. The result of successive subpar performances (under 75% agree or strongly agree index responses), however, is usually the loss of their leadership position. They can continue to work with the company, but not in a leadership capacity.

In those cases where I have used the FedEx-based Leadership Index, it has not been necessary to use the 75% minimum hurdle. This was partially due to the smaller size of the organizations I was working with. In my application cases, I have found that simply providing each leader with (1) consistent feedback from their teams and (2) concrete ways to improve their weak areas was enough to make a difference. Given the feedback and the resources, these leaders almost always took the initiative to correct the problems.

Our Need for Better Leadership Behavior Measurement

The prevailing leadership behavior measurement approaches in use are not sustainable. In the absence of positive performance evidence, including that of a behavior nature, leaders are defenseless against emotion-laden claims from their people. Today’s employees expect more from their leaders, and rightfully so. Mistakes will be quickly publicized, and often in an exaggerated manner. Coach Izzo was fortunate to have his team come to his defense. Other good leaders have not been so fortunate.

We also have too many leaders in roles that they are not capable of filling. Some can be supported and coached towards effectiveness. Others need to be shifted to roles that better suit their personalities and skill sets. Such choices may seem tough to make. Failing to make them, however, sends an even more damaging message to those people who are trying to do a good job daily.

How Do You Measure Leadership Behavior Effectiveness in Your Organization?

Tolerating poor performance in the workplace is just as bad as relying on the court of public opinion when evaluating the need for a change in leadership. Both damage cultures and lives. How do you measure leadership behavior effectiveness in your organization? Do you think it might be time for you to make some changes?

Check out the Survey-Feedback-Action process used by FedEx for a great systems model. Consider adding a Leadership Index to your annual culture assessment as one way to measure and improve leadership behavior. Also, feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts about how improve your leadership, or other, work systems.

Keep improving!

Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

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