Predicting Business Leadership Excellence

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It’s perhaps the worst kept secret in the business world that what you know is worth only about 25% as a predictor of whether or not you will succeed. The rest is based on ‘fit’ – how you fit with your boss, your team, your customers and your organization’s culture.

If you’ve ever been fired because the boss just didn’t appreciate you, or you’ve left a job because of a boss you just could not stand to work for one more moment, or because you just knew there were options that would be so much more fulfilling, you know what I’m talking about. Take me, for instance. I didn’t get into a job that actually fit me until after I’d worked my way through many wrong turns, numerous missteps, and even some outright failures. While at the time I would not have chosen to experience so many quandaries and predicaments, and while they certainly didn’t always feel like positive experiences, in the end I realize that – collectively – they had a deep and beneficial effect. They’ve made me unusually realistic, empathetic, and flexible. These three characteristics do not appear in my current job description, but may nevertheless be some of the most important qualifiers I bring to the office.

Looking back, I realize that none of those jobs were dreadful, distasteful, or stultifying in and of themselves, any more than I was inadequate, overeducated, under-experienced, or way too ambitious for my own good. We (the jobs and I) were not the right fit for each other, and that was no one’s fault. But the misfit did prevent me – and the organizations – from being excellent. (In case you are curious, I finally did get a job that I was right for. I’m CEO of a company that has created an innovative ‘technology of teaming’.)

So what does all this mean for business leadership? In today’s economy, the need to do more with less impacts everything you do to bring value to your company. It can mean the difference between recognition as a value-creating member of the management team and being marginalized as pure overhead. To cover the likelihood that the economic recovery will continue its slow ascent, you need both a short term strategy, and a long term vision that will prepare your organization to respond proactively to a shift in either the pace, or the direction, of economic growth. And if you want to get some ‘insurance’ for yourself and your people, you’ll need something else: metrics that prove the efficiency and effectiveness of your team!

The first challenge in a downturn is to confront this simple truth: people who were ‘the right people’ during good times may not be right during bad times. Resolving this conundrum is a way to add real value. Start with some quantifiable data. Has there been an increase in people problems? Are you hearing from more managers that their teams seem distracted or demoralized? Are your standard productivity measures off, your accident counts rising, your undesired terminations soaring?

Next, do some qualitative research. Do your people actually behave in the workplace as expected? Are they meeting their goals? Are they doing this in a way that helps other people achieve their goals too? Do you see measurable effects of synergy between people, or are they cancelling out each other’s efforts?

Finally, can you link their behavior to the organization’s bottom line? If they are the right fit in all (or most) ways – with their boss, their team mates, the desired organizational culture – then they are likely to be more globally productive, and you should be able to track this in the output of the work teams, no matter how that output is measured.

Clearly, a metric that correlates with positive team interaction would be of great value, and in fact it is now possible to obtain a simple predictor of overall effectiveness. It indicates that the individual is capable of rising to the occasion, dealing with the stresses of having to do more with less, accepting ambiguities and the inability to predict what the business environment will be like tomorrow, and forging ahead nonetheless. That predictor is called Coherence. It’s a measure of how much flexibility and willingness there is to flow with the rest of the team, and conversely, how much stress it takes to send someone off-kilter, which is usually experienced as fear or anxiety. Effective, productive Coherent people who ‘team’ well are far more likely to produce measurable positive synergies, even in a less-than-optimal business environment.

So, what about people who are less Coherent? Under stress, some become rigid and overbearing to the point that they interfere with the flow of work. Others will avoid problems they don’t want to face, or misdirect attention by blaming others. If the pressure gets really intense, hostile (even violent) behavior may arise. At the other extreme, think of people who ‘fall apart’ when the going gets tough. They are diffuse. They may be friendly and likable, and they often have a knack for surviving—despite their lack of commitment to making consistent and meaningful contributions to the team. You may not even realize that that you’ve been doing some of their work, in addition to your own.

Let’s not jump to conclusions here. Less-coherent people can still do excellent work, and can deliver value on teams. However, when the going gets rough, or when significant change comes down the pike and you need to assemble a high-impact ‘survival’ team, elevated Coherence becomes essential. Under such circumstances, an informed leader will find less stressful assignments for the others.

In addition to identifying and properly aligning Coherent people, you can also encourage and develop the overall level of Coherence on a team in other ways. Here are a few:

  • First, get a baseline measurement of the overall Coherence of your organization. Start with your own team and work your way through the others. (A Teamability™ pilot project will be a good start in establishing this metric.)
  • Learn about Teamability™ Roles, and how each different Role is best suited to certain kinds of job responsibilities. Then spend some time aligning the responsibilities of people on your team with their own specific Role. This is called ‘Role-fit’, and when done right, it will invariably reduce stress and increase positive team synergy.
  • Examine each team for diversity of Roles. Too much homogeneity can inhibit – or even damage – team performance. You may need to reconsider recruiting and other talent management policies, which may actually be ‘ruling out’ some of the very Roles you need most.
  • When you have people with a burning desire for better Role-fit with their job, find a way to make it happen—with minimal risk to the organization but with maximum stretch room and support. If you don’t have a formal mentoring program, start one.
  • Get all your managers on board by starting with them. Show them the metrics, and the predictors. Then help them engage with each other to build a culture that will support the excellence you are seeking.
  • Finally, to establish the relationship between your actions and the positive team outcomes, don’t forget to validate with appropriate metrics. You’ll be adding value to your organization as well as proving that you too are excellent!

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