You run a business department, a division or an entire company. Everything is going smoothly, everyone respects your abilities and no one complains about you. You are a good, talented business leader.But are you exceptional? Because in these difficult business times, true success requires nothing less.
From the leadership gurus of Zenger Folkman, How to Be Exceptional provides a revolutionary approach to leadership development. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses and how to overcome them, focus on your strengths — and learn how to magnify them.
When you magnify your leadership competencies to the level of exceptional, employee engagement increases, productivity rises and profitability soars. Learn how to make your business and career dreams a reality.
In this book you will learn:
• How to pinpoint your best leadership traits and choose the right development target for yourself.
• How to use feedback and action learning on the job to elevate your strengths.
• How to apply Zenger Folkman’s revolutionary cross-training method to escalate your leadership competencies into the top 90th percentile.
• How to ensure that your fully developed strengths are sustainable by building follow-through into your development plan
Here are some highlights from the book:
As you observe organizations with an abundance of great leadership talent, several characteristics become apparent.
1. Great leaders attract others with talent. Like magnets that are properly aligned, there is a huge attraction. Other competent leaders want to work with them.
2. Great leaders discover and pull out hidden abilities in those around them. Good qualities emerge. Strong teams develop and collaboration abounds.
3. Great leaders tend to stay and build. Not only are they initially attracted to the organization and the other leaders in it, but they thrive in place, build off each other and grow the garden they’re in.
In a study of 5,285 leaders working in five different organizations, we examined the effectiveness of leaders at different levels of these organizations. This measure of leadership effectiveness was derived from our research on extraordinary leaders, utilizing 360-degree feedback instruments.
We have worked with organizations in which the senior teams had overall effectiveness scores hovering at the 65th percentile. That means that in all likelihood the next lower level will be at the 50th percentile, and each successive layer well below that. Indeed, that is what occurred. The consequences were far-reaching. Employee commitment scores in those organizations were at the 32nd percentile.
A handful of organizations had gaps of only 3 to 5 percentile points between levels. This small gap created a dramatic shift upward in the effectiveness of leaders at all levels. It became apparent that the smaller gap was the result of several differences in these organizations.
First was selecting the right people as leaders. Second, the talent management processes being used identified a clear set of desirable leadership competencies. Third, senior executives believed that a significant part of all leaders’ jobs was the development of their direct reports. Fourth, the bar for effective leadership was set high. The expectation was that the leaders needed to be outstanding, not merely adequate or good, and that everyone, regardless of position or level in the organization, could improve.
Effective leaders are created through a mixture of “made and born,” and the weight of evidence is clearly on the side of leaders being made.The development of strengths is a complex process. The process involves six elements or stages:
1. Learn the basics. Young employees in an organization watch how the boss conducts a meeting. They watch how the boss delegates an assignment. They watch how the boss responds to questions regarding the organization’s services, or how he or she replies to a question about the firm’s products. Some have estimated that possibly 70 percent of what we learn is via this informal process.
2. Learn through formal development. In some skill areas, such as our use of various applications for the computer, formal classes provide extremely helpful information and jump-start a person’s progress. The same holds true for learning leadership skills. Content for formal programs is extremely varied and ranges from specific skills, such as coaching, giving presentations, delegating, solving problems, or interviewing, to broader topics, such as understanding emotional intelligence or being more inspirational and motivating.
3. Build in feedback processes. One way of increasing the value of formal development is to add feedback into the learning experience. This feedback provides people with a clearer picture of their abilities.
4. Do cross-training. Cross-training is a type of nonlinear development. When athletes aspire to become more than just casual participants in a sport, they often turn to cross-training. Aspiring runners, for example, take up cycling, swimming and weight lifting.
From the research that identified the 16 differentiating competencies of the most effective leaders, we have identified between five and 12 companion behaviors for each of them. The correlations of the companion behaviors to the differentiating competencies are statistically significant.
For example, the companion behaviors to the competency of practices self-development are mostly those that describe the leader’s involvement with others and their development. These include listening, being open to the ideas of others, respecting others, exhibiting honesty and integrity, and taking the initiative and being willing to risk and challenge the status quo.
Competency companions provide a new and more complete pathway to developing a strength. A person who gets a high score on one tends to also get a high score on the other. This suggests that raising the score of one will have a high likelihood of raising the score of the other.
5. Learn while working. Strengths may also be developed by deliberately creating opportunities for improving our skills through practice in the normal course of daily work.
6. Create sustainability. This final step in building a strength is the one that locks the strength into place.
Sustainability and follow-through come from:
• Creating a supportive environment from managers, peers and subordinates.
• Providing clearly defined outcomes for the development.
• Establishing well-defined accountability and responsibility for participants’ implementing and applying what they learn.
• Building systems that provide visibility.
• Implementing various methods of follow-up, such as additional sessions, telephone calls and accountability partners within the organization.
Benefits From Developing Strengths. There is a significant motivational difference between people who work on strengths and those who work to fix weaknesses. This motivational difference, in turn, has a substantial impact on their levels of success. We know that leaders who attempt to improve their weaknesses can make significant progress. Leaders who focus on strengths invariably show more substantial gains.
Our studies have confirmed over and over the relationship between the effectiveness of leaders and the engagement, satisfaction and commitment of their direct reports. Whatever the starting point, improving leadership behavior leads to improved results.
There are a variety of benefits that come from building strengths:
1. People are more motivated when they work on their strengths. When people work on something they enjoy, they are more willing to invest time and effort into improvement.
2. Those who worked on their strengths were more successful in their change efforts, and that substantially increased their overall leadership effectiveness.
3. Change in outcomes –– such as employee commitment, intention to stay, highly committed employees, total sales and performance ratings –– followed improvement in leadership effectiveness.
4. Such improvement provides incentive and motivation for further development.
The Role of Feedback in Developing Leadership Strengths
People can benefit from feedback only if they believe and accept the feedback they’ve been given. Accepting feedback is a function of four broad sets of skills. First and foremost fundamental is the ability to be humble and reflective. Humility comes when people start to understand that it is the reactions of others that really matter in terms of their leadership effectiveness. Their effectiveness as a leader is determined by others.
The second factor is personal honesty and integrity. People who are more honest and straightforward with others tend to be honest and straightforward with themselves. The higher the level of perceived honesty and integrity, the higher the level of openness to receiving feedback from those around you.
The third factor is engaging in the development of others.Our research indicated that those who were better at accepting feedback also tended to be more effective at developing others. Development is contagious. One of the powerful tools to develop others is to provide them with useful feedback. That works best, however, when the leader has set the example by seeking feedback from the subordinate, welcoming any and all messages that would help the leader be even more effective.
The final factor is taking action and initiative to move forward and respond to the feedback. Passive acceptance is a helpful start, but without action, nothing changes. Those who accept feedback and move forward start to respond with energy and enthusiasm about improving their performance. They provide others with a clear vision and goal about what they are going to change and how they will do it. Finally, after they start, they follow through on their commitment to execute the change.