Leaders are only willing to be as effective as those who in turn lead them.
Leaders cast a significant shadow in the organizations where they work. This ‘shadow’ can cut both ways. If you work with an extraordinary leader, the tendency is that your leadership effectiveness will be close to your leader’s. On the other hand, if your boss is an ineffective leader, the tendency is that you won’t be much better. In the study we found the length of a leader’s shadow to vary. The length of time people spend with the same boss can increase the size of the shadow.
A by-product of the phenomenon (shadow) is that employees are rarely more effective than their bosses. That is good news if the boss is an extraordinary leader. The direct reports tend to rise to that level. But we observed over and over that employees are only as good as there bosses. Bosses set the standards, high or low. The findings have implications:
-The extent to which leaders merely encourage subordinates to be their clones becomes problematic. Indeed, it may demonstrate a lack of appreciation for different styles and approaches, which ultimately may be detrimental to the organization’s goals.
-Leaders in the organization should be made cognizant of the ways they reinforce their own behaviors in their direct reports. Superiors should think more consciously of the role they play in people’s lives and careers, and the legacy they will leave once they are gone.
-Superiors need to be reminded to recruit employees with diversity of skills and work styles that would enrich and contribute to the organization.
-Organizations seeking a culture change should begin with an intervention at the senior level, since the best way to bring real change is usually to change the leaders.
-It takes great leaders to develop great leaders. The idea of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ just won’t work with leadership.
The research is clear regarding the impact of leadership on desirable outcomes. Good leaders are substantially more effective that bad leaders, but great leaders make a great difference.
The one findings I want to comment on concerns recruiting employees with diversity of skills and work styles since it is one I was personal experience with. It involved an individual seeking a summer internship. The usual hiring technique (individual interviews and team assessment) was employed.
When the team gathered to determine her qualifications I was astonished by the negative responses (she didn’t “fit” the culture). I found her to be extremely intelligent, with good interpersonal, and communication skills. What I liked most about her was she would have brought a new perspective to the culture.
She would not have reported to me, and her application was rejected by the supervisor. A sidelight on this story is that the organization lost it’s ability to survive in the changing world. Employees were either terminated, or moved to other locations. Sad result of poor leadership.
Organizations thrive on the right mix of skills, work styles, and more, as recorded in this blog.
Next: The Extraordinary Leader
Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders
THE PROPER MEASURE OF “GREATNESS”