Baseline assessments can be used to identify the perceptual gaps between leaders' self-images and how others view them. This is typically accomplished through a 360-degree feedback instrument that taps raters' perceptions against some constellation of leadership characteristics.
Armed with this information, leaders can then work to leverage their strengths, build their skills and ultimately close the gaps between their self-images and others' views. A key decision point in this developmental effort is which leadership characteristics should be included in the assessment to ensure maximal value and align with the goal of becoming an authentic leader.
There are two immediately available sources for identifying critical leadership dimensions for use in this baseline assessment: 1) the leadership competency model in use within the leader's own organization and 2) an extensive body of leadership research.
The first source is purely practical, since a leadership-competency model that has already been implemented within the leader's organization will be driving that leader's current expectations; therefore, any perceptual gaps in proficiency will have immediate relevance.
Most leadership-competency models overlap, to a large extent, across organizations and cover such characteristics as strategic leadership, communication, relationship-building, talent management and a drive for excellence.
A second source for mining critical leadership characteristics for a baseline assessment, and very apropos to the topic at hand, is the literature on authentic leadership. This growing body of research posits that authentic leaders possess several distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from less-effective leaders (Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wemsing, & Peterson, 2008).
These key characteristics include: 1) ability to express genuine emotions to others ("Relationship Transparency"), 2) self-awareness, 3) adherence to ethical/moral standards and 4) ability to regulate between internal needs and organizational requirements ("Balanced Processing").
Any assessment that seeks to establish a baseline measure of leadership image should, at a minimum, include a cross-section of items from these two sources.
The recommended 360-degree feedback items listed below represent a combination of leadership characteristics found to be critical across a wide variety of organizations, as well as characteristics that have evolved from the burgeoning body of authentic leadership research.
A rater would be asked to indicate the individual's level of proficiency on each of the following competencies, using a scale of: 1 = Significant Development Needed; 2 = Development Needed; 3 = Competent; 4 = Highly Competent; and 5 = Role Model.
1. Transformational Leadership
Creates a clear and compelling vision for the future that is aligned with the purpose and mission of the organization. Develops and leads breakthrough business strategies for transforming own organization and achieving a competitive advantage; translates company strategic imperatives into specific business plans. Communicates the strategic vision to employees, motivating them to work toward common plans and objectives.
2. Builds Strategic Alliances & Relationships
Develops and maintains quality working relationships with key individuals, groups or networks inside and outside of the organization (e.g., clients, potential clients, vendors, community groups, industry associations); Works with business partners, stakeholders and board members to accomplish mutual goals. Promotes collaboration, coordination, and teamwork across the organization.
3. Champions the Customer
Strives to exceed customer needs, requirements, and expectations. Works with key clients and strategic partners by actively listening to their concerns and requests, identifying their needs and requirements, and resolving problems. Establishes organizational protocols or systems to identify customer issues, trends, and opportunities.
4. Drives the Business
Establishes and pursues goals aggressively, drives for exceptional results, and overcomes challenges to ensure business success. Raises expectations and pursues excellence for self, direct reports and the organization. Motivates and inspires performance that exceeds expectations and celebrates success. Creates a climate that fosters commitment to excellence and results.
5. Manages Talent
Develops a strategic talent plan to close capability gaps throughout the organization, taking into account the need to upgrade skills, address cultural barriers, and recruit, select and develop local talent. Leads and improves the performance of others through setting direction and offering effective feedback. Empowers people to act using judgment and experience by providing information, understanding and training. Develops clear succession plans and builds diverse talent pools for key positions. Recognizes individual contributions and celebrates accomplishments of the organization.
6. Fosters Open Communication
Creates an environment that encourages open communication and expression of ideas and opinions. Openly communicates issues, problems or unpopular points of view to others, seeks critical judgment from others, and states opinions in a manner that encourages discussion and debate. Engages in honest dialogue with others and directly supports rational conflict in the service of solution creation.
7. Builds an Ethical Culture
Instills an unquestioned culture of integrity and high ethical standards throughout the organization. Refuses to compromise values or standards when faced with day-to-day pressures. Develops an environment where employees act according to ethical principles and professional standards. Demonstrates conviction when making or defending tough or unpopular decisions and takes responsibility for own actions and their consequences.
8. Cultivates Change and Diversity of Thought
Consistently seeks challenges to own ideas in order to improve thinking and decision-making processes and outcomes. Solicits out-of-the-box innovative thinking and sophisticated judgments that lead to results. Embraces change strategies that create new opportunities. Uses teamwork and external expertise to create synergies and jumpstart new directions and solutions. Constantly challenges the status quo, and drives for creativity in all aspects of the organization.
John C. Scott is vice president and co-founder of APT Inc., based in Darien, Conn. Scott directs consulting services across the full range of talent-management practice areas and is co-editor of the forthcoming Handbook of Workplace Assessment: Selecting and Developing Organizational Talent.