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Leadership Competence: An Oxymoron?

Saturday, February 21, 2009 by Slaughter Development

The boss is supposed to be the person with the answers, who is decisive, well-informed and supermely confident. Why then does it seem like so many managers are clueless?

Jeffrey Kluger of Time Magazine offers an interesting insight on the subject. According to a new study from UCLA a leader is not necessarily someone who has the right answers, but perhaps simply the person who talks the most. After their first experiment, researchers found the following outcome of their participants:

. . . group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as “general intelligence” and “dependable and self-disciplined.” The ones who didn’t speak as much tended to score higher for less desirable traits, including “conventional and uncreative.”

With such compelling feedback, researchers wondered whether their first study accurately represented true leadership ability. In their second experiment, which focused on competency and leadership, they discovered that often the two do not go hand in hand.

Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers.

Though this study does not prove all leaders are incompetent at work, it does shed some light on whether positions of leadership are awarded based on ability or simply through the frequency of communication. Some may even argue promotion comes mostly from confidence. In a BusinessWeek poll, ninety percent of executives and managers believe they perform in the top ten percent of their competition. This is an extreme version of the Lake Wobegon effect, as obviously no more than half of any population can be above average!

Regardless of how leadership is evaluated, the important distinction here is how an individual utilizes their  role to make a difference within the organization. Whereas some members of upper management excel at communication and diplomacy and therefore help employees feel satisfied, these leaders often lack the fortitude to make challenging decisions. Likewise, authoritative leaders, who make business and product outcomes their first priority, may not as easily relate to their employees and cause rifts that inhibit productivity.

At Slaughter Development, we believe leadership is not the product of title or promotion, but of contribution and initiative. If a company is experiencing downfalls in productivity or success, the question on everyone’s mind—executives, managers, and employees alike—should not be “where has management failed?” but rather “how can the process improve?” Through our Workplace Diagnostics program, we analyze stakeholder contribution and seek out ways to transform inefficient processes into a well-oiled machines. By granting every stakeholder the responsibility of being conscientious in their work, individual contribution flourishes and personal empowerment prevails. The key is to create an everyday business environment where management, like a well-written thesis, is simply present to keep structure while the employees satisfy the goals of success. Contact us today for more information.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Rotten Attitudes In The Workplace - To many of us, the saying “one bad apple ruins a bunch” conjures up memories of overbearing lectures we received as children. But how true is this statement in the adult world of work?  According to one source, “bad apples” an the office can slow down productivity, diminish creativity and prevent successful completion of projects. Read on »
Counterproductive Survey - Recently, someone forwarded us a screenshot from an online survey for a noted market research company. The image shows a confusing question with a rather obvious answer.
Read on »
The Office’s “Sweet” Mistake - The hit NBC comedy The Office features a neurotic, naive and often unruly character in “boss man” Michael Scott. The show is famous for uncomfortable workplace moments and many of the scenes feel as if they are based in reality. Yet behind the entertainment, the premise begs the question: how do leaders emerge and how could incompetent fools become the boss?  Read on »
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