Friday, October 07, 2011

So you Think You are an Extraordinary Leader

This is a Guest Post by Joe Folkman

So You Think You’re an Extraordinary Leader?

How good are leaders at predicting their own overall leadership effectiveness? Are they more or less accurate than other raters? At Zenger Folkman, we calculated the overall rating for 27,000 leaders. We then determined how effective a leader’s manager, peers, direct reports, others, and the leader themselves were at predicting the leader’s overall effectiveness. Our measure was the amount of variance in the overall effectiveness rating that each person could predict. The Graph below shows the results.

The leaders themselves were only able to predict about 15% of the variability. The leader’s manager was the most accurate predicting 32% followed by Direct Reports 29%, Peers 28%, and others at 25%. This is a strange phenomenon because the person with the greatest amount of information is the leader themselves. After all, they were there the whole time, they saw ever interaction, they were in every meeting and discussion shouldn’t they be a better judge?

There are a lot of dynamics in our evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses. Psychologically, a person’s ego may need protection when others don’t think that they are very effective. When people feel valued and that they are making a contribution, a person might be far more humble about their capability. To understand the phenomenon, we compared the self-rating against the average ratings from others. As can be seen from the graph below, the worst leader (as perceive by others) tended to substantially overrate their ability, while the best leaders tended to underrate their ability.

This phenomenon has been noted in other research by Dunning and Kruger, who were awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Psychology for their report, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments." Basically, these researchers found that people with poor skills consistently overrated their ability.

When we are lost, a GPS can guide us to our desired location. In order to provide an accurate prediction of our current location, GPS needs signals from multiple satellites—at minimum, four separate satellites. In order for an individual to get an accurate reading of their effectiveness as a leader it also requires feedback from four different kinds of raters.

1. Managers: Our managers are the best predictors of our promotion potential.

2. Peers: Our peers help us to understand how we interact with other groups across the organization

3. Direct Reports: Our direct reports know us well and see us in both good and bad situations. The direct reports provide the best prediction of how well we can lead and manager a team.

4. Others: Feedback from others is also very helpful to give us insight into our interactions with other group.

Great leaders are constantly looking for an accurate measure of their current location. Feedback from others is critical. Occasionally doing an anonymous evaluation of our leadership capabilities is needed to fine tune our true location.

Joe Folkman

Joe Folkman is the co-founder and President of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm focused on building strengths of individuals, teams, and organizations. Joe is a co-author of the recent Harvard Business Review article “Making Yourself Indispensable.” To learn more leadership tips from Joe, subscribe to his leadership blog or follow him on Twitter: @zengerfolkman.

Kruger, Justin; David Dunning (1999). "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1121. PMID 10626367


At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Patricia Lotich said...

Great statistics and food for thought. The most important and sometimes difficult part of leadership is getting honest perspectives of how others perceive us. Great reminder!

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree,humility is a quality that many extrodinary leaders possess. Their achievements speak for themselves and self promotion is a waste of their valuable time.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger David Waltz said...

There was recent research reported by Strategy + Business about how as people have more power they take less advice and seek less feedback.

There is a link to that on my most recent blogpost if you are interested.

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Steven said...

Hi Joe, thanks for posting.

What an interesting study! Ironic that those who think they are the best are more likely to be far from it, and vice versa. I guess it's no surprise though - if someone really doesn't know how ineffective they are being as a leader then they are going to think that highly of themselves unfortunately!

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Bennet Simonton said...


That would be easy if the leader creates a highly motivated, highly committed, fully engaged workforce literally loving to come to work and more than 300% more productive than if poorly motivated.

Sadly, most leaders haven't a clue how to do this and don't even consider it possible. But it is possible. I know because I did it in four different turnarounds.

What leaders first need to know is what exactly is leadership -

Second, they need to know what motivates us, all of us.

The rest becomes obvious but too involved to disclose in a short comment.

Best regards, Ben
Leadership is a science and so is engagement.


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