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October 28, 2022

Measuring Leadership: Proposal for a New Model

By IT Revolution

This post is adapted from the 2022 DevOps Enterprise Forum guidance paper Measuring Leadership by Adam Zimman, Lee Barnett, Julia Harrison, Tamara Ledbetter, Dean Leffingwell, Christof Leng, Steven Mayner.


In our last post, we looked at what’s changed in leadership. Now let’s look to the future of leadership.

The identity of leaders has shifted. There needs to be greater delegation to meet the distributed nature of development and delivery in today’s systems. More time needs to be spent on training leadership skills in nonmanagers and managers alike.

It is clear that a lot has changed since Burns and his writings informed the ideas in Accelerate. We are in the midst of a generational change and emerging from a global pandemic. While these factors are independent of one another, we can be sure that new expectations for the work environment will appeal to our future community of knowledge workers because of them. Leadership roles are becoming more of a shared responsibility than they have been in prior decades. Managers and leaders are discovering that the role of informal leaders is as important as their own and that it is the proving ground for leadership of the next generation.

The notion of informal leadership is not new. A review of the literature from 1990 to the present provides insights into the critical role of the informal leader, as well as a recognition of the attributes that tend to characterize these individuals (we list several of these in the footnotes). Competence, collaboration, character, catalyst, and culture are common dimensions of the behaviors, attitudes, and abilities of these important people, the people who will almost certainly be the leaders in the next digital age. These dimensions are summarized as follows.

Dimensions and Aspects of Informal Leaders

Competence

  • Technical competence: deep knowledge and experience in one or more domains such that they demonstrate keen intuition; tend to be early adopters; others look to them for guidance and advice.
  • Organizational competence: has an intricate understanding of the organization and how to navigate internal processes; knows the people to go to in order to get things done; leads through influence instead of formal authority.
  • Communications competence: articulate in both written and verbal communications; can convey complex concepts in ways that are understandable to different audiences; demonstrates situational awareness (what to communicate when, to whom, and how).

Collaboration

  • Team orientation: focuses on the success of the team and the organization over individual accolades or agendas.
  • Coalition building: works across organizational boundaries to build cooperative networks through fostering strong relationships; a central node in informal networks.
  • Interactivity: solves problems and generates ideas through dialogue, creativity, reflection, humor, and fun.

Character

  • Humility: does not use their standing as an informal leader to bring attention to themselves, gain recognition, pursue ulterior motives, or to be boastful.
  • Fairness: treats everyone respectfully and equally regardless of experience, skill level, role, or personal attributes (gender, race, age, sexual orientation, etc.).
  • Trust: creates an environment of trust through authenticity and transparency, trusts others and is also trustworthy; meets commitments.

Catalyst

  • Agent of action: provides focus, encouragement, and alignment to get things done; can adapt behaviors and resources as needed based on the situation.
  • Change agent: takes appropriate risks; well informed on business strategy and practice, which allows them to identify and advocate for changes that align with organizational goals.
  • Pseudomanagers: act as counselors and advisors; may have limited, delegated authority to act in the absence of the manager.

Culture

  • Culture carrier: embraces the organization’s values and lives them out in their daily work and interactions; they exemplify and promote the positive aspects of the existing culture.
  • Culture creator: sets the temperature—positive or negative—in the room; they shape the culture of the organization by their example; people observe them, see what they do, and respond to the way they act.
  • Culture coach: identifies elements of the current culture that are not conducive to personal growth and enterprise health; uses their influence to promote the behaviors that lead to a generative, trust-based culture.

Next Steps

One way companies measure leadership is through the completion of a multi-item survey; this is often part of a 360-degree review process. Each item consists of a statement that illustrates a leadership behavior, while the participants provide their responses to each item using a derivative of a Likert scale or satisfaction scale. Most of these surveys have been rigorously tested for validity and reliability by their creators and often have completed a peer-review process prior to publication in a relevant academic or business journal.

While these assessments are a great start to measuring an organization’s leadership strengths, the vast majority of the companies that engage in these assessments focus exclusively on managers. Based on the impact that we see emerging from informal leaders, we believe it is appropriate to start measuring and educating a larger cohort of individuals. Many of the same leadership skills are required of informal leaders, and they can be measured with assessments, but the number of people being measured and coached needs to increase to include this new class of leaders.

In addition to assessing more individuals for leadership, companies should also enable them via leadership training and through opportunities for intentional leadership—if not formal management positions. A logical next step would be to build an assessment instrument targeted at informal leaders. This, of course, would then require thorough testing and peer review to determine impact and value.

You can download the full Measuring Leadership paper here.

- About The Authors
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IT Revolution

Trusted by technology leaders worldwide. Since publishing The Phoenix Project in 2013, and launching DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2014, we’ve been assembling guidance from industry experts and top practitioners.

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