Are you a capable leader?
This is a challenging question to respond to. The only evidence of successful leadership is whether or not people follow you, no matter how good a leader you might think you are. Your impression of your own failures or successes is distorted by a self-serving bias.
Even if you’re extremely self-aware, an objective assessment may be difficult. This is because your direct reports may just appear to be following — they don’t have the choice of being physically present — and not every firm conducts rigorous engagement surveys or 360-degree assessments.
So, how can you get a relatively realistic picture of your leadership success? Try combining three different points of view.
The First Measure of Leadership Success: Being Aware of “Now”
Consequently, despite the fact that it receives the most attention, it may be the least illuminating if not put into the proper context. You measure “Now” using key performance metrics to assess your progress: Did you meet your targets? Are you meeting your annual objectives? What is the rate of subordinate turnover?
Of course, the bigger question is what you did to get those results. Short-term goals are met while long-term capabilities are in development. This is what the best leaders are doing. “Now” is merely the first step toward a bigger objective.
Unfortunately, some executives sacrifice culture and mission in order to feed the beast of the moment. A department head of a large regional professional services firm was lamenting how her old company’s once-vibrant, mission-focused culture had become poisonous. She said that it had done so as the partners began slashing internal expenses to fund other operations.
That’s the problem with looking only at “Now” If you’re not careful, it will drain the life from tomorrow.
The Second Measure of Leadership Success: Looking Ahead
The second measure of leadership success puts the present into context. Therefore, where do you see your company or yourself in 5 years or even in 20 years? Effective leadership now requires a knowledge of what you want your final legacy to be. Furthermore, your legacy is built over the course of your whole career. This means that it’s not just the last six months or even the last six years. Therefore, it’s never too early to start thinking about the impression you’re making on the people you lead. In addition, it’s always a good time to look at the impact you are having on all the individuals you serve alongside.
People can describe someone they have met who they perceive to be a great leader. They talk about folks who had a good and long-lasting, impact on them. These leaders were neither self-centered nor concerned too much with their own professions.
The truth is, they just put effort and time into the growth of their employees. In addition, they gave them support in growing. Furthermore, they set high expectations for responsibility while also ensuring that their employees got the resources and skills necessary to succeed.
These are people who create value rather than just extract it.
The Third Measure: Looking Back
These aren’t the awards you’ll receive at your retirement party. Neither are these the accolades you will get after a promotion. Rather, this is an exercise in evaluating the long-term value of the work of your previous position. A true leader builds a strong team that continues to grow and work together after they have left. When a single individual is out of the equation and performance falls apart, the dynamic is indeed very fragile.
Therefore, revisit your previous leadership position. What is happening to those who were working for you? You did great if they rose through the ranks. If they did so, it was potentially to take your place. Perhaps they went to other departments. If they’re still in touch with you, it means your influence was important. Is it still the case that your cultural norms are in place and being built upon? That’s yet another indication that you were a capable leader.
A Great Leader
In his book Turn the Ship Around, David Marquet, a retired captain of the US Navy makes a strong case for sustaining growth. In his first command, Marquet took a nuclear submarine from last to first in the fleet. As satisfying as it was, Marquet’s greatest joy came from seeing his crew and ship continue to succeed long after he had left.
Marquet, like many other leaders, was evaluating his success based on specific metrics at specific times. He met them where they were by looking far ahead to the possibility of what his team could be. However, he did not take too much credit until well after he had gone on.
Image Credit: August De Richelieu; Pexels; Thank You!