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HOW TO BE EXCEPTIONAL
DRIVE LEADERSHIP SUCCESS BY MAGNIFYING YOUR STRENGTHS
By JOHN H. ZENGER, JOSEPH R. FOLKMAN, JR. ROBERT H. SHERWIN, BARBARA A. STEEL
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman, Robert H. Sherwin, Jr., and Barbara A. Steel
All rights reserved.
Organizations Flourish with Strong Leaders
The Measurable Impact of Being Exceptional
Have you ever been part of an organization where things were proceeding smoothly—where goals were achieved, people were productive, and the organization was doing reasonably well? Then a new leader came into the organization, and everything suddenly changed for the better. The energy level of employees went up substantially, pride in the organization increased, the effort and dedication of individuals jumped, bold objectives were enthusiastically accepted, and even greater results were achieved. The differences could be felt by everyone. Better yet, the accountants could measure the improvement.
Perhaps you also have had the opposite experience. You were in an organization where things were going reasonably well, and a new leader was introduced. You quickly saw things begin to fall apart. First you noticed high performers quitting; then conflicts became more apparent, work seemed much less important, and you were not having fun. Your colleagues skulked into corners, not wanting to be engaged. Overall satisfaction decreased. Grousing and carping criticism of the senior leaders became rampant. People receiving promotions were seemingly chosen because of politics, not performance. Management decisions felt arbitrary and unfair. Results began to slide, and your fellow employees became the cause of the problem as much as the economy or market conditions. Key employees were laid off, while the remaining people were asked to carry a bigger load. Results continued to decline, your job felt increasingly harder, and you began to think about escaping from this misery.
The Difference Can Be Measured
Those who have experienced great leadership or poor leadership have felt that difference. To a large extent, people know poor and great leadership when they personally experience it. Could these changes have been predicted? Are there clear correlations between the effectiveness of a leader and the success of an organization? Can great leadership be developed? If so, is there an efficient method to help leaders improve?
In extensive studies, we have demonstrated the clear connection between the effectiveness of a leader and a variety of important organizational outcomes. Bottom line, great leaders increase profit, drive up customer satisfaction, generate higher levels of engagement in their employees, reduce employee turnover, and develop stronger employees.
Big Questions About Extraordinary Leadership
As we turn our attention to what makes exceptional leaders, some important questions come into focus:
Where exactly do exceptional leaders come from?
Can such leaders actually be developed, or is this simply an issue of selecting a natural-born leader?
How do organizations identify them?
What do these leaders do differently from their colleagues?
What can be done to develop more of those who make a huge, positive difference, while avoiding those that cause organizations to nosedive?
Can we help existing leaders acquire the behaviors and traits of the best ones?
Finally, why do some organizations succeed at producing a steady stream of such leaders, while others struggle with repeated missteps in selecting and developing them?
These are some of the questions we will attempt to address in this book.
Our Earlier Research
In our earlier book, The Extraordinary Leader, we examined the characteristics or competencies that most effectively separated the best leaders from the worst. To understand the key differences, we examined data from more than 20,000 leaders, who had been measured with a variety of 360-degree feedback instruments. Collectively these instruments included over 1,850 survey items describing various leadership behaviors. We had assessments from over 200,000 evaluators. Our analysis revealed 16 competencies that most effectively differentiated the best from the worst leaders as measured by their aggregate 360-degree feedback scores.
Further research led us to discover 49 survey items that accurately measure leaders' effectiveness at these specific competencies. These competencies described what bad leaders did that led to failure and what the best leaders did that guaranteed success. These assessments were completed by a leader's manager, peers, direct reports, and others, such as those two levels below the leader, former colleagues, customers, and suppliers.
Organizations Need Strong Leaders at All Levels
Since those discoveries, we have assessed the effectiveness of approximately 100,000 additional leaders in organizations of all sizes all over the world. In these assessments, we discovered some organizations with an abundance of great leaders. We have also experienced organizations where great leaders were so rare that it felt like they were headed for extinction. If great leaders were born with those qualities, then you might assume that organizations with an abundance of great leaders must have had a selection process that is extraordinary, while organizations with a dearth of great leaders must have a selection process so bad that it was incapable of selecting great leaders.
Selection Processes Seem Alike
Yet as we look at the selection processes of these different organizations, we cannot find any substantial difference in the processes or procedures between them. In fact, we know that leadership talent is much more likely to become apparent with years of experience in an organization, and inevitably those organizations with great leadership talent tend to promote from within and have employees with long tenure.
As you observe organizations with an abundance of great leadership talent, several differences become apparent.
1. Great leaders attract others with talent. Like magnets that are properly aligned, there is a huge attraction. Something clicks between them. Other competent leaders want to work with them.
2. Great leaders discover and pull out hidden abilities in those about them. Good qualities emerge. Strong teams develop, and collaboration abounds.
3. Great leaders tend to stay and build. Not only are they initially attracted to the organization and the other leaders in it, but they thrive in place, build off each other, and grow the garden they're in. They aren't looking to quickly hop to another challenge. Their continued presence brings stability, confidence, and steadiness to the organization.
Poor leaders are the polar opposites. Their impact is leaden. Like every other weight, their effect is to hold things down. People become immobile. And like the lead shield used by an x-ray technician to cover the patient, these leaders block energy from passing through.
As you observe organizations with a dearth of leadership talent, other differences emerge:
1. The leaders aren't able to attract the best talent. Just as identical polarities result in magnetic attraction, unlike polarities cause magnetic repulsion. Great leaders sense early in the selection process that these toxic organizations will not make a great landing spot. In fact, unconfident leaders in these organizations are highly unlikely to recruit potentially more effective leaders than themselves.
2. The leaders aren't able to draw out the best in those around them. It isn't unusual for those around the leader to feel stifled and constrained by the boss. Unaligned, counterproductive individual and team efforts are often abundant and highly visible, and the resulti
Excerpted from HOW TO BE EXCEPTIONAL by JOHN H. ZENGER, JOSEPH R. FOLKMAN, ROBERT H. SHERWIN JR., BARBARA A. STEEL. Copyright © 2012 by John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman, Robert H. Sherwin, Jr., and Barbara A. Steel. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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