How do we measure leadership and what makes for good leadership? was a great question I received from one of my closest friends.
This question, in my opinion, is excellent because it forces us to consider what the purpose of leadership is.
According to definitions found on the internet:
“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” – Jim Rohn
Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.
Another popular definition of Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal (Northouse (2007, p3).
The U.S. military has studied leadership in depth. One of their definitions is a process by which a soldier influences others to accomplish a mission (U.S. Army, 1983).
“Effective Leadership is not about making speeches or being liked: Leadership is about results, not attributes.” Peter Drucker
Looking at these definitions it would suggest that leadership is about achieving goals, missions and objectives.
It’s all about the results, rather than the process of leadership.
This would mean that if we were developing KPIs, then Good Leadership would be measured in terms of results achieved.
I found this to be interesting because many people, if you asked them (including myself), would say that good leadership is about inspiration, trust, honesty, authenticity etc., yet none of these characteristics talk about the results achieved.
These characteristics are about how we feel on the journey, not about whether we arrived at the destination or not.
So how should we measure leadership?
Is it all about the results, is it about how many followers we have, is it about the way we achieve results?
Can we be considered great leaders if thousands of people follow us, and feel great about it, but we don’t really go anywhere or achieve anything significant?
Does the end really justify the means, which would be the case, if the only KPI for leadership was results achieved?
Certainly, in business and in sports it’s all about results, show me a football manager who has lost 10 games in a row, or a CEO whose company has recorded its third successive year of losses, and I will show you someone about to lose their job.
Maybe in order to understand what good leadership is we should look at good leaders and define KPIs based on their performance, on both the journey and the destination.
If you google the top 10 Best Leaders of all time the following names are the ones most frequently mentioned (in alphabetical order):
Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, Alexander the Great, George Washington, Gandhi, Ghengis Khan, Jesus, Joseph Stalin, Julius Caesar, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mao Tse Tung, Mohammed, Napoleon Bonaparte, Vladimir Lnnin, Winton Churchill.
Looking at this list I am sure that there will be some people thinking that there are people on here that we couldn’t really call good leaders.
However, I think we need to differentiate between people doing good with their leadership, and people being good at leadership.
Good leadership doesn’t always mean results that most people would generally think of as good.
Looking at the list for common characteristics or themes then I would say that the one common characteristic is their level of impact. They all had a significant impact: whether it was the abolishing of slavery; or religion; conquering and creating large empires; or achieving freedom for their people.
So does this mean that we should measure leaders based on their level of impact?
But, if we talk about the level of impact that people have had on the world then the list should also look to include famous inventors/scientists/innovators such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, Guttenberg, Thomas Edison, John Logie-Baird, Alexander Graham-Bell, and so on. Many of them had a great impact and changed the world, but they are not generally thought of as leaders.
In my opinion though, if I were to define KPIs for measuring leadership, I think I would focus on measuring three aspects of leadership.
The problem here is that, with each of these, is that the measurement is still subjective and difficult to quantify.
From my perspective, this would clearly put people such as Jesus, Mohammaed, Gandhi and Mandela closer to the top of the list than Stalin, Hitler and Ghengis Khan. But that’s just my opinion, others might put Ghengis Khan at the top of the list.
I appreciate that this post has raised more questions than it has answered, but I do think that this is quite a complex and subjective topic that doesn’t really have a clear answer.
How would you quantify, measure or define good leadership?
I would be really interested to know.
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