What Makes Leaders Succeed or Fail? An Adaptive Leadership Perspectives Approach

October 30, 2015 4:34 pm Published by 1 Comment

Unfortunately, extensive research has led to few clear conclusions about what makes leaders successful even though many experts have defined a set of behaviors successful leaders commonly demonstrate.

So, why doesn’t identifying or providing development for individuals to exhibit these characteristics consistently produce successful leaders?

I believe these attributes represent the “necessary, but not sufficient” properties of excellent leadership. If a significant number of these capabilities are lacking, an individual probably cannot succeed in many settings. However, even leaders very capable of performing all the actions in a framework may not succeed.

What is the missing ingredient? I think it is the manner in which leaders express competencies selectively in changing situations that produces most of the positive impact. Various situational demands are the drivers of leadership requirements. But, can situational requirements be captured and structured in a manner that leaders, and organizations, can apply realistically to define and adjust behavior? In my experience the answer is yes!

To address the dynamic nature of leadership requirements, we discovered that situations array into specific situation types according to the following dimensions:
Interpersonal or Operational (situations corresponding to more people- or task- oriented activities);
Planning/Initiating or Acting (situations related to creating a purpose and defining requirements versus implementing activities and driving for results); and
Strategic or Tactical (situations reflecting demands at various organization levels and for many organizations demands corresponding to career levels or roles).

The following four types of situational demands that drive differing leadership competency requirements, include:
Engaging People (encompassing situations related to interpersonal and planning factors);
Leveraging Talent (encompassing situations related to interpersonal and acting factors);
Creating Direction (encompassing situations related to operational and planning factors); and
Managing Performance (encompassing situations related to operational and acting factors).

We found that each type of situational demand includes strategic and tactical work contexts that pull for specific sets of leadership competencies or behaviors. The model we developed to clarify how leaders adapt behavior to succeed is called the Adaptive Leadership Perspectives framework and includes three perspectives:

1. A “Leadership Foundation” of critical competencies representing a common set of behaviors successful leaders consistently exhibit;
2. “Leadership Levels” encompassing requirements and accompanying behaviors that contribute to executing major task, team, operational and whole organization activities over an extended period of time; and
3. ”Leadership Styles” articulating the interactions and stances required for meeting dynamically changing day-to-day work demands.

Applying structured sets of selectively applied competencies using this framework, enables leaders to enhance the depth, breadth and flex of their behavioral repertoire. And by evaluating leaders and situations using this multi-dimensional model, organizations, coaches and individuals can explore strengths and vulnerabilities beyond personal attributes, providing answers to a range of questions traditional models often cannot fully address, such as:
• Is a leader focusing on the right work activities?
• What competencies and processes are most important for a particular work situation?
• Is a leader better at people- or task- oriented situations and how might that impact effectiveness in his/her current role?
• Is a leader better at conceptualizing, planning and starting activities or at implementing and driving activities to completion and how might that help or hinder his/her work?
• Does a leader’s stance and style fit a current or potential future work setting?
• What synergies or conflicts might a leader face with a particular follower or group?

While a more holistic approach to leadership applying related factors and perspectives offers new insights about how to be more effective, leadership success is still a complex system based on myriad factors. Top performers consistently exhibit excellent behaviors matched to changing situations, shaping their actions and interactions with others in response to individual, team, functional, organizational and cultural factors. But. it is important to understand that individual leadership has limitations and that effective organization leadership strategies and development programs must focus on creating both competent individual leaders and an enriched, empowering talent management environment with embedded values, practices, and broadly-available opportunities for growth and continuous learning.
To explore the Adaptive Leadership Perspectives approach in more detail you can access a white paper about the framework using the following link. What is Leadership Success



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This post was written by Dr. Stephen C. Schoonover