Leadership in Hindsight….

My responses to the couple of comments on last week’s blog set me thinking about how easy it is to form an opinion on the performance of a leadership team when the outcome is known. It reminded me of a conversation that I’d had a couple of years ago with a group of senior managers whose performance was under scrutiny following a particularly difficult year.

As you might expect in the circumstances the managers were feeling pretty defensive in response to their perception of the organisation resorting to blame culture. As the conversation developed over the evening it was pretty clear that the vast majority of the group felt that they were being unfairly treated and being held responsible for things that were totally outside of their control.

Interestingly what developed from this conversation was a really lively and informed debate on the subject of performance appraisal and hence what constituted ‘good’ leadership. The majority of the group were pretty comfortable with the notion that leaders should be both creative and innovative in moving the organisation forward although the detractors were quick to point out the restrictions that organisational structures and processes could have.

Where the debate really came to life, however, was when the discussion turned to what constituted the role of a leader and was this affected by context. After a lengthy and often heated debate the group pretty much agreed that leadership was contingent on circumstance and therefore whilst there was a considerable degree of commonality in leading in any situation the individual circumstance would promote differing behaviours.

As a consequence, therefore, a key element of the role of the leader is that of diagnostician; the ability to analyse and interpret the situation and subsequently anticipate the outcomes of the planned activities is fundamental to exercising good leadership practice. Unless the leader has a sound understanding of the context in which he is operating then his efforts will go unrewarded.

It was at this stage I entered the debate for the first time.

“So what is the implication of this on how you are being assessed?” I asked.

“Well there’s the paradox” came the response. “If they follow and the outcome meets the target and there’s no fall-out then we are good leaders; if they don’t or it doesn’t then we are not. Our performance is judged solely on the outcome of what THEY do”

Amen to that.

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