Evaluating leadership performance beyond profitability
Originally Published in the Globe and Mail
Anyone who has worked for someone else can usually distinguish between good and bad leadership skills. The reality is that most leaders fall somewhere in between, striking some balance between doing certain things right but often getting others wrong. While nobody is perfect, if you're an entrepreneur, job seeker or middle manager aspiring to climb the career ladder, developing the right leadership skills will be key to your success.
While financial results are often used to evaluate performance, there's a need for leadership metrics beyond just managing a spreadsheet. A cursory read of the recent woes at big companies such as Uber and Google point to the fallout of corporate leaders' shortcomings.
But do you really know what aspects of your performance are being evaluated? Delivering on your quotas or the bottom line may be a given, but beyond profitability it's critical that employees in leadership positions focus on doing what's right, rather than simply doing it right. When you're evaluating yourself or the management team of a prospective employer, you'll need to objectively assess skills and abilities in leadership, strategy and people management – and identify areas that need improvement.
Leadership lessons: Great leaders don't just happen. Most have had the benefit of a good mentor, but also invest plenty of time reading, learning and absorbing the experience of other successful leaders who they admire. While the perfect mix of skills and traits may be arguable, there are several abilities that every leader should have or develop.
Commitment: This is a basic requirement, especially for entrepreneurs. How committed are you to achieving the business's goals? Do you have the perseverance and resolve to carry through with and mobilize others in the pursuit of your or the company's vision? Are you able to effectively sell that vision and keep the momentum going?
Communication: While public speaking and persuasiveness are important, active listening is key to being in touch with what's really going on, especially the higher up you are. You need to be engaged enough to read people and gain their trust. If you have a good person in the right role, but they don't seem to be thriving, take a deeper look at yourself to make sure you're effectively communicating your vision and listen to feedback on how you could improve.
Making decisions: Leaders often possess qualified expertise in one or several areas, but also need the courage to push forward despite uncertainty. Do you have the confidence to take risks and make sound decisions? If you don't have sufficient knowledge or skills required, do you learn them or find others who can provide it?
Developing talent: As the leader of an organization, one of the most important mirrors to your company's success is how the people under your leadership are developing. Are you actively developing and motivating staff? Do you encourage coaching and mentoring among the team? Are you seeing progress and growth in their roles?
Managing people: Employees take their cues from the top, so make sure you're setting the right example and culture. If a leader is authentic, and demonstrates interest in employees' and customers' well being, while encouraging open communication, that is how employees will behave – toward each other and toward customers. A leader who is rude and dismissive will only foster a culture of similar behaviour. Look at turnover rates, success of internal initiatives, employee involvement and other culture indicators. If there is a culture issue, employees either leave or they aren't engaged. If you identify an issue, it likely means you haven't been making workplace culture a priority.
Future strategy: The first question to ask here is, do you have a strategy? To be a leader, you'll need to plan for the way forward. Initially, this may simply be a plan for your own career trajectory, but once in a senior leadership role you'll need to articulate and sell your strategy for the company to the executive team and the company at large. Take a hard look at what you have in place. Can you show progress? Do you have everyone's buy-in or merely lip service? Is there a succession plan, and is it realistic?
Being good at your job does not necessarily translate into a promotion or invitation to the president's club. Many people are effective in their role but don't have, or perhaps aren't interested in learning the necessary leadership skills that can catapult them up the career ladder. By taking an honest and objective look at yourself in these and other areas, you'll be better able to hone the leadership skills that will help you stand out no matter what your position – to employers, staff or customers. Even if your ascent is already under way, there's always something more to learn on the path to leadership greatness.