The iceberg analogy (you can see only 10 percent above the surface, and the danger lies in the 90 percent hidden below the water) plays into a common CLO challenge for leadership development: How do you develop competencies in that hidden 90 percent?
Most leaders’ 10 percent that is visible to the CLO — technical knowledge and skill, basic intelligence and competence —often are used to gauge whether leaders are effective in their roles because they are easier to measure. But many leaders’ cache of skills that set them apart is tucked away in that elusive 90 percent, which is much harder to develop and assess.
“When people are trying to be effective in a leadership role, it’s not about your IQ or technical competence — it’s about your ability to influence people, to effectively listen, to be able to think strategically, to accurately pick up on people’s unsaid feelings and emotions,” said Rick Lash, Hay Group national director for leadership and talent management. “It’s your ability to engage others and motivate them, to demonstrate empathy, to coach others effectively, to manage your own anxieties (especially under stress) so that other people can do what they need to do. Those less-tangible things make the difference. Smart, technically competent leaders don’t necessarily make the best leaders — you need all of that other stuff.”
It can be tough to establish solid metrics to determine whether leaders are ready to take on complex roles required by the modern, global enterprise.
To differentiate leaders who are technically competent versus leaders who also have those less-tangible, but perhaps more important, leadership qualities and assign the right development opportunities, Lash said it’s best to focus on what people do and simultaneously (if not beforehand) identify what behaviors go along with highly effective leadership.
“Provide people with a way to measure themselves against those kinds of abilities but also give other people an opportunity to assess those people against whether they’re demonstrating those abilities,” Lash said. “We call that multirater assessment — giving people a chance to assess people against their ability to be customer-focused, their ability to influence, coach or communicate effectively with their audience.”
In any discussion of leadership evaluation or competency development, one also must consider that pesky gap between how leaders believe themselves to behave and how others perceive their behavior.
Lash said the people who make the worst leaders often are the ones with the biggest gap between their self-perception and the perceptions others have, which coincides neatly with the iceberg theory.
“One of the below-the-waterline capabilities is accurate self-assessment, which means that you’ve got a good picture of who you are and the way you are with other people,” Lash said.
He suggested CLOs might have some impact or insight on hiring or promoting leaders, as well as which development opportunities are appropriate once they take on new or expanded roles.
“Make sure that when you’re hiring people, you are really looking for a match on the below-the-waterline capability because you can always develop the above-the-waterline ones,” Lash said. “Organizations typically hire for the above-the-waterline competencies and fire for the below-the-waterline competencies — you don’t want to make that mistake. The above-the-line competencies are a ticket of entry, but you need to have good tools in place to assess that people have those below-the-waterline capabilities.”
CLOs might consider creating a list of the competencies that define effective performance for a particular leadership role, then talking to people who exhibit those competencies and building a profile. Lash said multirater assessments provide solid data in this regard.
Learning leaders also can assess leadership competency using targeted, behavioral event interviews.
“Rather than ask people looking for a job, ‘What do you think you’re good at?’ come up with a series of questions that ask them what they have done in specific situations in the past that are similar to the situations they’ll likely have to do on the job,” Lash said. “For example, if you know that impact and influence critical competencies for that role, come up with a question that says, ‘Tell me about the last time you had to influence a group toward your agenda and you got them to accept. Tell me exactly what you did.’ That gives you an opportunity to determine if they have demonstrated in the past the kinds of behaviors you’re looking for in the future.”
Lash said different types of assessments are key to effective leadership development. Those that measure personality traits such as empathy level, ability to listen effectively, self-control, etc., can be particularly valuable, although he said one must be cautious when using some types of personality measures.
“You want to look for multiple ways to assess people and get a very accurate picture of whether they possess the kinds of below-the-waterline competencies you’re looking for,” Lash said. “There’s an old adage that says you can always train a turkey to climb a tree, but you might be better off hiring a squirrel. If you want to be effective, this is really all about trying to make sure that you get a good match between what the individual is bringing to the table and what the job requires — not to say you can’t develop them once they’re in the role, but it’s more challenging than if you get a good match to start with.”