Evolution’s Role in Measuring Leadership Performance

According to Bersin by Deloitte’s predictions for 2013, those numbers are on track to increase by at least 12 percent this year. But the best way to accomplish all of these goals may not be related to technology, but to the ancient past.

Throughout much of human pre-history, people lived in hunter-gatherer societies with no formal chiefs or rulers. Leaders were individuals who could persuade the group based on their reputations for judgment, integrity, expertise and contributions to the greater good; these people had no power to impose their will on others.

This evolutionary resistance to tyranny is reflected in the modern workforce — to be effective, a leader has to be someone people are willing to follow. People look for four essential characteristics in leaders:

Integrity: People need to know a leader won’t take advantage of his or her position, won’t lie, steal, play favorites or betray subordinates. However, some do, and once subordinates lose trust in their leaders, the relationship is difficult to repair.

Judgment: Subordinates’ welfare directly depends on their superiors’ judgment, and some people have better judgment than others. Most business failures are the result of bad decisions compounded by an unwillingness to accept feedback, evaluate results and change direction.

Competence: Good leaders are perceived as being competent in the team’s business. In ancient hunter-gatherer tribes, leaders were distinguished by their superior hunting ability. In the modern workforce, employees are quick to write off supervisors who don’t seem to know what they are doing.

Vision: Good leaders explain the significance of the mission and how it fits into the larger scheme of things related to their team. This vision clarifies roles, goals and the way forward, thereby facilitating team performance.

Leaders who possess these characteristics create loyal, engaged employees. A 2006 Gallup meta-analysis of data from more than 32,000 companies showed that businesses with greater employee engagement had less turnover, greater customer loyalty and improved financial performance. Conversely, leaders who lie, cheat or manipulate their way to the top alienate employees, and their teams’ performance suffers as a result.

It is incumbent upon talent leaders to overhaul leadership hiring practices where necessary. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance — to know whether someone is a good leader, ask the people who used to work for him or her.

Companies can foster desired qualities in their leaders by providing them with strategic self-awareness. There may be a gap between how leaders perceive themselves — identity — and how their supervisors, colleagues and employees perceive them — reputation. This blind spot may cause leaders to say one thing and do another, giving subordinates the impression they are either incompetent or dishonest.

A quality measure of a person’s reputation, such as a personality assessment or 360-degree feedback, combined with targeted coaching can provide people with a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, how they relate to those of their peers, and how these strengths and weaknesses could affect their leadership performance.

Jackie VanBroekhoven is a corporate solutions consultant at consultancy Hogan Assessment Systems. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.