Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Leadership Effectiveness

Although the need for, and the significance of, leadership are well known to business leaders, insofar as it can be argued that leadership is the quality these actively seek the most, this feature seems to be so uncommon as to be usually considered as a precious and rare asset. This could sway many management practitioners and academics into opting for the idea that, although leadership can in part be learned, the most relevant and valuable part of it is innate.


The specific, distinctive and genuine behaviour typical of a good leader is actually exhibited and can be thus genuinely identified under some particularly delicate or difficult circumstances. Leaders essentially show to have what it takes to be recognised and considered as true, legitimate leaders by the other individuals: during the unfolding of difficult situations, when prompted to carry out particularly tricky and complex tasks (such as leading change) or under unexpected circumstances when it is actually particularly hard, although not completely impossible, for an individual acting as a good leader only thanks to what this has learned in theory.

Under all of these circumstances, “feigning” and “pretending” to be a different person, with different traits and characteristics, would definitely turn to be a sorely awkward exercise for any individual. It is very likely that the real individual traits would thus emerge, revealing the real individual attitude and unveiling that this is actually different from what this pretends to be and to appear to be.

General Sun Tzu (孫子) in the Art of War (兵法), which dates back to some centuries B.C., formulated some suggestive and to some extent extreme definitions of leader (since the date in which the manuscript was written is still the object of controversy, we will place, as done by the eminent scholars who have studied his writing, Sun Tzu’s text in the category of “Authorship Unsettled”).

According to what are nowadays considered Sun Tzu’s estimates, the General defined a leader as the one in charge of creating “moral influence”, that is, to induce in individuals what causes these “to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.”

Without a doubt, the attainment of such a difficult feat represented a truly ambitious challenge at the time and could explain why finding a good leader represented such an incredibly challenging feat. Albeit no organisation is nowadays asking a leader to be so remarkably “morally influent”, for employers finding good leaders today does not seem to be easier than it was for a general at that time.

Even more interesting is the definition of leader provided by the ancient text commentator Chang Yü (about whom not that much is actually known): “When one treats people with benevolence justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and will be happy to serve their leaders. The book of Changes says: In happiness at overcoming difficulties, people forget the danger of death.”

Sun Tzu also claimed that qualities such as: wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage and strictness, qualities considered of paramount importance also in present times, are absolutely necessary for effective leaders. These qualities were later defined by the Tang writer on military subjects Li Chuan as the five virtues of the general deserving to be referred to as “The Respected One.”

Tu Mu (A.D. 803 – 52) added to the Sun Tzu definition of leaders that “If wise, a commander is able to recognise changing circumstances and to act expediently. If sincere, his men will have no doubt of the certainty of rewards and punishments. If humane, he loves mankind, sympathises with others, and appreciates their industry and toil.”


The Art of War is a manuscript about war strategy containing several references to what Sun Tzu at the time, and other commentators later, considered being the necessary qualities and traits of a good, legitimate leader. Qualities and traits which are at large still of extreme contemporary significance and relevance. It would indeed seem that with the passing of the centuries little or nothing has changed to this extent; the traits and qualities making for a good leader have in fact invariably been considered basically the same.


These traits and their significance have been identified and recognized centuries and centuries ago; notwithstanding, finding genuinely good leaders can still nowadays be tantamount to the achievement of a remarkable, virtually impossible feat. The debate amongst business leaders, HR and management practitioners and academics about the root and source of leadership is therefore still rife. The reason why the debate has more recently focused on trying to determine whether leadership is an inborn quality or whether it can actually be learned is arguably due to the circumstance that this quality is sorely rare to find in nature and the results yielded by learning programmes are not totally persuasive. Yet, many of the most much-admired cases of leadership at global level refer to individuals who have certainly never attended training programmes.


The subject has attracted a constantly growing interest; insofar as the Kenexa Research Institute (KRI) has recently carried out a worldwide survey in order to better investigate the subject.

The study, entitled Exploring Leadership and Managerial Effectiveness, involved 29,000 employees across 21 countries and identified ten drivers of effective leadership. These drivers were identified on the basis of the qualities any give follower was expected to find and appreciate the most in a leader.

Global LEI Driver,

1. Elicit trust on the organization leadership,

2. Consider quality and improvement as top priorities,

3. Foster an open two-way communication,

4. Serves the interests of multiple stakeholders,

5. Recognizes employees providing outstanding customer service,

6. Take action on new ideas,

7. Motivates employees to work hard,

8. Has confidence in the organization future,

9. Recognizes productive employees,

10. Evaluates performance fairly.


As part of the research, the KRI created and applied a Leadership Effectiveness Index (LEI), which is comprised of five items:

Vision: Associated with senior management capability to give employees a clear picture of the direction the company is headed;

Ability: Intended as senior management ability to deal with the challenges faced by the business and its employees;

People: Intended as the senior management capability to let employees feel important to the success of the company;

Quality: Senior management is committed to providing high quality products and services to external customers;

Confidence: Based on the employee confidence in their company senior leaders.

Based on these indexes, China and India emerged as the countries where the most effective leaders are geographically located globally. The LEI score recorded by the UK, that is to say 47 percent, accounted for it finishing up in the 17th position over the 21 countries surveyed, a remarkable 25 points behind India, which achieved the score of 72 percent (the global average score was 55 percent).

The study also investigated leadership effectiveness with regard to the different industries, revealing that high-tech manufacturing is the industry which can counts on the most effective leaders; it is followed by banking and financial services, retail, heavy/light manufacturing, healthcare services and government.


In the UK, rather in line with the global results, the most effective leaders are found in the manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors; by contrast, the government and the financial services appear to be the sectors having the less effective leaders.

The KRI also identified five effective leadership macro drivers, based on the survey responses, describing the most inspiring behaviours expected by employees in order to consider their manager’s leadership style effective.

Leadership effectiveness Macro Drivers

Employees describe effective leaders as:

1. Inspiring trust and confidence,

2. Valuing quality and customer service,

3. Open and communicative,

4. Holding a multi-stakeholder perspective,

5. Holding managers accountable to be good managers.

Another interesting part of the study concerns the identification of the Leadership Effectiveness Priorities, which could be considered as somewhat of a framework which takes into account “vulnerability” and “strength” on the one hand and the “less important” and “more important” factors on the other hand.

Table 1
Kenexa also developed the Managerial Effectiveness Index (MEI) which is comprised of five items:
Performance: Overall, I feel that my manager does a good job.
Work Management: My manager does a good job “managing the work”: makes appropriate work assignments, setts priorities, schedules, etc.
Inspiration: My manager is an outstanding leader.
Trust: My manager keeps his/her commitments.
People Management: My manager does a good job in terms of “people management.”
Also in the case of the MEI were identified ten drivers and six global Managerial Effectiveness Macro Drivers.
MEI drivers
1. Employees are treated fairly,
2. Performance is evaluated objectively,
3. Communication is open and two-way,
4. Employee ideas are endorsed,
5. Problems are addressed quickly,
6. Concern is shown for employee well-being,
7. Employees behave consistently with the organizational values,
8. Manager invests in employee development,
9. Recognition is provided,
10. Employees achieve their career goals.
Global Managerial Effectiveness Macro Drivers
Employees describe effective managers as:
– Fair,
– Communicative and involving,
– Problem solvers,
– Providing recognition,
– Employee-oriented,
– Supporting growth and development.
The Managerial Effectiveness Priorities identified by the study are shown in table 2:

Table 2

The findings of the investigation also revealed that the two key priorities for the development of a leader are the need to build trust and the need to be able and willing to engage in an open and honest two-way communication with individuals.


As claimed by the KRI Executive Director, Jack Wiley, some actions and behaviours, such as working ethically and with integrity, are particularly relevant for developing and eliciting leadership trust. “Direct reports need to feel safe enough to tell their leader the truth” so that the types of behaviour such as remaining approachable, being capable to listen and communicate openly are not just desirable, but essential requirements for a genuine leader and a good manager.

It can be maintained that, as suggested by Jack Wiley (2010), “any organisation can ultimately expand its pool of potential leaders by focusing on improving the skills of its managers. Managers should be encouraged to show empathy and to care about the careers of those in their team and their overall well-being.”

The KRI research also showed that leadership effectiveness is positively and significantly related to some important financial performance metrics for organisations such as Diluted Earnings per Share (DEPS) and Total Shareholder Return (TSR). Good and effective leadership also has a positive and substantial impact on employee engagement and on organisational creativity and innovation. “When employees rate their leaders as effective, our study shows that their employee engagement index score is 91 percent, whereas typically it is only 17 percent for employees who view their leaders as neutral or ineffective. In other words, employee engagement levels can be five times higher if your leaders are more effective” (Wiley, 2010).

The importance of good leaders to modern organisations is unquestionable. In contrast, what is debatable is that good and effective leaders could be made from scratch by means of learning programmes. These activities, and coaching in particular, can definitely help managers to understand the remarkable significance of other aspects of their work and prompt these to focus on the paramount importance of these qualities and behaviour. Notwithstanding, it is very unlikely that these programmes could actually genuinely and drastically change the attitudes and behaviour that a person has developed and consolidated throughout his/her life.

In order to achieve this result a longer and more structured and carefully developed plan of action would clearly be necessary. The Art of War is a book that all Chinese students not only read but even study during their education path and, although it is really unlikely that it could explain the good performance of Chinese managers as emerged in the KRI investigation, it should not be neglected that it is likely to make an impact in the personal and professional development of Chinese people.


Leadership is most likely an inborn quality, which in some cases spontaneously grows with the person, whereas in some other cases, although inborn, it might not reveal to be so naturally strong and needs hence to be nurtured throughout. In all of those cases in which there are by no means inborn leadership qualities and traits within an individual, the chances that this might develop effective leadership abilities by exclusively resorting to learning programmes are indeed remote, if any.

Longo, R., (2010), Leadership effectiveness, HR Professionals, Milan [online].