A Penny for Your Thoughts
I am a fan of the principles that underlie the game of duplicate bridge. The players rotate between each table and are given the opportunity to compete with others playing the identical cards. By scoring relative performance, the element of skill is enhanced while the element of chance is reduced. In the end, the person who plays the hands best wins. Head-to-head competition - no hints, no gimmicks, no cheats.
In the realm of leadership, one of the most important challenges is creating an effective team. This challenge applies to groups large and small, temporary and permanent. This challenge further extends to the selection of individuals for positions where success relies on effective leadership. We often think that evidence of possessing an extensive set of leadership skills and competencies, even if merely anecdotal, provides sufficient basis for selection. But does this approach deliver the desired result or just a defensible process? Do the individuals who meet these criteria really make more effective leaders?
At their very best, organizations select candidates - whether for hire, transfer, promotion, or assignment - based upon their knowledge and their demonstrated ability to appropriately apply what they know. Hence, the value proposition for professional development, continuing education, and certifications which intend to "document" the growth of that knowledge. The thinking is the more you know, the more resources and tools you have to choose from, and as a result, the higher the probability that you will have what you need when you need it.
While merely having a variety of tools does not guarantee an equal level of competence in using each, a lack of tools or a lack of knowledge is an obvious limitation. Remember the old adage, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, pretty soon everything looks like a nail." In large part, this is the rationale that compels so many people to seek further education and certifications in leadership, and why such credentials are sought by a preponderance of staffing professionals.
There is also the factor of managing risk when trying to develop an effective team. If you have been a part of the hiring process – especially one targeting leadership capability - it is fair to say that the selection process for these roles is not a well-defined science. Having something tangible like a degree or professional certification can be beneficial, but neither guarantee success. Selection based on credentials, however, can appear to be the safe choice that provides some defensible refuge should the hire not work out. "I am surprised; he/she had the credentials and experience indicating they should have been able to meet performance expectations." Translated: "It's not my fault so you can't hold me accountable."
In the end, it is not about the number of tools an individual possesses, regardless how impressively documented they might be. Rather, it is matching the leadership needs of the group to the leadership skills needed to achieve the desired outcomes and the willingness to apply them.
My two cents...
Jeffrey G. Soper, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the International Strategic Business Partner Institute (ISBPI) headquartered in Tampa, Florida. As a seasoned corporate warrior, author, facilitator, and coach, Jeff's professional focus is on improving both individual and organizational performance through developing leadership and liberating creativity. This blog contains excerpts from Jeff's latest book Problem Solving Leadership, which is soon to be released.