Leadership ability doesn't always correlate with the formal hierarchy. Moreover, top-down leadership appointments can produce unwanted side effects--like too much energy being expended in managing up. The challenge: find and empower the "natural" leaders within your organization. The solution: Develop a dynamic system for measuring an individual’s “natural leadership”—that is, the extent to which their contributions are seen as valuable, both inside and outside of an organization, and publish these results for all to see.
Problem in brief: In most organizations, far too much power (be it control of resources, decision-making authority, access to key information, or ability to reward and sanction other individuals) is linked to positional (rather than earned, or natural) authority, simply because natural leadership has heretofore been a difficult commodity to measure. While a fixed chain of command may be efficient, by reducing the need for consensus-building, it can have some nasty side-effects. Top-down authority structures turn employees into bootlickers, breed pointless struggles for political advantage, and discourage dissent. Their inherent inflexibility can also lead to persistent misalignments between positional power and genuine leadership ability—lags that can ultimately destroy a great organization. Review the medical history of a chronically struggling company—such as Chrysler, Sony or Motorola—and you’ll find a management model that concentrated too much power in the hands of deadwood executives, and awarded too little power to the natural leaders who might have had the energy and vision to set the company on a new course. The need to empower natural leaders isn’t an HR pipedream, it’s a competitive imperative. But before you can empower them, you have to find them. In most companies, the formal hierarchy is a matter of public record—it’s easy to discover who’s in charge of what. By contrast, natural leaders don’t appear on any organization chart.
To identify the natural leaders you need to know . . . Whose advice is sought most often on any particular topic? Who responds most promptly to requests from peers? Whose responses are judged most helpful? Who is most likely to reach across organizational boundaries to aid a colleague? Whose opinions are most valued, internally and externally? Who gets the most kudos from customers? Who’s the most densely connected to other employees? Who’s generating the most buzz outside the company? Who consistently demonstrates real thought leadership? Who seems truly critical to key decisions? A lot of the data you need to answer these questions is lurking in the weeds of your company’s e-mail system, or can be found on the Web. Nevertheless, it will take some creative effort and software tweaks to ferret it out. A few suggestions . . . Establish a directory of key words corresponding to critical skills and competencies within your company, and then see who generates or receives the most e-mails on any particular topic. Add a small box at the end of every incoming e-mail that let’s the recipient grade the sender’s response: was it timely, was it helpful? Analyze internal e-mail flows to see which folks are most likely to respond positively to emails from colleagues in other divisions—who’s collaborating across unit boundaries? Create a system for ranking the frequency and value of each employee’s contributions to internal wikis or communities of practice. Encourage employees to write internal blogs, and to rank posts and comments. Using key words, analyze company emails to see who’s had the most to say about important corporate decisions, and to see how widely those views have been disseminated and discussed. Identify e-mails relating to key projects and then identify the individuals who were the most critical “nodes” in the project team—the folks who seemed to be in the middle of every e-mail exchange. Review incoming emails from customers to determine who’s getting the most requests for help, who’s been most responsive, and who’s receiving the most praise, or give customers the ability to immediately score the email responses they get from company personnel. Use Google Alert, Linked In and other sources to find out which employees are getting quoted most often online, and who’s showing up most often in the press. There are other types of data that might also be useful—but you get the idea. Sure, there are some practical challenges in collecting and analyzing this sorts of data. But ultimately, it should be possible for a company to create a multivariate leadership score for every employee.
The impacts of such a dynamic reputational capital system would be multi-fold – amongst other benefits, such a system would: • Recognize and reward the valuable (but often unheralded) contributions of individuals who are currently handicapped by a lack of positional authority • Provide a behavioral assessment tool for those who possess positional authority, allowing them to determine the extent to which their authority and power stems from their title, rather than the value of their contributions to the organization • Serve as a valuable input to the performance assessment process
• Develop series of communications explaining the concept to the employee base and launch a blog (with initial posting coming from a member of senior leadership) introducing the concept and collecting feedback relative to the concept • Implement a simple e-mail review system (rating the timeliness and helpfulness of email responses); perform sanity check by measuring the relative leadership score earned by known high-performers within the organization.
Thanks to Polly Labarre for some very helpful builds and elaborations!!