True leadership often comes from people with personal power, regardless of whether they have positional authority . This hack proposes a dynamic system for measuring an individual’s “natural leadership,” -- 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. This hack borrows concepts from the popular reputational capital sites like Klout.com and Peerindex.com, the Net Promoter methodology, as well as from Gary Hamel’s ideas of how to identify natural leaders . In addition to providing insight into who an organization’s natural leaders are, such a system can provide motivation for employees to make more valuable contributions.
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 personal, or natural) authority. While the formal hierarchy can be a matter of public record (i.e., it’s easy to discover who’s in charge of what and who reports to who), natural leaders don’t appear on any organization chart. Also missing from the org chart are the complexities introduced by matrix management, as well the informal hierarchy based on seniority or accolades. Many contributions may go unnoticed, get diluted by the management hierarchy, or get lost or miscredited along the way. Such factors can be demotivating for would-be natural leaders, contributing to an environment where individual contributors don’t see the connection between their work and the ultimate success of the organization. Misunderstandings could develop over the value provided by people with positional authority, dotted line authority, or seniority versus the people in their organizations who may be contributing the most innovative ideas and meaningful work.
There are several ways in which an organization could develop a leadership meter. In this section we outline some of the key design decisions and perspectives for each. In the experimental section below we provide a specific approach that could be serve as a quick and and inexpensive experiment.
1. What is the system measuring?
Determining natural leaders requires an attempt to measure influence -- the scope, scale and impact of peoples’ ideas and actions on each other. How wide and deep does a given person’s influence extend both within the organization and beyond its borders in the industry?
We’ve listed some example measurable characteristics that illustrate influence in three primary categories:
- Natural authority (their expertise and the value others place in that expertise)
- Actions and outcomes (the things a person does that lead to significant positive outcomes)
- Audience (who a person reaches through their authority and activities).
The list below can be used as is, modified to suit, or replaced by a different framework altogether. It may also be helpful to look at a collection of personality traits that are most valued in your organization. For example, passion, humor, empathy, maturity, patience, wisdom, trustworthiness, and creativity. These probably vary from organization to organization (or within different parts of a given organization). Whatever system is employed, it should be relatively simple and straightforward.
- Whose advice is sought most often on any particular topic?
- Who gets the most kudos from customers and employees?
- Who is the most responsive to feedback, using it as a driver for iteration and improvement?
- Whose opinions are most valued, internally and externally?
- Whose responses are judged most helpful?
- Who seems truly critical to key decisions?
Actions and Outcomes
- Who responds most promptly and effectively to requests from peers?
- Who is most likely to reach across organizational boundaries to aid a colleague or solve a complex problem?
- Who consistently demonstrates real thought leadership by championing ideas and initiatives to fruition?
- Who is proactively seeking to solve organizational problems or make improvements to processes and procedures?
- Who consistently demonstrates a willingness to take on personal responsibility?
- Who’s seems to know or is known by the most other employees or customers?
- Who’s generating the most buzz outside the company?
- Who speaks at industry conferences?
- Who keeps a blog or active twitter feed of industry-related topics?
2. How are these characteristics measured?
Natural leadership attributes can be measured in several ways, with varying degrees of complexity.
- Use simple and repeatable systems, such as a survey tool where peers respond to questions about the people they are working on a weekly basis, peer recognition programs, and external systems (such as a person’s Klout score). Simple psychological profiling tools can also help determine natural leadership traits (such as DiSC or Myers Briggs). A survey could be based on an aggregate methodology such as Net Promoter, or a more transactional approach such as a customer satisfaction survey.
- Use social network analysis applications or techniques to discover patterns of communication and degrees of influence. Such analysis can be made with software tools for digital communication or more complex, multi-faceted survey and analysis methods. For a real-world case study on this, please see this inspiring story from Whirlpool: http://www.managementexchange.com/story/social-networks-talent-identific...
- If your company has adopted or is able to adopt a collaboration tool or internal social network, such a system could be used to track things like who is asked large numbers of questions, or who initiates conversations and ideas.
- Text analytics software can be used to monitor existing work tools (such as email, instant message and intranet systems) to measure patterns that can help determine the relative influence level of different people in an organization
The table below illustrates some examples of how some of the above attributes might be measured.
|Whose advice is sought most often on any particular topic?||
|Who gets the most kudos from customers or other employees?||
|Who responds most promptly to requests from peers?||
|Who’s the most densely connected to other employees?||
|Who’s generating the most buzz outside the company?||
3. How are the results aggregated and summarized?
Summarizing the results to produce a tangible “score” or list of most natural leaders can be done in a variety of ways, ranging in complexity, depending on what measures are being used and how they are collected. We list some examples below, but we don’t have the perfect solution (suffice to say, a perfect solution may not exist).
- Create a “score” using the principles of the Net Promoter methodology, where positive results (“promoters”) are balanced by subtracting negative results (“detractors”), to present an aggregate indicator .
- Develop an algorithm that weighs different measures to calculate an overall score or rank. Such systems can be quite complex and can be found in use in social networking ranking sites such as Peer Index and Klout, as well as some collaboration software solutions such as Lithium.
- Use a simpler “point” system by assigning a point value to different activities being measured, and then develop a reputation model based on total score. This kind of system is routinely used in “community” applications such as web forums and question/answer sites like stackoverflow.com or Quora. Unfortunately, these systems are easy to game and don’t present a balanced picture.
- Use a more qualitative system based on peer surveys and recognition programs
- Create a competency profile for characteristics that the organization values and seeks in leaders, such as a four quadrant model based on thought leadership and action leadership, and then use measure results to place individuals in this quadrant model.
4. Is the algorithm public/private? How often is it refreshed?
Whether to expose the details of the algorithm depends on the culture of an organization, the scope of deployment of the system, and the relative confidence that the system carries. On first consideration, it may seem that publishing the algorithm or developing it transparently could encourage “gaming” of the system. However, exposing the details could have a significant impact on people’s confidence in the system and willingness to accept its results. In addition, exposing the details of the how the score is calculated could encourage others to contribute ideas for how to improve and expand upon the concept. Transparency is a hallmark of Management 2.0 and the importance of openness of any kind of evaluation system should not be taken lightly.
A note of caution - measuring behavior and making judgements or drawing conclusions from that measurement is inherently problematic. Human instinct can lead even well meaning people to “game” metrics if they feel they are advantaged by doing so or disadvantaged by not. It may be helpful to take a nuanced approach to measures, balancing positive traits with negative ones.
A properly-implemented “leader meter” would:
- Help discover contributions that traditional management may not see until a natural leader switches roles or leaves the company and their absence reveals the significance of their work
- Help recognize and reward the valuable (but often unheralded) contributions of individuals who are currently handicapped by a lack of positional authority
- Provide intrinsic motivation for people to share ideas, help each other, and deliver positive outcomes. When people can see their influence and know they are recognized for their contributions, they are more likely to enthusiastically make contributions.
- 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
- Provide reinforcement and support for the intrinsic motivation of natural leaders
- Provide a mechanism to understand who the natural leaders are, for succession planning, career development, or strategic planning
Here’s a “quick and dirty” experiment one could implement in a portion of an organization, which can be implemented with relatively few resources and independently of specific technology platforms. It also requires a small time investment by those participating. The experiment is inspired by how WL Gore conducts the people review and compensation process. The core hypothesis guiding this experiment: there is often a discrepancy between who’s a “formal” leader occupying a position of authority and a “natural” leaders (i.e., someone others want to follow). This experiment can be implemented in 30 days or less.
1. Pick a specific unit with ideally 100 or more members--this will be the “experimental group”
2. All members of the experimental group are asked to fill out a simple survey where they:
- Indicate fellow group members to whom they have been exposed (i.e., they have worked together or have been influenced by) over the last 12 months. The exposure list should have a minimum of 10 names, and ideally 15 or more (to avoid gaming and the focus on the “usual suspects” who are in the direct chain of command)
- Each person filling out the survey force ranks those on his/her exposure list. Ranking is based on the respondent’s assessment of the extent to which each colleague has added value to the company over the last 12 months (1=most value; 10=least value)
3. The natural leadership score is compiled for each person by taking the average of the forced rankings result for him/her (the lower the score, the better). The fact that some respondents will indicate more than 10 names of the exposure means that overall scores won’t be weighted uniformly (i.e., being 15th on a 15-person exposure list is worse than being 10th on a 10-person list), but the result should be directionally correct and suitable for the purposes of this experiment (one could compare results against an alternative leadership score, which truncates the lowest score to the minimum number of exposures--in this case, 10).
4. Results are compared with “official” performance reviews and titles. In effect, the unit’s org chart is the control group for this experiment, and helps provide the measurement of the experiment’s impact.
5. Results are not widely published, but each person taking the survey receives his/her leadership score. Results are also used for developmental purposes (i.e., helping someone who is a formal leader but has low natural leadership scores; giving more formal leadership opportunities to someone who has emerged as a natural leader).
 For a discussion on the difference between “authority” and “leadership”, see: http://www.managementstudyguide.com/authority-and-leadership.htm
 For Gary Hamel’s original hack, see: http://www.managementexchange.com/content/leader-meter-finding-natural-leaders
 For details on Net Promoter, see http://www.netpromoter.com/np/calculate.jsp