This is a fascinating, often-asked question in part because many people incorrectly think the characteristics of high performing leaders and managers do differ by industry. However, upon closer, more careful examination, leadership and management experts as well as role performance studies have shown that what IS required as a threshold requirement for success in more specialized or complex fields is a foundational level of competency in that field. For instance, my colleague, Dr. Drea Zigarmi, points out that both a lack of knowledge and their lack of adaptability contributed to the downfall of both Carly Fiorina at Hewlett Packard and John Sculley at Apple Computer. It is also important to note that an exceptional level of competency in one’s field is required for “expertise-based leadership” roles such as an actor, athlete, artist, scientist, or physician where expert knowledge, skills, and experience are necessary. Gardner refers to this as a specific “domain” of intelligence required to be viewed as a “leader”, or what we might also refer to as a recognized “star performer” or celebrity in their field.
What varies among effective leaders and managers are those attitudes and practices required to be effective across the range of situations an organization experiences. For instance, research by Dr. Zigarmi and others has shown that this varies based upon the leadership or management context. For example, I’ve seen many individuals succeed at managing individuals while struggling with the different practices needed to lead a team, and I’ve also seen others vary significantly at leading an organization.
This is consistent with what has been referred to in the past as the “Peter Principle.” This term refers to individuals promoted beyond their level of readiness for success in a role at a different level versus the previous less significant or complex one they held. At the same level, leaders and managers often vary in terms of their effectiveness at handling more favorable versus unfavorable situations based on determinants such as their personal work style pattern. For example, whether they are more direct versus indirect when responding to people or situations and whether they are more likely to provide effective direction versus support for others.
One other important context related to a leader or manager’s effectiveness involves their organization’s stage of business development regardless of industry. Formal research studies of organizations by individuals such as Lawrence Greiner at Harvard University validate this conclusion. My colleagues at Spader Business Management have also verified this based on their decades of work with organizations across a variety of industries. This includes analysis of financial performance and related consulting, coaching using proven leadership and management practices to increase business survival and success rates. Suffice it to say when an organization is at an early phase of development it requires different leadership and management practices than when it developed to another plateau. This is because at different plateaus, both the key internal and external economic and human issues facing organizations change, so what worked well at the previous plateau will not work as well at the next one!
Dr. Michael O’Connor is a recognized thought leader, executive coach and founder of Life Associates & The Center For Managing By Values. Michael is the co-author of "Managing By Values," and offers executive consulting services to assist in implementing the Managing By Values and other processes geared toward fulfilling the highest potential of individuals, workgroups, teams and organizations. He is also co-author of several other books including "The Leader Within," and “Stepping Stones To Success” with Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Denis Waitley (2010, Insight Publishing), the Personal Global Profiles System (‘GPS’) Online Resource for Assessment and Development, and more. For additional information visit www.lifeassociatesinc.com.