Leadership & Professional Development

The case for measuring leadership growth across 9 dimensions

December 10, 2019 4:07 pm

Many believe leadership improvement is not something that can be measured quantifiably. You may have heard leadership experts describe the efficacy of the leadership development training they provide by claiming, “We can tell” or the dreaded, “We believe it worked.”

With the right tool, in fact, leadership growth can be quantified — if you know what to measure. I like to consider these nine dimensions of leadership:

  1. Humility
  2. Empathy
  3. Vision
  4. Risk-Taking
  5. Assessing
  6. Visioning
  7. Living
  8. Reflecting
  9. Coaching

These dimensions can be divided into two categories: the potential for leadership (Dimensions 1-4) and the practice of leadership (Dimensions 5-9).

The potential for leadership

Leadership potential is determined by innate qualities. These qualities can be improved with training, but a solid base must exist for leaders to reach their potential.

The designation of the four innate qualities of humility, empathy, vision and risk-taking is based on extensive research from multiple sources. Leadership potential improves through increased awareness of these qualities and a better understanding of how they can be used in daily practice.

Humility is the recognition of one’s own standing. Sometimes known as modesty, it is the self-awareness that you are no better than the person next to you or across from you. Humble people make everyone feel special.

Empathy is the ability to identify with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of others. It is not the same as sympathy, which implies feeling sorry for someone. It involves knowing people and knowing about the people you work with, especially your direct reports.

Vision is being able to see things others can’t yet see. People with vision sometimes see the endgame before it even begins. The challenge is getting others to see the vision and gaining buy-in.

Risk-taking is built in to becoming a leader. The leader must be prepared for several types of risk, including reputation risk, career risk, interpersonal risk and financial risk.

The practice of leadership

The five other dimensions can be used to evaluate the practice of leadership.

Assessing is the most important step in practicing leadership because it allows leaders to understand who they are as people and as leaders. After all, if you don’t know yourself, how can you expect to lead others? This step is essential to creating a personalized leadership vision or philosophy.

Visioning helps leaders take the abilities they identify in their self-assessment and apply them to create a personalized leadership vision or philosophy. The vision should be actionable and measurable.

Living is the process by which leaders determine how they will execute and communicate their leadership vision. This is probably the most challenging of the five dimensions of leadership practice because it requires leaders to implement their leadership vision every hour of every day. Tools that help leaders “live” their vision include communication, motivation, observation, empathy, storytelling and social leadership.

Reflecting on leadership should involve keeping a regular journal to document leadership encounters or opportunities experienced during the reflection period. Setting aside just 15 minutes a day can help leaders prioritize, prepare and build a stronger team, along with efficiently allocating resources.

Coaching involves ensuring leaders have sufficient feedback on implementing their leadership plan. Coaching benefits leaders by providing an outside perspective on the leadership encounters they face.

Leadership practice improves only through incorporating these dimensions into routines. Leaders should practice leadership by following a “learn, practice and review” process every day. Improvement will not occur using a “one and done” approach where an individual takes a course, goes back to work and does not follow up.

This is the same foundation as in the Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle, which dates to 1984. Each stage in the process or cycle is mutually supportive of and feeds into the next. All stages must be executed for effective learning and adaptation.

Measuring leadership growth

With a well-designed leadership development program and well-defined measurement criteria, measuring and tracking leadership growth is feasible. A baseline is established for each leader using a scoring methodology, with participants monitored over time to measure their leadership growth.

When used in conjunction with other forms of personnel evaluation, this approach can help organizations determine where they should allocate their leadership development resources and monitor the effectiveness of those programs.


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