Measuring leadership: how can we do it effectively?

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What are the building blocks for confident, focussed and trusted leadership?

This series covers everything you need to know, from identifying and developing leaders, to giving effective feedback and measuring success.

How do you measure leadership?

Analysts may look at purely financial outcomes or the longevity of a company.

Marketeers may instead concentrate on strength of product or on customer satisfaction.

And whilst all of those measures are valid, those who take a holistic view of organisations may also point to the effect which leaders have on people development and on innovation, on affecting the wider marketplace and on society.

Search the web and you’ll find many different ways of looking at leadership effectiveness. In this article we are going to illustrate the importance of measuring leadership by studying one method which has been ‘tried and tested’ by thousands of leaders over a number of years across the globe. 

Making the extraordinary happen

In their book Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner highlight the fact that great results in the marketplace can only come about from making extraordinary things happen within an organisation; and the key to that is leadership.

In fact, an ongoing survey which they conducted revealed that the best leaders bring out two to three times the talents in others compared to the worst leaders. And when you are helping others to that extent to give of their best, then it’s hardly surprising that the organisation flourishes.

Kouzes and Posner’s research into leadership behaviour has been ongoing for more than thirty years. In that time they have collected and analysed tens of thousands of leadership case studies, supported by extensive interviews with numerous leaders. This has enabled them to identify five key practices and thirty behaviours which characterise great leadership.

From their work they have shown that measuring the frequency with which leaders engage in those specific behaviours within the context of the five practices enables individuals to build an understanding of their own leadership strengths and weaknesses.

Whilst a 360° review may initially be seen as a can be a vital aid to leadership development.

Understandably, receiving feedback from peers, direct reports and managers can be a daunting prospect but those who have experienced this sort of review have found that it can act as a powerful and motivational force for future development.

One of the particular strengths of the 360° review is that it not only helps people to see themselves as others see them, it also provides a benchmark against leaders in a range of disciplines across the globe. So whilst a 360° review may initially be seen as a threat, when viewed in its true context as a developmental tool, it can be a vital aid to leadership development.

Why measure leadership

Before we go on it might be worth pausing a moment to reflect on exactly why it is important to measure leadership. There are some who may say that because an individual attains a leadership position based on their existing and proven qualities and abilities, there is no need for ongoing measurement. 

But to say that is to deny the fact that leadership is a journey which requires growth and re-evaluation if it is to continue to deliver excellence.  And never forget that leaders can exist at every level of the organisation, so to deny those starting on their leadership journey the chance to evaluate and improve is effectively to deny them the chance to develop into the great leaders of the future.

Measuring leadership is therefore an important element of leadership growth: helping individuals to understand their strengths and build on them and to know their weaknesses and work out ways to address them. Accurate measurement of leadership behaviour fuels this process and gives the leader the certainty that they are focusing their attention in the right areas.

So what are the five practices and thirty behaviours which characterise great leadership? Well in the interests of brevity, let’s just take a quick look at the five practices:

  • Model the way. Far more than words, modelling the way requires the creation of values and principles and then acting in accordance with those values in order to set an example.
  • Inspire a shared vision. Having a vision is one thing, sharing and inspiring others to work with you to deliver the vision is something else. It requires clarity and engagement, helping others to become involved in the process.
  • Challenge the process. This requires leaders to step away from business as usual and to ask the difficult questions, to be innovative and to be prepared to take risks in order to deliver the future.
  • Enable others to act. No one is an island and any leader who thinks that they can do it all on their own is not a leader. So this practice is about delegation and collaboration, about building trust and ability which will help people to grow.
  • Encourage the heart. Saying thank you, providing positive feedback, helping people to build their own level of self belief all help to engage your employees in the task ahead. And in today’s business climate which increasingly looks to collaboration to build innovative solutions that means not only recognising individual excellence but also recognising and celebrating collective success.

How does it benefit an individual to understand how they measure up against any of these five practices? Quite simply, great leadership starts with self-awareness and when you know what works and what could do with a little improvement, when you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, it is a short step to creating a meaningful and robust plan for future development.

Quite simply, great leadership starts with self-awareness

In fact, provided 360° reviews are conducted on a regular basis, they can also act as a conduit for discussion and ongoing improvement as well as acting as a consistent measure of improvement.

It’s said that leadership is a lonely position but in truth leaders at any level of an organisation sit in the middle of a web of interconnectedness; affecting and being affected by those around them. 360 reviews not only reflect that interconnectedness but also enable individuals to benefit from combined wisdom of the wider business community.

About Helen Green

Helen Green

Helen is a collaborator, a deadline demon and a diplomat.  She is often described by her colleagues and clients as the glue in their projects.  She can be contacted via or E-mail: [email protected].

After a degree in Hotel & Catering Management at Surrey University, she worked for 10 years with Whitbread, Bass and the Forte Group, gaining broad business experience in operations, communications, senior management and franchising.  This eclectic experience reinforced Helen’s belief in the untapped potential in people and the importance of strong values in business and has formed the foundations of her subsequent career.

Helen worked for 10 years in business consulting with Tom Peters Company, as senior consultant and Partner, before co-founding Quest Leadership in 2007.

During her consulting career, Helen has worked at all levels, with individuals and teams, to initiate and facilitate personal development.  Recent clients include: LSG Skychefs, Aim Aviation, Leica Geosystems, Texas Instruments, EnOcean, Gripple Ltd..

Helen’s competitive streak has driven her to compete at county level in badminton, and squash and equestrian eventing. Helen’s non-work interests centre on family, friends, cooking and sport.


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27th Sep 2016 13:08

Helen - very helpful. I particularly like the Kouzes & Posner LPI in that it measures the PERCEIVED frequency with which observers report the various leadership behaviours. This is exactly what leaders need to understand in order to do a better job of leading. Self leadership evaluation gives little useful information. What is vital to understand is how people are receiving my behaviour.

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to Chris Nel
07th Oct 2016 10:43

Thanks for your comment Chris, yes we find that leaders really engage positively with the practical business application of LPI in their leadership journey.

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28th Sep 2016 10:49

A good, practical reminder of the basics of leadership Helen, and as you say, these are applicable at all levels of an organisation. I have to wonder how you feel about the stock image that was chosen for the headline - doesn't it rather suggest that leadership is something done primarily by white men in suits?

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to Jim Butler
28th Sep 2016 11:40

It's a good point Jim - we do try and be mindful of images we use to reflect a balance and not just play up to stereotypes (which can sometimes be difficult when looking in stock image libraries!), in this case we chose the above image based more on the 'measuring' reference, but it's a good reminder for us to be aware of how our audience will interpret these header images.

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28th Sep 2016 11:55

This is all good stuff. It is limited, in my view, by being locked in the control and command paradigm in which there are leaders and followers. An alternative perspective sees everyone as having leadership work. Those principles and behaviours apply to us all and to all our colleagues.

Kouzes & Posner is good but just try re-framing their work in a paradigm of self-directing teams and you will find new freedom. When we encourage everyone to play their leadership roles, rather than waiting to be led, we release creative energy, increase self-worth, free people from the fear of freedom.

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28th Sep 2016 20:40

Very hard to measure those 5 things even though they are very traditional. I have a 10 question test. For each, rank a manager (or yourself) on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best or almost always performs the action and 1 being the worst or almost never performs the action. Add up the points for each question to see the performance range. Again, think carefully about what is being described. Do you really know the answer and why that is the right answer? If not, then it is necessary to learn the right answers and why they are right from the author’s website or some other expert source.

Does the manager…

1. Provide regular and frequent opportunities (at least weekly) for people they manage to voice complaints, suggestions and questions; provide reasonable and timely responses to the satisfaction of their people; and provide the support their people say they need to do a better job?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. Elicit answers and responses from their team and cause each person to use their brainpower to solve problems?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3. Listen to employees with 100% of their attention without distraction, without trying to figure out a response and with the use of follow-up questions to obtain missing details and suggested fixes?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

4. Refrain from giving orders to the maximum extent possible?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

5. Exhibit a high standard of humility, respect, responsiveness, forthrightness, trust, admission of error, etc. when dealing with employees? (The standard must be higher than the standard expected of employees in their dealings with customers and each other).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

6. Publicly recognize employees for their contributions and high performance and not take credit for himself or herself?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

7. Openly provide all information about the company to employees to the extent they need or desire it?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

8. Use values to a high standard in order to explain why certain actions are better than others?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

9. Use smiles and good humor with subordinates and not frowns or a blank face?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

10. Generate in employees a sense of ownership of their work? In terms of evaluating a sense of ownership: Think about how many people in the group innovate, try to do something differently to change the outcome for the better, are always trying to improve the end product and to do more for the customer, etc? Are the people on the team, the ones being managed, being proactive or only reactive?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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