Can Leadership be Measured?

Leadership matters. Any one person may have an effect on the behavior of others at any time. The nature and intent of that effect determines the influence, direction and outcome of leadership. Organizations depend on leadership for direction, momentum and a plan for sustainable success. How do we recognize leadership exists? How do we develop leadership? How can leadership be measured? These are questions this article seeks to explore.

How do we recognize leadership or know that it exists? Generally, leadership is defined by characteristics and results. Yet formal leadership development nearly always focuses exclusively on characteristics, relying on hope that results will ensue. Unfortunately, leadership is seldom really measured beyond an intuitive or anecdotal approach.

For example, a person in a leadership role is deemed “successful.” We want to replicate the leader’s success, so we try to replicate the characteristics, skills, values, competencies, actions and behaviors of the leader. We edify and attempt to emulate these qualities in others, but we seldom get the same results. Corporate America is full of “competency-based” leadership development programs, what one might call the “injection-mold” approach. Competency-based leadership development has an effect on organizational culture, no doubt, but not always the desired effect. Leaders who somehow “measure up” to the desired competencies do not always produce desired results.

Ultimately, producing results is the reason we study leadership, the reason we seek to develop leaders, the very reason we need leaders. So it stands to reason that leadership also has been measured based on the results produced, regardless of how those results were achieved. We need look no further than Richard Nixon or Kenneth Lay to recognize the down side of such one-dimensional measures.

The leader’s role is to establish the conditions (the culture, the environment) under which others can take right action to achieve desired results. “Desired results” are best defined by the vision, mission, values and goals of the team or organization. Therefore, leadership is best measured by the how well followers execute the vision, mission and goals while “living out” the desired values. This leads us to a new premise: that leadership should be measured by the results produced and how they are produced, as so often stated. However, there is a critical third element, that is, by whom are the results produced. If it is the leader that produces the desired results, then this should rightfully be attributed to individual action without any contributing effect from the behavior of others.

There is an obvious link between communication and leadership — the basic reason for communication and for leadership is to prompt some form of behavioral response or action. Leaders must communicate by speaking, listening, reading, writing and action. Leaders produce results and as other authors have stated, “Leaders get results through people.” Follower behavior, not leader behavior, defines leadership. This might lead one to argue, wrongly, that there is little difference between leadership and coercion. Coercion, or creating an environment using fear or incentives as motivational tools, may work temporarily yet is seldom sustainable. Performance declines, conflict ensues or people leave.

Ultimately, the brand of leadership we seek in contemporary life is best defined, developed and measured based on whether intended results are achieved, how they are achieved, the value of these results to others, and whether followers take discretionary action to achieve the leader’s vision, mission and goals. Leadership depends on the achievements of followers. Leadership development must be tied to intended results of those who are lead more than competency sets of those who lead. Evidence of effective leadership can be found in the daily attitudes and habits of followers. Ultimately, leadership can be measured by the achievement of discretionary goals by followers.

Mark A. Sturgell, CBC, is a Certified Business Coach and president of Performance Development Network. Mark helps build the capacity of individuals, teams and organizations ranging from small non-profits to global 100 corporations by helping them achieve the measurable results they really want. Mark helps individuals discover their own potential and achieve more. He helps organizations develop cultures where continuous learning and improvement, higher levels of achievement, standards of excellence and exceeding customer expectations prevail…because organizations don’t fail, people do.

Visit to learn more about how Mark can help you. Typical clients include growth-oriented individuals, domestic and global businesses (or business units), non-profits and government agencies. Services vary depend on customer needs, but generally involve customized solutions, goal achievement and problem-solving strategies that improve management, team, individual or organizational performance.

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