If You Want To Make Dotted Line Reporting Work, You Need To Do 3 Things

Effective leadership is easier said than done at the best of times. Leading with legitimacy is not necessarily difficult (it’s a simple matter of choosing giving over taking really), but it is certainly hard. When it comes to leading, knowing and doing are not the same thing.

However, when you introduce dotted lines, what started out as simple to understand but hard to do, becomes complicated to understand, and therefore even harder to do. It’s why matrix structures and project environments are so often fraught with leadership challenges. And it’s why, if you have dotted reporting lines in your business, it’s so important that you do the following three things …

1.  FACE THE RIGHT WAY

Try asking an employed person who they work for, and they’ll almost always give you one of two answers. They’ll either name their company or they’ll name their boss (manager). It is an accurate reflection of the way things currently are. The vast majority of people are serving up the line, not down it. Yet leadership does not have to be about service to company targets and our managers’ whims. In fact, legitimate leaders invert this line of service – legitimate leaders are first and foremost there for their people, not their bosses. They face down the line, not up it.

This principle is best explained through an example. I was contacted one day by a Safety Manager from a remote site in a manufacturing organisation. She had a problem. A new Safety Executive had recently been employed and she now had two reporting lines: one to her Factory Manager, and one to the new Safety Executive.

Since the appointment, she had started to struggle to get around to doing everything that was expected of her. By her own admission she was failing, and that view was shared by both senior managers.

The specific question she called me to ask was: “I am getting conflicting instructions, who should I listen to?”. And therein lies the problem. She suddenly had two bosses, and evidently both of them thought her job was to do what they said. The fact that they didn’t ever talk to each other, and she had too much work, was glossed over by them. She was there to follow instructions, and if she couldn’t cope, then she should “manage up the line”. Which is exactly what neither of them would let her do because each had his own targets to meet.

But she wasn’t off the hook either. If she’d been facing the right way, she would have stopped worrying so much about them and done her job. I shared this insight with her, and a new problem emerged: it wasn’t obvious to her what her job was, if not serving her two masters

2.  UNDERSTAND THE VALUE THE INDIVIDUAL IS SUPPOSED TO DELIVER – BOTH WHAT AND WHY

In our work, we are frequently told that “these days” people don’t take initiative. There are two reasons for this: 1) It’s easier to wait for instructions – especially if it’s what we’ve become accustomed to doing, and 2) we’ve been facing up the line for so long we’ve lost sight of what initiative we were supposed to be taking in the first place.

The real reason we employ Safety Managers is not so that Safety Executives and Factory Managers have people to boss around – it is to lead safety on site (specifically, to lead teams which in turn create safe working practices and environments). Once we understand that, the question “Who should I listen to?” becomes easy to answer: follow whichever instruction is most likely to lead to a positive outcome for safety on site.

Once we understand why we have a Safety Manager in the first place, the final critical step follows.

3.  AGREE AND IMPLEMENT SPECIFIC LEADERSHIP ACCOUNTABILITIES FOR EACH OF THE DUAL LINES

As with so many situations, clarity here is more important than correctness. Incorrectness shows up and can be corrected. Lack of clarity sows confusion, unhappiness, point solutions, unfairness, and ultimately more confusion.

This is not to say that significant thought shouldn’t go into deciding which leader is accountable for what. Start by asking why we have a dotted line reporting structure in the first place. Answers could be eg: “Because we have shared expertise in the Executive Team”, or “Because we need the flexibility of people being able to move between projects”.

There is no one rule here, but the answer will give some direction.

If the primary purpose of dotted lines is expertise sharing, then consider dividing leadership accountabilities along the lines of day-to-day leadership (managing workload, leave, appraisals, etc), and building expertise through coaching and standards setting.

If the purpose is to enable flexibility while building meaningful longer-term relationships, then consider dividing accountabilities between short term (day-to-day) and long term (career).

Whichever way you decide to divide accountabilities, make sure that it is clearly understood, communicated, and implemented by all parties.

Dotted reporting lines can be difficult and risky, but there can also be significant rewards for both individuals and the business.

We simply need to ensure that 1) leaders are facing the right way 2) that individuals have a clear understanding of the value they are expected to deliver, and 3) that leaders coordinate among themselves and don’t abdicate this responsibility to the often-unrealistic expectation that it is up to others to manage them “up the line”.

Failing the Intent Test Doesn’t Just Erode Trust, It Contributes to Employee Mediocrity

In a previous newsletter I wrote about how “passing the intent test” is an everyday opportunity. We often find ourselves in conversations with clients around this issue – in particular when discussing the very difficult question of continually trying to balance care and accountability. Managers often see this balance as something that cannot be sustained – either the manager displays care, or the manager gives accountability, and that these two acts are at opposite ends of a spectrum. When our need to “care” about our people becomes an excuse to expect less than the best from them, we run the risk of tolerating, or even encouraging, employee mediocrity.

To enable excellence in people, Care and Accountability are two complimentary ideas that must be held in the hand simultaneously, and it is precisely because we care that we give appropriate accountability.

Over the past few months I have had several managers put variations of the same problem on the table for discussion during our coaching reviews that illustrate this point.

The problem goes something like this: “I have a problem: one of my people has been with us for a while. He has generally been a good employee and a valuable contributor over several years. Lately, I’ve noticed that both his motivation at work has begun to erode, and his performance is just not what it was. It is ok, but not great. The bigger problem however is that I think he has reached his potential in the current job, and there isn’t any room for him to grow further, though he would like to. I want to help him, but am just not sure what to do.”

What the manager is grappling with is this: she does care about the person, but perhaps also believes that the situation the employee finds himself in is not of his making, and that he is also therefore not accountable for himself. She therefore concludes that the right thing to do therefore, is to be understanding.

Our aim, however, is an excellence person, and an excellence person is one who has the capacity to make his contribution the priority, regardless of the situation he finds himself in. Understanding or sympathy may be appropriate, but not at the expense of cultivating accountability. The Legitimate Leadership view is that the kind of help the person really needs is to be confronted with the situation in which he finds himself, so that he is enabled to make a decision about what to do about it.

The barrier to doing this most often lies with the manager, and her reasons for not doing so usually fall into one of three categories:

  • I’m afraid our relationship won’t survive the conversation.
  • I’m afraid I will de-motivate him even further and his performance will get even worse.
  • I’m afraid he will leave.

All of these issues are about the manager’s intent, and not only do they have little to do with the employee, they are also not helpful to the employee.

In acting (or in this case, not acting) on the basis of these three reasons, we fail the intent test. This failure is evidenced later on, when performance or motivation is so poor the manager has no choice but to discipline the person, or when the lack of career growth options force a conversation about redundancy. The employee then often asks: “How long has this been an issue? Why haven’t you said anything before?” The employee is really asking: “Why didn’t you do the right thing, and just tell me?”

When we confront people in situations like those described here, we do so to help them face the situation they are in, and in doing so empower them to make a choice to do something about it. This is done precisely because we care. This act empowers employees to be their best. The opposite allows and tolerates mediocrity.

This is benevolence in the heart, but steel in the hand.

Personal Significance And Where It Fits Into The Workplace

Some people understand personal significance; many do not. As part of our work, Legitimate Leadership consultants ask people to identify and reflect on the person they most admire. Let me ask you to do the same.

From the answer to this question, two observations emerge.

First, even in South Africa, Nelson Mandela does not emerge as the most often-cited hero. The person identified most often, our personal “Person Of My Lifetime”, is “My Mum” (sorry dads, collectively we’re just too frequently absent).

Second, and perhaps more interestingly, are the reasons we find these exceptional individuals – whether My Mum, My First Boss or Nelson Mandela – so admirable, compelling and significant.

She sacrificed everything so that I could go to school, and never asked anything in return.

He taught me that I could achieve anything, provided I never gave up.

He got me through matric, even when everyone else had given up on me.

He showed a whole nation how to rise above hatred.

Or (in my hero’s case) he invented the world wide web.

What do all of these reasons have in common? Each describes someone who has sacrificed, taught, guided, role-modelled. In short, someone who has given; who has made a meaningful contribution.

Popular culture is apparently actively trying to turn this on its head. Magazines, internet sites and television marketing indicate that significance is all about fame, status and accumulation.

But is that real significance? Will your children love you more if you drive a Bentley? Do you worry about whether that teacher who got you through school lives in a big fancy house? Do you admire your colleagues more if they go on expensive holidays?

The simple answer is “no”. It’s not that people who drive Bentleys have children who love them less, it’s simply that it literally doesn’t matter. Once we have broken through the veneer created by consumerism and clever marketing, what people have or don’t have simply doesn’t cause them to be significant or not. Why? Because true significance has nothing to do with what you have got, and everything to do with what you have given, what you are giving, and what you will give in the future.

What does this mean in the workplace?

In the first place, giving at work means doing the tasks that make up your job well – doing “a good job”.

So, can doing a good job make you significant? Yes, somewhat, but not fully. If that is what you’re aiming for, then I believe you’re selling yourself short.

We think of significance as it relates to five forms of giving.

Task Excellence

Task Excellence is about executing the core parts of your job – the tasks you are paid to do – really, really well. Not just trying hard, but aiming to be the very best at what you do. If you’re an accountant, this would mean never (or barely ever) making mistakes in the accounts; if you’re in production, exceeding your quality and production targets every time.

Passion

Passion is contagious. Someone recently told me about his son’s love of football. I asked him why his son was so committed to the beautiful game. After some thought, he said: “Probably because I am so passionate about football!”. It’s the same at work. If you are passionate about what you do, those around you can be influenced to join you with their passion. If you are positively influencing those around you to be more committed and passionate, then that is significant.

Challenging The Status Quo

Challenging the status quo – the way things are – is something every one of us is capable of. Challenging the status quo is not only for researchers or senior managers. Each of us can challenge ourselves to be better, we can challenge the way things are done, we can challenge the processes that we execute, we can challenge the rules that we follow, we can even challenge the fundamental “why” behind things that we simply take for granted. Sales people can challenge commercial models; lab technicians can improve processes and procedures; HR practitioners can constantly look for new models of learning and behaviour to help people perform better. Some call it innovation, some call it continuous improvement. We all have an obligation to do it.

Purpose

Each one of us has a purpose – a reason(s) for being. We become truly significant when our purpose aligns with our workplace/company’s purpose. It’s the reason that the company’s values are so important, so valued and should be so prominently displayed. Significance comes from having purpose – and again, each one of us is able to achieve significance by pursuing something greater than ourselves.

Service

Finally, we become significant through serving others: our customers, our managers, our reports, our colleagues, and the community within which we operate. Service simply requires that we suspend our own self-interest in the interests of supporting and enabling others. Ultimately it is in serving others that we grow. And they grow. And collectively we enable significance for the whole.

In summary, significance isn’t the preserve of the rich and famous. It is within the reach of each person who is part of the team. Significance simply requires that we do the best we can at our jobs, we pursue even mundane tasks with the passion of an Olympic athlete, we challenge everything (without being obstructive, of course!), we align our personal purpose with the company’s purpose, and we arrive at work every day with the intent to add value to someone else’s day!

January 2021 – Question of the Month

Question of the Month:  I believe a lot of the reason we fall into the traditional way of working is that we have been institutionalised as a society, taught to fear and obey authority (rather than see it as an enabler), and we sit within a hierarchy from school age (learnt behaviours). But I sense a change in this with each generation. Is the framework easier to apply in organisations with a higher ratio of younger people?

Answer: In one sense, once people are adults, intent is not a function of age. There are “givers” at work from the beginning of their careers and “takers” who have entirely been there to take. What Legitimate Leadership tries to do over time is change the ratio of “takers” to “givers” at work. There is a view that in fact the change is harder to effect with so called millennials. The view is that both parents and teachers are not doing as good a job as before at care and growth. Hence millennials enter the workplace entitled, expecting instant rewards. In the words of Simon Sinek this leaves managers to do the “parenting” that should have been done before they entered the workplace. It is an issue worthy of debate.

What Projects Really Need Are Better Project Leaders, Not Better Project Managers

When you ask the average Project Manager what he or she is accountable for, the answer is usually: successful project results! In project-speak this means managing and controlling the constraints of time, cost and quality in delivering the scope of the project required by the customer.

The problem is that in any standard list of what a project manager should do well, all of the items on the list are about “management” – none of them are about “leadership”.

Typically, such a list would look something like this:

  • Manage and control project budgets.
  • Create and control project schedules.
  • Monitor and control change to the project’s scope.
  • Manage and monitor project risk, and put contingencies in place.
  • Apply corrective actions to bring performance in line with expectations.
  • Control and resolve problems.
  • Keep accurate project records.
  • Report on project progress regularly.
  • Make optimal use of project resources.
  • Communicate regularly with project stakeholders.
  • Put in place sound project governance practices.

Anyone with experience in managing projects would agree with the above list, and probably would give it no more than a second’s thought other than that “all the items on the list are a given”.

That we as project managers take the above list for granted is precisely the problem, and indicative of a critical ingredient missing in making more projects successful, more of the time. As said, all of the items on the list are about “management”; none are about “leadership”!

The emphasis in the project world is on control. The accepted view is that poorly controlled projects cost more money than budgeted, take more time than needed and often don’t meet the customer’s performance expectations. The evidence to support this view abounds – study after study has been done to account for project failure, and the fix that is usually recommended relates to creating increasingly sophisticated project controls, and to developing project managers’ ability to implement and work with these controls effectively. So much so, that effective project “control” tends to become an end in itself (the famed Prince2 Methodology stands for “Project in Controlled Environments”!).

All of this focuses the motive of the project manager squarely on what he or she needs to do to get results out of the project team and to deliver those results to the customer. In many project environments, the people who are allocated to work on projects are referred to as the “project resources” – the implication being that, like material resources, they are used as a means to an end – namely, a successful project result.

All of the items on the aforementioned list are activities concerned with managing and controlling people in order to get the best out of them in the interests of a successful project.

Unfortunately, project controls, tools and techniques do not deliver successful projects. Only people are able to do that (a common jest among project managers is that projects would indeed be simple if not for the people!).

It is therefore clear that the commitment of people to contribute willingly toward the project is a critical component of project success. Unfortunately, creating an experience for project participants in which they feel taken from causes them to withdraw their trust, loyalty and willingness to work for the project manager – they only work because they have to. In the absence of real willingness, the only option left to the project manager to get more out of his or her project team is to use more control.

The Legitimate Leadership Model argues that in order to solicit a willing contribution from people, those in authority need to shift their intent from being concerned with what they can get from their people, to what they can give to them. This is the only way to cultivate loyalty, trust and ultimately willingness in people.

For project “managers”, this means shifting focus from what they need to do in order to get the best out of a project team, to what they can give the project team in order to enable them to give their best. A step further, is to shift the project “manager’s” attention from how he can use the project team to deliver successful projects, to how he can use the project to pursue excellence in each of the project team members.

This is a subtle but fundamental shift in the intent of the project manager – it requires her not to focus on trying to control the project outcome, and instead to focus on how she can empower the team to achieve the outcome – the team will take care of the outcome. By pursuing excellence in people, excellent results cannot help but be produced.

So, a list of things an effective project “leader” does well, would look something like this:

  • Knows every project team member as a human being, not a project resource. Relationships are characterized by mutual trust and respect.
  • Develops relationships with all project stakeholders and is trusted by them.
  • Creates a shared purpose for the project team.
  • Ensures each participant in the project is clear on what they need to contribute toward desired project results, and how the project fits into the organization’s objectives.
  • Works to resolve issues and remove obstacles in front of the project team they cannot remove themselves.
  • Hands over decision-making authority to project team members commensurate with their maturity and capability – does so with each team member’s growth needs in mind.
  • Regularly reviews and gives feedback on team members’ contribution such that they are able to improve.
  • Holds team members accountable for their contribution to the project, both positive and negative.

Comparing the two lists, which would you work for willingly – a project “manager” or a project “leader”?

Leading Remotely – It’s Still All About Intent

Leading remotely isn’t new. Managers, especially senior managers in distributed organisations, have been leading remotely for decades. Remote leadership has, however, been pushed to front and centre by the events of the last 12 months.

Remote leadership in 2021 differs from the past in three important ways:

As the global pandemic has pushed people out of their workspaces and into their homes so more leaders than ever before have had to (often reluctantly) grapple with the challenges of remote leadership.
Previously remote leaders tended to be middle or senior managers with multi-geography responsibilities. They typically had the benefit of experience on their side. Today junior and first-line leaders, often still finding their feet, are having to lead and understand their teams without the benefit of day-to-day, face-to-face interaction or coaching.
Technologies and tools available to leaders today are vastly superior to those that were available to leaders in the past. But there is a learning curve. And with any learning curve comes a change management challenge.

Depending on your perspective the three points above could be seen as either a major obstacle or a huge opportunity. We have encouraged our clients to see them as the latter.

While much has changed, the fundamentals of leadership have not. Over the past three decades whenever we have asked programme participants (who now number in the thousands), “How would you describe the person you go to work for willingly?” we have received the same answer, “I would work willingly for somebody who prioritises giving over taking, and who both cares for and grows me.” In the words of one programme participant: “It’s all about Intent”.

Intent matters when you are leading a team sitting right next to you. And intent matters just as much, perhaps more, when your team is on the other side of a phone or a Zoom call.

If we look at each of the three aforementioned points through an intent lens, we can start to see why remote leadership is so difficult for many leaders, and we can also start to understand what we can do about it.

Most of today’s remote leaders didn’t choose to be, all of a sudden, located far away from their teams. They also didn’t choose to be leaders in the midst of a global crisis. As a result, when we have asked groups of leaders over the last 12 months about their current concerns they have tended to focus on what they’re getting (or not getting), rather than what they are giving (or not giving). Typical concerns relate to management and productivity rather than leadership: “My wi-fi connection is unstable”, “I am struggling to find balance between work and home life”, “I don’t know whether my people are working hard or slacking off”. As leaders we need to separate working remotely issues from leading remotely issues. We need to fix our wi-fi, find ways to establish boundaries between work and home life, and stop worrying so much about monitoring our people and start worrying about how we can help. Once those things are out of the way we can refocus our intent and get back to our core focus: caring for and growing our people.

In our experience junior and first line leaders often see their role as having to monitor and micromanage – usually because they themselves have been monitored and micromanaged. In some ways a move to leading remotely is actually helpful. It forces managers to more effectively clarify contribution. Rather than building bad habits related to monitoring and control, junior leaders can put their focus where it matters: building legitimacy by deliberately taking an interest in people and their situations, and gaining experience in how to be helpful without doing the work for people. As senior leaders we need to be sure that we are deliberately spending the time coaching and watching the game so our junior leaders develop as quickly as possible.

Lastly, we need to deliberately invest in helping leaders to develop the know-how and skills required to communicate effectively in a world that is rapidly moving online. We all need to know HOW to use Zoom, MS Teams and WhatsApp, but even more importantly we need to start by addressing the WHY. Leaders who understand the importance of transitioning to a new online world are going to find it much easier to do so than those who are stuck bemoaning the use of technology as “not as effective as face-to-face”. Keeping up with technology is as much a mindset issue as it is skills issue. As stated earlier, “It’s all about intent”.

December 2020 – Question of the Month

Question of the Month: How long does it takes to recognise change in individuals, teams and organisations when applying the Legitimate Leadership Model? I expect there could be some fairly rapid change on a one-to-one basis, but wider change would presumably require consistency of approach and be subject to many other influencing factors.

Answer:  At an individual level, the one thing that can change in an instant is intent. I have seen this many times. For sustainable changes in behavior and practice our experience is that at least 12–15 months is needed. This is why our process for a group of leaders is of that duration.

But embedding the Legitimate Leadership principles and practices so that they have real organizational impact is not a quick process. For big, complex organizations employing thousands of people it can take 3–5 years.

The Empowerment Framework

At the outset we should acknowledge that empowerment is not an instantaneous event. We cannot empower someone by simply deciding that they are empowered, instead a deliberate framework for empowerment must be followed.

The Empowerment Framework

Empowerment is a process for enabling contribution; for cultivating ‘givers’. People can’t make a contribution if they don’t have the ‘means’ to do so; literally, they are not allowed to give. In an organisation, empowerment means providing people with an enabling environment in which to perform by giving them the requisite tools, resources, time, authority, targets/goals, standards, and feedback.

Equally for contribution to happen, people must have the ‘ability’ to give. They need to know from their manager both ‘how’ to do what is required of them and ‘why’ they should do it.

Generally, managers believe that having addressed the two variables of ‘means’ and ‘ability’ to contribute, their empowerment job is done. To use the analogy of empowering a man to fish, the process entails providing him with the tools and bringing in an expert to teach him to fish. Suitably equipped and able, the man is now fully empowered to feed himself and his family by fishing. Or is he? No, he is not. What is missing is the third critical variable in the process – the issue of ‘accountability’. At some point the fisherman must be told: ‘If you don’t catch the fish, very sorry but starve’.

What engages people’s will to contribute is accountability. Through the centre of accountability runs a standard. A person’s contribution can either be above standard or below standard. When a person’s contribution is above standard, either the person is going the extra mile, in which case it is appropriate to reward the person, or the person is careful to meet the standard and should be recognised. Similarly if the person has the means and ability but is below standard, it is for two kinds of reasons: either the person is careless and should be censured or she is malevolent, which requires that she be disciplined.

To empower someone means to address all these three aspects of the empowerment process. Unless due consideration is given to all three – in the order of means, ability and then accountability – empowerment has not happened.

November 2020 – Question of the Month

Question of the Month: Are there people who prefer to be managed rather than led?

Answer: The universal answer to the question “who would you work for willingly?” is “a giver, not a taker” – that is, “someone who is in the relationship to care for and grow me”. So in the sense that caring and growing people is leadership, not management, generally people want to be led not managed.

But there are two caveats to that statement. Firstly, while all people want the person they respect to have a genuine concern for their wellbeing, to care for them as a human being not as a human resource, not everyone wants “tough love”. They may want the “nice” part of care but not the kind of care which enables them to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for the situations that they are in.

They prefer to remain “looked after”, dependent and needy rather than being supported to become strong and self-reliant.

Secondly, there are people who don’t want to be empowered.

They may not be capable of taking on more accountability. There are some people who don’t want the responsibility and accountability which goes with being empowered.
There is also a small minority of people who can’t be trusted with what they have been entrusted with. It is also true that after a long period of being micromanaged and disempowered, not everyone leaps forward with alacrity to embrace freedom to operate and make decisions independently of their manager.

But one of the core distinctions between managers and leaders is the product of their endeavours. Managers produce results – they don’t care whether their people are mediocre or not, as long as the results are achieved. Leaders, on the other hand, are relentless in the pursuit of excellence in their people as an end in itself.

The path to excellence is not the easy path. But I remain convinced that most people do really want to realise the best in themselves, to become the best they can be. Most do want to be led, not managed.

Lessons Learned From Doing Leadership Diagnostics

Experience over the years working with leaders in the mining, manufacturing, banking and hospitality industries has produced the following insights on Legitimate Leadership’s Leadership Diagnostics methodology: do it with benevolent intent; do on both positive and negative exceptions; use with a specific purpose in mind; apply the tool to a specific incident or result; diagnose by ‘watching the game’; ask ‘why?’ all the way up the line; remedial action needs to be owned and driven by the line; be wary of excuses – invalid means and ability claims; the improvement timeframe will be shorter when means and accountability, rather than ability, are at issue; and do both reactive and proactive diagnostics.

    1. Do with benevolent intent

Leadership Diagnostics have a noble purpose: to enable enhanced future contribution throughout the line of command. As such, the methodology’s primary function is to grow leaders at every level in the organisation.

    1. Do on both positive and negative exceptions

When diagnostics are only done on negative exceptions, the impression can be created that the methodology is used by management to censure and punish people. Doing diagnostics on positive as well as negative exceptions serves to cultivate excellence in an organisation. Determining what each person in the line contributed to an exceptional result, and the means, ability and accountability they received which enabled them to do so, can ensure a perpetuation of the positive outcome into the future and/or a replication of excellence in other areas.

    1. Use with a specific purpose in mind

The Leadership Diagnostics tool is most useful when it is focused on a specific performance issue. An organisation may, for example, elect to do diagnostics on all safety incidents in order to improve its safety performance. Conversely, doing diagnostics on all customer complaints and compliments can help address product quality. Organisations which have been most successful in their use of Leadership Diagnostics have focused them on burning performance issues in their business.

    1. Apply the tool to a specific incident or result

The more specific the incident or the result which is chosen for analysis the better. This is because finding solutions to the specific exception per se is actually not the reason for the diagnostic. The specific exception is simply a vehicle for getting to grips with the key command issues which are evidenced by the exception. As more and more specific exceptions are diagnosed the core leadership issues in the organisation become increasingly apparent and lay the foundation for a strategy to raise the calibre of leaders across the business.

    1. Diagnose by ‘watching the game’

A Diagnostic is only as useful as the quality of information on which it is based. Quality information can only be garnered by spending time in the field gathering the facts, through direct observation and asking questions of all involved. Sometimes the most penetrating insights come from someone who is unfamiliar with the situation but who knows the means, ability and accountability questions to ask.

    1. Ask ‘why?’ all the way up the line

The Leadership Diagnostic needs to be done all the way up the line, preferably to the most senior level in the organisation. This is because what senior managers do or don’t do in a situation is often the bull’s eye – the 20% of causes which account for 80% of results. Remedial actions taken by those higher up in the hierarchy, in other words, tend to have a far bigger impact than actions taken at lower levels in the organisation.

    1. Remedial action needs to be owned and driven by the line

Concerted and systematic action needs to follow on from the Diagnostic and needs to be owned and driven by the line. Unless this is the case, Leadership Diagnostics stand the risk of becoming an academic exercise rather than a means to significantly strengthen an organisation’s line of command.

    1. Be wary of excuses – invalid means and ability claims

Not all means and ability issues are valid. Often people profess means and ability issues to avoid being held accountable for their carelessness or deliberate malevolence. When they are in fact ‘excuses’ they should be treated accordingly.

    1. The improvement timeframe will be shorter when means and accountability, rather than ability, are at issue

Improvements in contribution can be realised most quickly when the issues impeding contribution are means or accountability issues. Ability issues, by definition, take longer to address.

    1. Do both reactive and proactive diagnostics

A reactive Diagnostic is, by definition, an analysis of the past. Its value lies in the learning afforded by the exception which has already taken place. A proactive Diagnostic on the other hand can be used to improve on performance in the future. With a proactive diagnosis a stretch goal is set; afterwards the Diagnostic determines what needs to be given by whom all the way up the line to ensure that the desired outcome is achieved. Organisations which have made the doing of Leadership Diagnostics mandatory and which have tasked managers at all levels to report back on their diagnoses and remedial actions on a regular basis have reaped the biggest dividends from deploying this critical leadership practice.

Initially doing Leadership Diagnostics seems like hard work. The benefits which accrue in terms of significant improvements in the calibre of leadership in a business are, however, more than worth it.