Articles

Lessons Learned From Doing Leadership Diagnostics

November 17, 2020 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

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.

Wendy Lambourne
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