Typically, when leadership is measured, what’s really being measured is the management of people, products, and processes. That’s not leadership. So, what is leadership—and how is it measured? We first need to define what it is in such a way that it can be measured. Here’s how I define leadership:
A leader takes initiative to create impact.
Each word in this definition is intentional. Let’s look at each to get a full understanding of what leadership really is:
Takes initiative . . .
Leaders start, engage, facilitate, act, do, and take the first step.
Create . . .
Leaders generate processes, products, systems, relationships, openness, cultures, and opportunities, and/or they adapt, form, and bring into existence what is new, needed, and necessary.
Impact . . .
By creating change, leaders make a difference that affects everyone involved.
By this definition, any person can function as a leader. What does this mean for people in executive and supervisory roles in traditional, vertically integrated hierarchical organizational structures? It is simple:
Executive leaders initiate the creative process that produces leaders who take initiative to create impact.
This means that executive leaders are measured by the leadership of those for whom they are responsible. This is similar to what we have thought of as management, but there is a difference. The difference is that the management of efficiency, predictability, and consistency requires controlling those who work for management. This is a fading reality. Businesses are rapidly changing and our understanding of leadership needs to catch up.
The Dimensions of Leadership
Now, if everyone simply initiated change in a random manner, greater chaos would ensue. Therefore, an integral part of quality executive leadership is coordinating the leadership of others.
Executives do so through three principal areas:
- Each person’s role within the social and organizational structures of the business.
In other words, leaders facilitate clarity around the connecting ideas of purpose, values, vision, and impact. They facilitate the communication and coordination of the actions that follow the organization’s purpose.
Executive leaders build a culture of shared leadership through the shared responsibility for the organization’s defined purpose, values, and its vision for impact.
As a result, leadership spreads out through the company. We can see a better connection between the company’s purpose and the means to achieve its bottom line. Better communication and a greater sense of community between the people in the company foster a culture that adapts more quickly to the opportunities and obstacles that present themselves every day.
So, with a new understanding of what leadership is, how do we measure it? We do this in three ways:
- We define the change we want by defining the purpose of the impact we seek. We track change. We track the changes we see in how the connecting ideas are being used. We track the changes in how people communicate and work together. And we track changes in processes as they adapt to new circumstances.
- We identify and track employee initiative. We track the connection between communication and issue resolution. If people are taking initiative to resolve issues at their own point of responsibility, we see the spread of leadership in the company.
- We track the speed of change. How long does it take for an idea to be enacted? The key to this returns to the connecting ideas. These ideas provide a context of understanding that can guide the initiative leadership of people.
Ultimately, the measure of leadership is the number of leaders who have been formed and nurtured by the company, and the collective impact of their shared leadership.
By growing a leadership culture of initiative, a company can become a community of leaders whose impact is far beyond what it was when everyone was simply being managed.