Many organizations build their leadership bench using programs and frameworks. One common framework that is used is a set of competencies. Leaders are rated against a list of competencies or behaviors, sometimes using 360 degree feedback, and are given feedback based on the results of these exercises. The question is, do these frameworks focus on homogeneous outcomes or is there scope for diverse leadership styles to thrive?
I once worked for a large financial services organization where the senior leadership team wanted to increase the level of creativity and innovation in their product design. They thought it would be a good idea to profile their team as well as the next level down (about 80 leaders), to see who they should expect to lead this initiative to develop creative and innovative ideas. They chose to use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profiling tool to help with this. They found that no-one in the top 80 of the organization had a preference for processing information using an Intuitive preference – a key component when looking for creative and innovative contributions. What to do? There were potentially many solutions other than trying to build a resourcing and succession pipeline with more intuitive types. They held brainstorming sessions with some intuitive types from within the organization and they set up work groups to develop ideas, etc. But a deeper question was, ‘how had the organization had got itself into a position where its senior leadership team had run out of product ideas’? Maybe this had something to do with the disproportionate weighting given to promoting people with a Sensing preference (actual, present, current, real). Although this is understandable, being a financial services company, the senior leadership team had inadvertently become somewhat homogeneous around this particular axis. They had missed the bigger picture of the value of diverse leadership preferences.
When organizations use competency frameworks, they need to consider a far more sophisticated and realistic outcome than ‘everyone needs to fit a profile’. I remember when I was working as a project manager I was told that an MBTI profile of ESTJ was what was required. So when I came out as ENFP I was already on the exit path from this population. What the ‘experts’ didn’t take into consideration was the fact that a person with any profile can adapt to and learn a discipline, even if it isn’t their preferred way of applying their contribution. This was a lesson I learned when working with one of the best Royal Air Force pilots who had a personality preference for processing information with patterns rather than facts, considering values over principles, and being comfortable with little planning – none of which seemed consistent with a fighter pilot. I have learned to use psychometric tools with balance and understanding.
Great leaders come in different personality shapes and sizes. They share some common traits, but care needs to be taken when using psychometric profiling tools or assessment frameworks in evaluating their potential effectiveness as leaders.