You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward. – Conrad Hall
No narrative of the Life of Bees would be complete without lots of discussions about leadership. Leadership is probably the most critical, non-quantifiable business factor with a direct impact on the success or failure of a business. In short, leadership makes or breaks businesses.
I’ve been working on an idea whereby one could objectively quantify the attributes of good leadership within the context of a particular business environment. It’s still in the very early stages, but I need to get it out of my head and test it a bit. My hypothesis is this: most business books over-generalize the concept of leadership, summarizing it as a hodgepodge of subjectively defined traits and characteristics, then presumptively applying those traits out of context.
This “out of context analysis” creates an increasingly abstract laundry list of traits that are expected to give management leverage that yields business success in a predictive way. This reductionist approach of ignoring business context negates the predictive value of any leadership model it’s predicated on. In simple terms: one can subjectively define a list of “leadership characteristics” one likes and call it good leadership, but those traits mean nothing out of business context. Business context has to be considered in any objective analysis of leadership.
The skills and leadership traits that make for an awesome technical leader at a Fortune 500 technology company are completely different from those needed to effectively manage a retail outlet or dive bar. There could potentially be overlap based on context, but there will most certainly be outliers that have predictive value in one context and no predictive value (or a negative business value) in another. Most books on the subject ignore that conflict and miss the target (I’d like to dig into that a bit, but more on that in future posts).
So, as I think about this a bit more, building a predictive leadership model will:
- need a better understanding of leadership in general (doable)
- need a method to categorize business context before any inquiries into specific leadership attributes within that business context (doable)
- be able to quantify the attributes identified in #2 (doable, but will need some work)
- have an associated probability model to with predictive strength (not sure how to do this yet)
As I work through this framework in my head, a deeper exploration into the concept of leadership seems like the logical first step. My belief is that a deeper understanding of leadership can be achieved by first: building a matrix model of leadership by identifying what traits and attributes are usable as management leverage within a particular business environment (a non-trivial task), then augmenting that model with measurable, predictive attributes. (This model would have to find and measure attributes in a way that ignores any halo effects or a survivorship bias, but I’m getting ahead of myself here again.)
I guess the logical place start would be to by analyzing leadership attributes in general: this would at least help guide our conceptual leadership framework. It also makes sense to work from the simple to the complex so I’ll use Colin Powell’s 17 leadership presentation deck (there’s some debate on whether there’s 17 or 24 but I think this is a safe point of departure). I think that’s a good path forward, let’s stop here and circle back for more analysis in the next post.