When coaching leaders, I often begin our first meeting by asking this question. Actually, it is my second question. My first question is, “What three words would you use to describe a great leader?” As I wrote in my article, “Sociology of Leadership,” over 99 percent of responses focused on talents; whereas, less than one percent listed “Knowledge,” “Educated,” “Experience” or “Skills” as important. The most common characteristics describing leaders were: “Honest,” “Intelligent,” “Strong,” “Visionary,” “Determined,” “Wise,” “Caring” and “Courageous.” I then ask the leader to save the three words and that we will come back to them.
I then ask them about pizza. “Let’s say you are going to get pizza for lunch. You decide to buy a small pizza and as is frequently the case, small pizzas come in six slices. I want you to think of leadership productivity as the entire pizza and each of the slices represent an aspect of leadership productivity.” I then discuss how each of the slices represent a different aspect of leadership. “The first three slices are knowledge, skills and experience. They are all very important when understanding leadership excellence; however, they represent only 50 percent of the pizza*. Yet, when making selection or promotion decisions, we often focus on these three slices of pizza. When you bring someone on to your team, you often focus on what type of education they have, what skills they have accumulated and how many years of experience they possess.”
I then move to the last three slices of pizza. “the fourth slice is ‘fit,’ and fit always has habaneros on it because it can be difficult to measure. A leader can be outstanding with one team, but when he or she moves to another team—even in the same industry—they may struggle because of the culture, the responsibilities, or the people. The final two slices are talent. Talent makes up about 36 percent of the variance (or about two of six slices).” The analogy rings true with leaders. I then add, “think of the three characteristics you discussed when thinking of the best leader with whom you have ever worked.” In almost every case, the leader’s three characteristics they discussed were all talent-related.
So, when they are making their selection and promotion decisions of other leaders, they focus on the right side of the pizza (knowledge, skills and experience). Yet, when they think of success of a leader, they often focus on the left side of the pizza (fit and talent). This analogy routinely resonates with the leader. From that point forward, we focus on talent while focusing on their strengths. However, it is very easy to measure knowledge, skills and experience (it’s simply a matter of counting), but it is very difficult to measure fit and talent. Anyone can walk into a job interview and state that they are “Honest,” “Intelligent,” “Strong,” “Visionary,” “Determined,” “Wise,” “Caring” or “Courageous.” So, how do we measure these?
This is where measuring talent comes into play, and it is the cornerstone for everything we do at Talent Plus. We measure talent. We do so through focus groups, literature reviews, one-on-one interviews and job analyses. We spend countless hours understanding excellence and how great leaders differ in thoughts, feelings and behaviors from average leaders. We ensure that our interviews accurately predict excellence in work. With validity coefficients around 0.60, we explain about 36% of the variance in leader productivity; or two of six slices of pizza. And, we ensure that the interviews do not discriminate on age, race and gender.
In January 2019, Talent Plus released our strongest assessment, yet. Called the Operational Manager Talent Online Assessment, it endeavors to understand strong managers and the talents that set them apart from average managers. The assessment covers 14 areas of talent, or themes, and each theme is comprised of about 10 questions. It takes a manager about 40 minutes to complete the assessment, and upon completion, we have a strong understanding of what characteristics make them successful. The assessment can be used for both selection (bringing managers on to a team) or development (by focusing on the manager’s greatest strengths). When completed we measure, among other strengths, “Honest,” “Intelligent,” “Strong,” “Visionary,” “Determined,” “Wise,” “Caring” and “Courageous.”
Of course, knowledge, skills and experience, or the right side of the pizza, are all very important when understanding the productivity of managers, but so are fit and talent. With the new Talent Plus Operational Manager Talent Online Assessment, I can understand the strengths, or left side of the pizza, or those I coach.
Knowledge, skills and experience actually represent less than 50 percent of leadership productivity, but for the sake of the example, I use this number.
Scott C. Whiteford, Ph.D.
As Director of Leadership Development and Analytics, Dr. Scott C. Whiteford is a leading authority on The Science of Talent ®. His primary analytical focus is utilizing Talent Plus’ Executive Interview to help companies select and coach leaders based on their strengths. As a Director within Talent Plus’ Development Plus practice, Dr. Whiteford utilizes tools such as the Executive Interview, Collaborative Coaching and Executive Coaching to develop leaders, build effective teams and help grow organizations through a strengths-management philosophy and positive psychology.