Can you measure leadership qualities fully?

My daughter Ishani is still going to a play-school. She is just two years and seven months old. I went with my wife to the school in order to attend a Parents-Teacher meeting, not knowing what to expect really. Nevertheless, we went to the meeting and found out that the school had invited us to hand out Ishani’s report card for the first term and to discuss her performance. Needless to say, I was burning with curiosity to find out how she had performed and more importantly how she was evaluated. Once I went through the report card, I was astonished to see that they had evaluated her in 52 different parameters. I did not even know that you can measure performance of kids who are less than 3 years of age in so many different parameters. So I thank them for expanding my knowledge and also for paying attention to so many details.

One of the parameters was leadership and responsibility. Insofar as I knew, you cannot measure leadership qualities in kids who have not even reached the kindergarten stage. I therefore felt obliged to ask how exactly they measured her on leadership. The teacher was kind enough to explain what sort of qualities or behaviors they look for when they measure kids on this parameter. For example, did she actively participate in some activity and also encourage her peers to do the same or not etc.

Ever since I came back from that meeting, a question has been playing on my mind.

Can you measure really measure leadership qualities?

Never mind three year old kids; it takes assiduous efforts to accurately measure even an adult on leadership qualities on any scale. In fact, by its very nature leadership is subjective, at least to a considerable extent. You may come up with some metrics to form an opinion, but you will never be able to measure it fully. You are looking for certain traits in the personality of a person. Various studies and experiments have been done on this subject and much has already been written about it. But nothing can be concretely held as the definitive way to measure leadership qualities in a person.

Let us take an example to illustrate this point. Assume that you have selected two individuals for the same job role – to lead a sales team of 10 people. You have assigned 10 employees to each one of these two individuals and given them a set of tasks to complete. Now you can design a set of metrics to assess how both leaders are performing and you can bet safely that if you are diligent with your goal setting process you will be able to make out who has performed better. Examples of such metrics could be as follows:









The list is just a generic example. Off-course it has to be customized as per the kind of work you do. But, it gives you a sense of how the metrics can be designed to measure success of the two leaders.

But consider this situation: Bob and Mary are discussing the prospect of selecting a future leader for their operations. Below is the dialogue they engaged in.

Bob: You have a set of 10 people from whom you have to select a leader who will lead a team of 100 team members. How will you do it?

Mary: I guess we will have to look at how each one has performed in their respective roles in the past.

Bob: I agree. But that must not be the only selection criteria or else you risk falling prey to the Peter Principle.

Mary: Say what?

Bob: Peter Principle is a ubiquitous concept in management. It means people are promoted to their level of incompetence.

Mary: I still don’t get it. Why would someone be promoted to be incompetent?

Bob: It’s not that. Well let’s say you start at the lowest rungs of your organization and you have performed well in that role. The company promotes you for the next role judging by the way you have performed in your existing role.

Mary: Yes, that makes sense to me.

Bob: Now consider that in your new role too, you have performed extremely well. Now the company promotes you to the next higher role based on how you have performed in your current role.

Mary: OK. What’s wrong with that?

Bob: What’s wrong is that everyone is assuming that since you did well in your existing job role you will also do well in the next role as well. No one is trying to gauge whether you have the skills or abilities required for that role. It’s not just about you anymore. You will be responsible for many other people and the organization as a whole. Therefore it is possible that once you are promoted to this new role you will start to find that the job is arduous and you are struggling to keep up. That is how you rise to the level of incompetence.

Mary: Wow! I never thought of that. Thanks for explaining this concept to me, Bob.

Bob: You are welcome, Mary. You can look up more at if you want.

Mary: Sure, I will. But coming back to the point we were discussing, how do we select the best candidate to lead the Operations out of the 10 choices that we have?

Bob: We will have to set a few metrics rather qualities other than their performance (in their current role) and see how each one of them measure up.

Mary: And what might those be?

Bob: How about these? 1) Invest in people. 2) Communication. 3) Confidence. 4) Emotional Intelligence. 5) Commitment. 6) Courage. 7) Focus and 8) Planning and Decision Making.

Mary: Yes, that sounds really interesting! But how will you measure them on these qualities?

Bob: Well, that is a bit of a challenge. In its essence, most of these traits are subjective in nature and it is not always possible to measure them in some units or in terms of numbers.

Mary: Hmm. I have an idea! Let’s observe them for a period and see if they demonstrate any of these qualities and we can record them.

Bob: Yes, that is a good idea. We will also have to share some feedback with them so that they can learn and get better. Plus, we can also conduct a survey and find out from the teams they manage what they think about these 10 guys. That will be a good indication of how they are demonstrating these qualities at present. What do you think?

Mary: Yes off course. But that will be time consuming. We can also conduct an interview and ask them situational questions to assess their strengths on each of these metrics. Based on their responses we can get a good idea of who should be an appropriate candidate.

Bob: I agree. We can do that. Let us discuss this further with our boss and then decide on a formal course of action.

Mary: Let’s do that.

The above conversation should give you an idea of the qualities to look for in a leader across levels and across industries. However as you can see, there are no fixed rules here. Some organizations may want to focus on traits other than these. The interesting thing to note is that each of these qualities can be learnt and practiced. The question is – Are you game to take up the challenge?

What do you think are good leadership qualities? What would you look for when you look for the next leader, regardless of the level? What would you do to become a better leader?

Share this post with anyone you think is already a leader or anyone who has the potential to lead. I believe everyone has the potential to lead.

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