May 072011

Leadership Development: Developing Multidimensional Leaders

Leadership Development: By Ladan Nikravan –  4/20/11

Leaders today can’t be one-dimensional, narrowly focused on only their greatest strengths. Innovation, social change and business transformation require more. leadership development

In a constantly changing business climate, leaders should not model themselves on archetypes from the past and expect to meet the challenges of today’s workplace. More specifically, they cannot rely solely on their isolated strengths in leadership to infuse passion and energy into their work and those they lead. Multidimensional leaders stay objectively alert in order to make strategic decisions within a context of ever-changing circumstances,leadership development parameters and variables. Such leaders are developed to possess multiple leadership facets. They understand that great leadership requires a range of competencies and skills and know their own personality traits can work both for and against them. Unfortunately, not enough of these leaders exist.

Last year, Development Dimensions International (DDI) surveyed 1,130 supervisors and first-level managers to understand how they’re overcoming the challenges of their jobs and what is holding them back from being successful. Results from “Finding the First Rung: A study on the challenges facing today’s frontline leader,” released in December, show that 42 percent of new managers do not understand what it takes to succeed; 89 percent have at least one blind spot; and only one in 10 leaders is actually groomed for the job. Half of the respondents took the leadership role for an increase in compensation — only 23 percent actually wanted to lead others.

“Organizations as a whole do not prepare leaders for what they should be ready to encounter,” said Jim Concelman, vice president of leadership development at DDI. “One of the first things learning leaders need to do is develop the leaders of leaders. The most influential person in the success of a new manager or leader is that person’s leader. We need to equip managers to effectively select the right people for leadership roles and then effectively coach, develop and bring new leaders along slowly but surely.”

Concelman also believes leaders need to realistically evaluate their own skills in each success area in order to focus on improvement.

“A lot of business systems already have good immediate feedback,” Concelman said. “You can get quarterly, monthly, daily and sometimes hourly reports on several elements, but leadership is different. You can’t go to a place on your system or computer screen and see, ‘How am I doing as a leader today in this hour?’ The only way to find out is through assessments, and that’s not something we’re currently equipping leaders to do in our organizations.”

In a separate study, DDI asked more than 200 managers going through a frontline leader assessment program to rate themselves in seven leadership skills: coaching, communication, delegation, gaining commitment, judgment, planning and organizing and problem analysis. DDI compared leaders’ self-ratings to their actual performance during the assessment and found that 89 percent of the managers had at least one leadership skill where they rated themselves above their actual skill level.

Lacking the self-insight to know that one needs to improve, managers will turn down — or not fully engage in — development opportunities that would fill in missing skills. If the disparity persists, it will become a detriment to the individual and his or her organization and teams.

Because many leaders excel in one particular dimension, they do not see the necessity of improving. But no matter how good one-dimensional leaders are at that one thing, they cannot provide the kind of leadership that leads to innovation, social change and business transformation.

“We expect effective leaders to be good at something, for example, driving execution or creating an important strategic decision,” said Jeffrey Sugerman, president and CEO of Inscape Publishing and co-author of the forthcoming book, The 8 Dimensions of Leadership. “In studies we conducted, we thought a leader would be judged an effective leader if he or she was good at one of those things. Much to our surprise, the ones who were viewed as most effective were good at everything, maybe to differing degrees, but they weren’t just good at one thing. The effective leaders we found were much more flexible in the range of leadership styles and competencies they could bring to their organizations.”

“The flip side of that [is] those given overall poor ratings by their peers, subordinates and managers were not missing strengths,” said Mark Scullard, director of research at Inscape and one of Sugerman’s co-authors. “They had very pronounced strengths, but they were given poor global ratings of leadership effectiveness because there were some very glaring absences in their performance and their repertoire of skills.”

According to Sugerman, Scullard and co-author Emma Wilhelm, the eight dimensions of leadership are: pioneering, energizing, affirming, inclusive, humble, deliberate, resolute and commanding.

“We’re not asking people to make superhuman changes in their personality,” Wilhelm said. “It’s very small changes that make such a big difference. That change happens when a leader understands why they’re having blind spots and has the support of their managers.”

Scullard agreed. “You need to have strong support from above and constant reinforcement,” he said. “People need to believe these qualities are important to the organization. Upper management needs to see a commitment to leadership development to encourage subordinates to take ownership of their growth. A majority of leadership development has to occur independently, but it’s much more likely to happen if there’s a culture of development.”

Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at


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