News & Insight
September 2013

WJM's Leadership Model

WJM’s Executive Leadership Behavior Model draws on over 15 years of experience assessing executives from many top corporations and partnering with our Faculty of over 700 of the best leadership development consultants in the world. This new model represents a renewal of WJM’s Characteristics of Effective Leaders published in September 2007 into a full behavioral success model for leaders. It is benchmarked to the most widely used and validated competency models and is highly correlated with foundational research in the field of leadership and leadership development.

What’s Different About This Model?

We believe that a leadership behavior model offers key benefits as a good “leaping-off” point for identifying and developing current and future leaders. However, too often talent management professionals fall into the trap of building leadership development programs around a “master list” of necessary leadership characteristics, only to be ignored by business leaders who view the programs as HR bureaucracy, divorced from the line organization and the realities of actual business decision making.

As longtime WJM Faculty Member Dr. Ed Piccolino pointed out in a previous WJManagement Advisor article (The Competency Model Controversy), in the real world, promotion decisions are often made ad hoc by line managers as the result of unplanned job vacancies and are based on skills demonstrated during real, actual work and directly observed by the manager and others, not from a supposed “ultimate” list of competencies distributed by the Human Resources department.

However, making promotion decisions based solely on job performance is also not a sound strategy, especially in light of the mantra “Change is the only Constant.” Research has clearly shown that, much like a mutual fund, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. One study found that 71% of “high performers” were not “high potentials” (Corporate Leadership Council, 2005). A future oriented leadership model can be useful for identifying whether or not today’s solid performers have the competencies or exhibit the behaviors required to succeed in a new role with different responsibilities. In addition, they provide a benchmark from which to assess existing talent against future success factors.

Key Benefits of Competency Models:

  • Convey and reinforce a company’s culture
  • Establish a benchmark for measurement for assessment, selection and development
  • Can be tailored to business strategy and future goals
  • Introduce consistency and rigor into HR processes
  • Help drive common conversations around talent
  • Reduce ambiguity and reliance on personal opinion
  • Increase focus on results

(Source: Summary notes from WJM Client Roundtable: Competency Models: What the “Bleep” Are We Assessing?)

However, Competency Models ought not to be the sole criteria from which organizations assess, select and develop their leaders. These models cannot replace observation and intuition. They must be flexible enough to truly reflect the company’s strategy since criteria for “high-potential” shifts with the business and must connect to real business issues. For example, today’s finance industry may assess executives against risk orientation differently than in the recent past. This is a reminder that these models must be kept dynamic enough to align with ever-changing business realities.

Beyond even the most updated and complete competency model, additional criteria for promotion or high potential designation must be measured and considered – factors like an individual’s aspiration for additional leadership responsibility and his or her level of engagement with the organization. These are typically ascertained through interviews with the executive and reviews of past development plans and performance management data.

WJM’s Executive Leadership Behavior Model

Our years of work supporting senior executives in multiple industries across multiple jobs, coupled with recent research around key leadership behaviors for the 21st century, reveals that effective leadership requires competence in four main leadership areas:

1) Leading Self

  • Self Management: Maintains composure under pressure; manages own emotions and reactions and remains constructive and productive during challenging times.
  • Self Awareness: Shows accurate awareness of own strengths and weaknesses and how they impact others.
  • Developing Self: Demonstrates commitment to personal development; an agile, continuous learner who approaches situations with openness and intellectual curiosity.
  • Authenticity: Consistently adheres to the company’s stated values and vision during both better and tougher times; models personal integrity by keeping own word and promoting transparency.

2) Leading Others

  • Connecting With Others: Builds positive, effective relationships with stakeholders at all levels.
  • Building Teams: Understands competencies required for success in key positions; sets high standards for selection of team members and is committed to their ongoing development.
  • Inspiring: Creates strong morale and spirit in his/her team; shares wins and successes; builds trust, commitment and alignment with organizational goals.
  • Developing & Communicating Strategic Vision: Clearly defines and communicates the company’s future in optimistic, vivid terms through actions and words.

3) Leading Results

  • Global Perspective: Possesses sophisticated knowledge of global industry, markets, customers and competitors as well as understanding of local context. Seeks cross-cultural learning opportunities and takes the broadest view of issues and challenges.
  • Decisiveness & Discernment: Makes sound, defensible decisions in a timely fashion, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty; balances bias for action with thoughtful analysis and seasoned judgment.
  • Strategic & Systems Orientation: Maintains long-term, systemic perspective. Goes beyond analyzing events, to look for patterns, underlying interrelationships and root causes.

4) Leading Change

  • Fostering Innovation: Creates environment that encourages innovation and creativity in others.
  • Adaptability & Resilience: Demonstrates personal flexibility and resilience in challenging or ambiguous circumstances; comfortably shifts gears in response to emerging priorities.
  • Courage: Identifies and acts upon appropriate risks; encourages and supports others in taking appropriate risks.

The above list of behaviors may be useful as companies develop their selection criteria for senior executives and/or create targeted developmental plans to expand roles and job performance. Great leaders, and those capable of becoming them, are hard to find and even harder to retain. According to recent research from the Corporate Leadership Council, one in four high potentials plan to leave their jobs within the next year. The rate of dissatisfaction among high potentials is rising sharply as the economy stabilizes, with intent to leave at 27%, up from only 10% in 2006. While organizations typically rely on money and perks to retain top talent, other engagement strategies including customized development programs are often more effective. We believe WJM’s Executive Leadership Success model provides a powerful framework for carefully identifying, developing and keeping those with true potential.

Sources: WJM Associates, Inc., Dr. Edmund Piccolino, Corporate Leadership Council.

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