John Dickerson is a correspondent for 60 Minutes. He is also a Contributing Editor to The Atlantic and the host of the Whistlestop podcast and co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

A method for evaluating leaders in action

I have been thinking about organizational leadership. How do we measure leaders? Can we take apart action and measure its component parts? Here’s an approach that came to me while I was running. (Tear it to shreds. Or praise it until your heart is an emptied vessel.)

Time: How much actual time was spent on the project. If something succeeds or fails it can depend on whether a leader gave it the right attention.

Intensity: Was time spent on task deep interaction with focus or water-bug skittering?

Manner: Was the intense participation shouting from the back seat, or did the leader grab the wheel. Or did they delegate completely (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

Plan: Was there a plan? Did it correctly anticipate the bends in the path and leave adaptation for obstacles?

Priority: Did the matter deserve the levels of time,intensity, manner and planning applied to it by the person in the corner office?

Outcome: Was the route the leader took successful?

What component part am I forgetting? A lot of times we pick one of these areas and judge a leader as having fallen short or succeeded because we measure one particular thing. But it’s usually the case that their performance is the result of a combination of factors that caused success or failure. Or, it might be that they did everything right and it was an external factor that caused failure. Woodrow Wilson applied time, intensity, and a hands on manner to the priority of the League of Nations. He lost. Could he have done anything differently? Probably not. (Certainly not in terms of effort; maybe planning was bad (too inflexible). Should he have refused to run up that hill? Probably not.

The reason we need this system for looking at component parts is that unless we come to an understanding of how many parts make up this machine and what role those parts play, we’ll keep going to the store to get either a bigger part or the wrong part or never even get to the aisle where the key part rests because we’ve been distracted by the gumball machine near the cash register. Does anyone have a quarter?

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “A method for evaluating leaders in action”

  1. John – There are so many factors in the mix. There are great CEO’s who can build a major multinational company. And, there are those who can lead a movement. Certain things are essential, and surprisingly planning is not one of them. Setting an intention supersedes planning. Much of what matters, I suggest, is metaphysical in nature. We all get impulses throughout the day – acting upon them without the hesitancy of doubt is common among leaders. There is a confidence coming from a place of knowing, that is felt by the management team and key personnel. Having a quiet mind allows the impulses to be more easily noticed. Being able to keep the ego in a deep freeze while acknowledging team members is crucial. Placing one’s need last is emblematic of good leaders.
    If the idea/project has been properly analyzed (a whole other subject) success is guaranteed. Walls will be hit, and some may appear insurmountable, however, a true leader has an attitude of .. THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY. If we have any limitations, it is one of IMAGINATION.
    A good deal of self-examination is part of the process. The WHY of an endeavor – and how its success benefits others.
    The history of the leader in question – his/her track record. The psychological make-up – does this person have certain tendencies e.g. self-sabotage.
    Compassion, empathy, kindness, and the ability to inspire, are also important distinctions found in leaders.

    * It is interesting John, you making an inquiry of your fb friends. You were just entering into my crosshairs. There is a project I’ve had in mind for some years. All who I’ve exposed the idea to were either enthusiastic, or very enthusiastic about it. About 2 years ago, it became apparent you along with someone you know (and, btw, have a good relationship with) are perfect for this endeavor. I believe with a sense of certainty, you and the other person I have in mind will agree to its value, and that it’s a perfect fit for both of you.
    I was wondering how to best get directly in touch with you. I don’t wish to seem cryptic with this note. If you can forward an email address or indicate the best way of communicating with you without a third party being a filter, that would be great. With all good thoughts – Arthur Serota

  2. Wizard Giant Spiral Gumball Machine – Make a huge impression with our 5 foot 6 inch Wizard Giant Spiral Gumball Machine! Sell just one globe of gumballs and you will recoup the entire cost of the 5′ 6″ wizard giant spiral gumball machine! This giant spiral gumball machine generates giant profits; more revenue than any other traditional giant gumball machine!

    The Wizard Giant includes a Beaver coin mechanism. This is the highest quality coin mechanism available. If the wrong coin, slug, or foreign coin is inserted, it will simply allow the coin to drop through without jamming. Beaver coin mechanisms are available for tokens, foreign currency or free-vend to work without coins.

    Sorry. I stopped to look at the giant gumball machine. What I kinda like when we go to the big box store for a part is a really friendly employee who’s actually done the kind of repair I want to do, preferably for a living, who can tell me exactly which part I need and why and how to perform said repair. And who smiles kindly when I return sheepishly to admit that I screwed up and need another part. Well, actually, it was my dh who screwed up but he’s too cowardly to come in the store and admit that, so he sends me in while he sits in the car.

    Trusted, knowledgeable advisors. I want my leader to know how to hire them and when to call them in for a meeting. And listen to them.

    You. Are. That. Big. Box. Guy. Who. Knows. Everything. Brilliant list. Debates were gumball fights, and mashing wads of chewed gum in each other’s hair. We don’t know nothin till you interview them. But, realistically, how could we ever be omnipotent enough to be able to ascertain how well any of the above were carried out?

    Heart empty, till next time.

  3. Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

    Thanks for a great list! I would also want to know about the leader’s decision-making process. Does he/she consult with trusted advisors, research the issue, or resolve problems off the cuff? Is there a time frame or is the process open-ended? Check out Myers-Briggs, which attempts to measure these things.

  4. How do leaders properly motivate those they are attempting to lead?? This is the most challenging part because people get bored faster and faster these days. Money, status, passion for the work are all successful motivators but rarely will they KEEP people motivated. To properly lead means to adapt and find creative tools to keep it fresh. That is the focus for a President, CEO or Head Coach. It translates into every group project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *