In the movie The Internship, the characters played by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn quickly realize that business is no longer an arena where charisma and popularity rule and more about the new skilled worker of the digital era. Working for that leader who thinks they can be great without genuinely understanding the inner workings of the actual day-to-day work can be frustrating for employees. In a learning organization, the leadership role is more than strategy. Worse is the leader and the long-term impact of watching business pass them by due to a lack of development.
All team members look for different factors in credibility. Old leaders knew how to be charismatic, often great salesman who knew how to sell an idea. These leaders easily identified as the popular jock from high school. In its most current form, it is a leader that has been assessed only on performance and not many of the other important factors that build a leader. These leaders who lack in the competencies of reliability and validity can only represent their team members versus being true advocates for them.
Leadership was not something I had great examples of early on in my career. Most lacked true conviction towards the work we were doing or unable to take shots for their team and lacked loyalty resulting in development. Most leaders I had were entirely in it for themselves and saw their knowledge as part of their power. That power was often any exposure that would allow team members to highlight their talent. Usually, this meant leaders were awarded promotions from a network of good ole boys that ran in a tight circle. As I progressed in my career I used these examples to identify what I didn’t want to be as a leader. The two foundational competencies I identified for my career from this point on were reliability and validity.
Reliability is more than just about showing up on time. As an individual team member, it’s about knowing how to hold up your work and be available to support peers. Leaders need to see reliability through the lens of follow-up and follow-through. Leaders often fail in reliability because it means putting team members before themselves. It takes planning and having priorities aligned towards the people that get results. Reliability implies that leaders look themselves in the mirror and say, “I do what I say I will, and deliver on the deadlines I set.”
Leaders who do not understand how the day-to-day work is completed will struggle to understand the effort required to achieve results. This misalignment often means that priorities will get reset as leaders disregard the impact made on productivity and what it will take to get back on track. Leaders who are not reliable and unwilling to put others before themselves miss out on critical development opportunities. These leaders will consistently place their priorities first or miss-manage their time at the cost of team member development.
I watched my examples of unreliable leaders who chose time with senior leadership versus developing stronger foundations within their team. Instead of learning how tasks are completed in excel or observing how communication supports other teams’ decision-making, they choose another lunch or time that was unproductive. These leaders miss out on building their skill set and offering the additional workforce that would provide for extra development time for all. The worse part was watching these leaders get promoted, catapulting from the backs of their team members.
Reliability sets the stage for validity. A team member or leader that cannot be counted on will never establish the trust needed to be a valid leader. Validity for a team member goes beyond direct skill set and identifies how to enhance it through teamwork. Leaders should see validity as something more about setting goals and driving a team to get there. At its core, validity is all about being able to do what you say you can do. Leaders are valid by meeting up with all the commitments, making sure it’s not just about saying the right thing.
Valid leaders must understand the effort of each goal and the toll it will place on team members. Great leaders can achieve any goal. It’s at what cost that matters. When it comes to team members, it is all about understanding the effort. Leaders that do not know the steps needed for analysis and reporting will struggle to understand the cost of time and mental capacity exhausted to complete. Even more, these leaders will not have the ability to identify the details that could build on efficiency and proactively remove roadblocks.
In performance, we often are fighting for decimals without understanding the lead factors that influence lag results. Leaders may be whipping a team to gain a .10 increase in scorecard performance without considering the effort or the impact. What does the return of .10 in performance bring? My examples often had lost actual perspective of what field employees worked through to come to work, let alone perform well in their job. They made promises of career growth that never came. Leaders that lack validity cannot execute well on expectations from either side of the hierarchy. These leaders, too, cross the river of their career using their team member’s backs as the bridge. These leaders cannot provide the proper recognition and exposure, unable to lean into their skills and effort.
Reliability and validity together shape several traits of a great leader. These leaders can build trust quickly with their team. They are empathetic to their team member’s needs and know what shots to take to keep them productive and set priorities. They bring in their skillset and use shoulder-to-shoulder moments to offer development. These leaders know how to utilize their exposure moments and create additional ones for their team members. These leaders are comfortable leaning into their insights and highlighting the differentiated skills from their team.
Teams are agile now more than ever before, and each person has to bring strength to the team. The days of having the middle man the runs the orders to the technician are gone. Teams do not need a cheerleader that plays the politics. Leaders should be expected to be just as skilled as their team. This awareness of effort is just a small piece of the puzzle needed for greater social awareness. These competencies are just part of the formula that builds the most decisive organizational leader.