Sudhir Chadalavada

How to Accurately Assess Leadership Competence & Effectively Develop Exceptional Leaders

Exceptional leaders deliver exceptional results. One dimensional leaders primarily focus on intellect, professional mastery and self-centered drive to achieve some financial success but pay a heavy price in terms of high stress, poor employee engagement and a pervasive sense of lack of meaning and purpose. With a one-dimensional focus on short-term growth and profit, they ironically hinder the consistent and exceptional financial results that are possible.

Inclusive, servant leaders on the other hand appeal to not just intellect but also emotion and spirit; they focus not just on professional mastery but also personal and organizational mastery; they demonstrate not just self-centered drive, but also selfless humility. By creating a purposeful environment, they inspire their people to give their absolute best and deliver exceptional financial results. In a hierarchical business organization, power is concentrated at the top and therefore the organizational development is capped by the developmental level of the CEO and his or her leadership team. A CEO requires an aligned senior executive team who can hold each other accountable to a common goal and shared values. The shift from a 1Dimensional self-centered leader to 3Dimensional selfless, self-actualized inclusive leader is the most important journey to take for the CEO and executive team striving to unleash their full potential and unlock the full value of the organization.

How can we accurately assess the development of a leader and how can we help him or her consistently operate at higher states of Personal and Organizational mastery? We do that by capturing the behavior that is consistently demonstrated. Leadership after all is not about intent or words alone, it is about our behavior, actions and how we show-up consistently under all external circumstances – during good times and times of challenges and crises.

Human beings evolve in to higher stages of development with experience, training and self-effort. While human development can be detailed in several stages starting with basic security needs, all the way up to unconditional love and service, for the practical purpose of business leadership, I zeroed in on three primary stages: Self-absorbed Security, Self-centered Achievement and Self-actualized Mastery. Where we predominantly operate depends on our consistent behavior pattern. For example:

  • A self-actualized leader facilitates sound decisions and gets buy-in; A self-centered leader provides decisions and assumes buy-in; A self-absorbed leader dictates decisions and doesn’t care for buy-in.
  • Authentic Communication. A self-actualized leader is direct, constructive and empathetic; A self-centered leader is direct but blunt and insensitive; A self-absorbed leader is oblivious and doesn’t care how his or her message lands.
  • A self-actualized leader proactively resolves conflicts; a self-centered leader is uncomfortable with conflicts; and a self-absorbed leader denies the existence of conflicts.
  • A Self-absorbed leader motivates by fear; a Self-centered leader motivates by money and a Self-actualized leader inspires by meaning.
  • A Self-absorbed leader is mired in emotional dysfunctionality; a Self-centered leader avoids or manages emotions; a Self-actualized leader masters human emotions.
  • A Self-absorbed leader seeks constant praise for all actions; a Self-centered leader seeks recognition for good actions; a Self-actualized leader is focused on right action and is unaffected by praise and criticism.
  • A self-absorbed leader denies bad news and avoids tough questions; a Self-centered leader prefers good news and favorable questions; a Self-actualized leader wants factually accurate news and invites tough questions.
  • Self-actualized leaders demonstrate both: Passion and Compassion, Authority and Empathy with a self-assured vulnerability and focus on right action!
  • A self-actualized servant leader is empathetic to people’s reasonable fears and concerns and at the same time firm about ensuring that they live up to highest shared values.
  • A self-actualized leader is always present and is especially ready to face serious challenges and crises without playing victim and blaming external situations.

In order to get an accurate assessment of where a leader is consistently operating at, I follow and recommend the following 3-step process:

1) Self-Assessment

Most successful 1D leaders are generally aware of how they show up. But it’s only in the self-actualized state that we are completely free of personal biases and filters. As the saying goes, “We don’t see things the way they are, we see them the way we are”. It’s not an easy task for many leaders to distinguish between their intent and how they show up – especially how they show up in crisis and under emotional duress. That’s the reason the following two steps are important to dig deeper and accurately identify their strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and blocks.

2) Stakeholder Feedback

It’s very helpful to get input and feedback from 6-8 people who interact with you closely. These are subordinates, superiors, and peers who observe you in different states and moods – under normal conditions, stressful times and exciting periods. However, they also have their own developmental biases.

3) Master Coach

A master coach who has taken the personal development journey can assess where you and your colleagues are in your evolution. I do this frequently. I ask penetrating leadership questions and role play scenarios to assess the developmental level with a high degree of accuracy.

Once we assess where we are, how do we evolve and develop exceptional leaders?

Operating at a higher state of personal and organizational mastery requires building and developing new emotional and spiritual muscles. It is an inner journey. These habits have been built over a lifetime; we should not expect lasting behavior change to happen over a short period of time. We should focus on one primary behavior change that will propel us to become our best version. The following process has helped me and many of the successful leaders I work with:

1) Self-inquiry: We have to take personal accountability for our behavior, especially when things are not going well for us. Instead of playing victim and blaming others or external events, we have to go within and figure out why we got derailed. We have to self-inquire and determine why we got angry or frustrated or disappointed. We must accept that we may be projecting our own inadequacies.

2) Meditation: When we take focused time to dispassionately observe our thoughts without engaging in them, we make remarkable progress. This simple but highly effective practice results in drastic reduction of negative thoughts and their intensity, and a significant improvement in positive thoughts, behaviors, and actions. I found meditation to be most impactful in my own evolution. With regular practice we develop the ability to perform each and every activity mindfully and consciously.

3) Engage Stakeholders: We share our positive behavior change goal with the same stakeholders and give them permission to call us out whenever we derail. We don’t have to take a lonely journey. We have the benefit of a whole team who is vested in our progress. This builds trust and teamwork. They may get inspired to take the plunge themselves.

4) Master Coach: By engaging a master coach, we have the benefit of working with a wise friend, trusted advisor and insightful teacher who does not judge and provides a safe environment to share our concerns, fears and anxieties.  We get honest feedback of our progress and are held accountable to our own commitment.  Reviewing previous actions and roleplaying upcoming conversations and challenges goes a long way in positively changing our entrenched behavior patterns. In some cases, I observe them in critical meetings and follow-up with specific guidance.

Any change, especially behavior change, is difficult in the beginning, messy in the middle, and rewarding and liberating at the end. The key is to stay with the process, put in consistent effort and maintain the momentum even when changes are not as dramatic or obvious. We will see the change ourselves and so will our grateful stakeholders.

For more, see my book: CEO Mastery Journey.