Leadership-journeys: the funnel-effect

This week, the effectiveness-lab switches subject from PEOPLE to You, the leader, the first of the labs’ four foci. This particular blog explores individual leadership-journeys and what separates the amateur from quintessential leaders. In a world where a single Google search on the subject leadership’ returns 613,000,000 results, yes, SIX HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN MILLION, confusion abounds in defining who a leader is or not. This blog argues that while many allude to the fact that leaders are not born but made, and there is a large pool of leader wannabes, very few in that large pool can prove quintessential leadership. The blog refers to the latter situation as the leadership funnel-effect.

Credit: funnelholic.com

Credit: funnelholic.com

The leadership funnel-effect talks to the fact that from the large pool of women and men that consider themselves worthy leaders, very few are or shall become quintessential leaders. What we see every day, is a ‘funnel-like’ situation where the wide top section of the funnel, holds many individuals that consider themselves worthy leaders; yet only a few have got the competences and tact to navigate the constricted pathways that constitute the bottom and narrow part of the leadership-funnel. Those that successfully navigate the bottom part of the funnel are truly quintessential, and you are not that many.

The wide top section of the funnel constitutes what the effectiveness-lab refers to as the generic-leader type. Like generics in a true market situation, the generic leader espouses some characteristics, which in themselves make any attempt to calibrate and, therefore, tame this large pool of leader-wannabes, near impossible. Those of you that interview others for senior roles at organisations may talk to the challenge of identifying authentic leadership pedigree. What is more disappointing, is the belief that this difficulty in leadership pedigree identification is due to the poor quality of candidates that interest themselves in senior roles. To the contrary, firms face difficulty in identifying leadership pedigree because of archaic and in many instances generic, Human Resource Systems. Human Resource Systems that do not recognise the existence of the leadership funnel effect. Should organisations invest in Human Resource Systems that are attuned to the narrow bottom of the leadership funnel?

Leadership funnel effect: Context

Let us contextualize the so-called wide top and narrow bottom parts of the leadership funnel and what it takes for Human Resource Systems to address this challenging dynamic. The trick for human resource practitioners has to be in understudying the output leaders that occupy the wide top section of the funnel bring to the table, in comparison to the narrow bottom.

The effectiveness-lab has opted to use the word leadership outputs and not characteristics. Organisations that want to become effective at what they do can no longer look for generic characteristics in leaders, but leadership-journeys and outputs. The paradigm has to change from looking for theoretical characteristics in leaders to tangible and proven outputs. Moreover, outputs that can genuinely be attributed to the work of individual leaders.

Therefore, leadership outputs cannot be episodic and absolute events.

What differentiates wide-top from narrow-bottom funnel leaders?

Top of the funnel leader profile:

  • A leadership-journey that is episodic. While the top of the funnel leaders may have attained career quick-wins, they still lack consistency in leadership-output.
  • The quick career wins are not only episodic but are in ‘everything’ there is to know and do.  Some may refer to such top of the funnel leaders as ‘all over the place’.  Such leaders have not yet curved out for themselves, leadership-speciality areas. Their pedigree is still in the lab
  • Top of the funnel leaders are technically brilliant, but cannot articulate well their individual unique selling points (USP). We should not confuse USP’s with technical specialisation.
  • Call to experiment: Put two top of the funnel leaders in a room and ask them to articulate what makes them different from the other. You are likely to get for an answer: differentiating characteristics and not output; i.e. ‘I am a visionary’, ‘effective-communicator’ and not the outputs from their mastery of communication and the journeys leading to such output.
  • Top of the funnel leaders have a tendency to confuse senior tenure with authentic leadership pedigree. Longevity at work is not always equal to quintessential leadership
  • Top of the funnel leaders will ace any interview, as long the interview focus is on leadership characteristics and episodic output examples; the moment the interview focus changes to leadership-journeys and sustained-outputs, top of the funnel leaders will discover that they require a little more to prove themselves worthy leaders

Bottom of the funnel leader profile:

  • A solid, well-integrated leadership journey, backed by sustained leadership-outputs. The journey does not have to be long – there are examples of short and output driven leadership journeys; one that comes to my mind is Malala Yousafzai the youngest noble peace prize laureate
  • Clear specialisation in an area of leadership as opposed to being ‘all over the place’ – bottom of the funnel leaders specialise in aspects of leadership like entrepreneurship; the digital-organisation; turn-around work; getting-the best out of teams etc. A leader that gets the best out of teams may not be your super-entrepreneur. Indeed, while the late Steve Jobs of Apple was known for his entrepreneurial talent, he was not the best people manager.
  • Bottom of the funnel leaders have taken their emotional-intelligence to the very highest level. Without this skills set, such leaders would never be able to make the intricate manoeuvres along the constricted pathways in the bottom half of the funnel
  • Paired with the above emotional intelligence, bottom of the funnel leaders posses critical leadership intangibles. The Invisible and virtual nature of their leadership pedigree allows them to manoeuvre successfully in extremely tight, bottom half funnel environments.

My takeaway: While it is tempting for organisations to focus their recruitment and selection processes on the narrow bottom half of the funnel, looking at the funnel in a holistic manner, creates and sustains viable leadership pipelines at effective organisations. To those of you that want to become bottom of the funnel leaders: develop competences to perform intricate manoeuvres in the bottom half of the funnel. Quintessential leadership is a journey of tangible and sustainable outputs that starts in the upper half of the funnel



Categories: You, the Leader!

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