Nov 2, 2009

From the Archives

Study of Leaders Identifies Their Weaknesses

Effective leaders are expected to possess a variety of skills that produce measurable results. A new study from The Barna Group shows that most leaders are at their best when it comes to using existing resources – and at their worst when it comes to developing needed resources.

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The Barna study interviewed 1,736 individuals who qualified as leaders. Those individuals were then evaluated in relation to 15 core leadership competencies. The results indicated that the three competencies which leaders struggle with the most all relate to developing the tools needed to succeed. Specifically, leaders are most likely to have difficulties developing the tangible resources (e.g., funds, personnel, facilities) needed to accomplish plans; developing the skills of other leaders to facilitate more effective organizational performance; and developing the systems required to efficiently complete the tasks at hand. Each of those dimensions encompasses a variety of tasks and efforts.

According to the research, the specific behaviors that leaders do most poorly include:

  • Negotiating agreements that maximize benefits at minimal cost
  • Attracting new resources to the organization – especially human and financial capital
  • Developing and implementing individualized developmental plans for emerging leaders
  • Nurturing robust relationships with existing colleagues, demonstrating sufficient care and attention to their needs

The research also discovered that leaders sometimes perceive themselves to be more effective at specific aspects of leading than their performance suggests. A prime example relates to vision. While an overwhelming majority of leaders believes that they are very effective at using the organization’s vision as their chief decision-making filter, the study found that one of the greatest weaknesses of most leaders is relying on the vision to protect the organization from over-commitment. “Leaders tend to point to their vision as the reason to say ‘yes’ to opportunities,” explained George Barna. “But our research showed that there is much less willingness to use the vision as a reason to say ‘no’ to opportunities that are not in the best interests of the organization.”

Lessons from Master Leaders

With the recent release of a new book on leadership, entitled Master Leaders, Barna noted that his research for that book also underscored the challenge of some of these same issues.

“Many of the master leaders concurred that if you are called by God to lead and you have the quality of character that motivates people to follow you, you can succeed because the competencies required can be learned,” he commented. “Toward that end, it is invaluable to have one or more proven leaders who take you under their wing and systematically coach you in the kinds of skills you need.”

Barna also discovered that a leader’s attitude makes a big difference in his/her trajectory. “Potential leaders who are wise and have a deep commitment to using their leadership capacity to help other people are likely to grow into effectiveness. A potential leader who is smart and aggressive but fails to see leadership as serving, and is more worried about gaining credit and fame than doing what’s right regardless of the personal cost, is in for a long, difficult journey.”

Creating a Healthy Culture

Another leadership skill among the lowest-rated activities of qualified leaders is creating a healthy corporate culture. While some analysts contend that it is not possible to orchestrate the organizational environment, the master leaders indicated that a mark of effective leaders is the ability to craft the parameters of a group’s culture through specific leadership practices.

Among the leadership behaviors described as central toward generating a healthy culture were hiring emotionally and spiritually healthy individuals; modeling and rewarding positive behavioral habits; instilling vulnerability and candor as hallmarks of the environment; maintaining a team orientation, rather than a focus on individuals; identifying and supporting particular traditions, customs, symbols and relationships that advance the desired culture; fostering free-flowing communication; and creating a unique language that bonds people within the culture.

The Barna research indicated that a valuable but uncommon practice related to culture development is having every recognized leader actively engaged in mentoring other leaders. Such mentoring not only facilitates the long-term passing on of the characteristics of the desired culture, but produces a steady stream of leaders who are capable of maintaining the desired culture.

About Master Leaders
Master Leaders is a new book from researcher and bestselling author George Barna based upon conversations with 30 of the top leaders in the country. The book provides a veritable greatest hits of leadership wisdom from renowned leaders in business, ministry, government, military, education, entertainment and sports. Among the leaders included in the project were leadership experts Warren Bennis, Ken Blanchard, Seth Godin, John Kotter, and Patrick Lencioni; government leaders such as Attorney General John Ashcroft, Governor Mike Huckabee and House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich; championship-winning coaches Tony Dungy and Lou Holtz; blockbuster film producer Ralph Winter; corporate executives Colleen Barrett and Don Soderquist; Army General Robert Dees; ministry leaders Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Richard Stearns (World Vision) and U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black – and a dozen more.

This hardback book contains 16 chapters focused on different components of leadership. The topics dealt with include vision and values, creating a healthy culture, hiring and firing, developing leaders, conflict and confrontation, character development, facilitating trust, following effectively, building teams, moral authority and power, handling criticism and pressure, and discipline. In each chapter, multiple leaders are involved in the dialogue about the topic at hand, providing practical lessons drawn from their deep reservoir of experience and understanding.

Your Leadership Toolkit

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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