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Pinpointing My Leadership Position
by Jim Clemmer

"In a longitudinal study of the effectiveness of leaders... how subordinates assessed the leader proved most predictive of the leader's success and effectiveness, both at two and four years following the assessment. Even after seven years, the subordinates' assessments were predicting the leader's success – and with far more accuracy than the boss's own assessments. The subordinates' views were every bit as accurate a predictor as were much more elaborate ratings based on performance simulations done in assessment centers." -- Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

In 1707, Great Britain lost four warships and 2,000 sailors on the rocks of the Scilly Islands, located off the southwest coast of England. It wasn't that the location of the rocks was unknown; indeed, the maps of the area were clear and accurate. The problem was the ships' location. On that dark and foggy night, Admiral Clowdisley Shovell and his navigators tragically miscalculated exactly where they were.

For thousands of years ships were smashed to bits on the rocks of well-charted hazards like shoals or islands. Often this happened on much-traveled routes where the hazards were well known to navigators. But knowing the position of rocks on a map isn't of much help when you don't know where on the map you are.

Whether on the high seas or in a corporate boardroom, maps, charts, or plans are very useful in plotting a course to where we want to go. But they are useless if we don't know where we are now. To get from here to there, we need to know where "here" is.

With today's very precise GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and other technological aids, ships and planes are now able to see exactly where they are. As a result, these craft are able to avoid colliding with natural hazards, even in the most severe weather conditions.

There are numerous modern technologies, instruments, and techniques to help managers see where they are today. But many of them still attempt to navigate their own personal development or organization-change processes with tools similar to old-fashioned sextants or star charts. Some may have lookouts posted in the crow's nest, but ignore or discount any warnings that don't coincide with their own perception. With such crude and ineffective feedback systems, it's not surprising that managers often have no idea where they really are. Yet this often leads them to believe that things are going well. "Nobody's telling me about any problems," they say confidently as they steer their ship blindly toward the rocks.

Leaders, on the other hand, use more effective "instruments" to pinpoint exactly where they are and where they need to go next to reach their destination. They use informal and formal feedback channels, such as 360-degree feedback surveys. (These provide anonymous and blindly compiled input from all around me, including people I lead directly, my peers, my boss, as well as our internal/external customers.) Other tools include:

• Conducting project reviews

• Reversing performance appraisals with team members

• Hallway conversations

• Reflective time at meetings

• Grapevine chatter

• Appointing devil's advocates

• Chatting over a coffee or beer

• Focus groups

• Organization surveys

• Operational reviews

• Off-site retreats

• Input from consultants

• Organization/team assessments

• Mentors

• Networking

• External executive coaches

Jim Clemmer may be contacted at

Jim Clemmer is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. His web site is



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