Ask an Expert November 2019

Ask an Expert

Q: How do you explain the difference between frequency vs. quality? I understand the research suggests that the more frequently a leader engages in a specific behavior the more positive the outcomes. And I know that the LPI® isn’t intended to specifically assess the quality of an interaction or a leader’s behavior. But, it seems that it’s assumed. Is that correct?

A: In a response to this question published previously in this newsletter, Certified Master Renee Harness offered the insightful perspective that doing something of high quality infrequently is insufficient to being seen by others as an exemplary leader. As she points out, the best-celebration-in-history held annually is not going to encourage individuals the next week, let alone a few months down the road. (View the full text of her comments here.)

Our research supports Renee’s observation. For example, team members experience a stronger sense of team spirit, feel more highly valued, and believe their work is more meaningful and makes a difference when leaders more frequently give “members of the team lots of appreciation and support for their contributions” than when leaders less frequently show appreciation. This finding, as reported in the sixth edition of The Leadership Challenge, also is illustrated in the graphic below:



My co-author Barry Posner and I find similar results for all the leader behaviors we assess: the more frequently leaders demonstrate each of the 30 behaviors measured by the LPI®: Leadership Practices Inventory® the more engaged constituents are in their workplace and the more effective leaders are in their roles. Part of the explanation for this result is found in the nature of each behavior. When we began our research over 35 years ago, we investigated what leaders did when they were at their personal best. The 30 statements on the LPI® are already qualitative—that is, they are about “best practices” of leaders. They don’t ask about poor leader behavior or average leader behavior; they ask about exemplary leader behavior. We know this from the rigorous psychometric (reliability and validity) testing that went into selecting the items included in the LPI and which we discuss at length in The Leadership Challenge. We don't include any items for which doing a behavior less frequently results in lower levels of engagement or performance. (For a review of the research behind the LPI and an analysis of some of our findings, we recommend you read Barry Posner’s white paper on Bringing the Rigor of Research to the Art of Leadership.)

It is certainly plausible that a leader can, for example, do a very poor job of showing appreciation and can do that poor job very frequently. However, in the hundreds of thousands of LPI®360 responses we’ve analyzed Observers appear to be taking that into consideration when they indicate the frequency of the behavior. They seem to be clear that the intent of each statement is to measure positive leadership actions. While no assessment instrument can ever be 100 percent reliable or 100 percent valid, the consistent results from the LPI demonstrate that internal reliability of the LPI is very strong.

This is not to say that leaders will always be exemplary in their execution of a behavior. Each individual who receives LPI feedback will have areas of improvement as well as areas of strength. When attempting to do something that is unfamiliar or undeveloped, there can be a steep learning curve. Over time and with deliberate practice we have found that leaders can develop the capacity to execute on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® with greater skill and quality. The best leaders are the best learners, and continuous learning is the key to consistent quality in leading.

Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Cited by The Wall Street Journal as one of the twelve best executive educators in the U.S., he was also the recipient of the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award by Trust Across America. Together with Barry Posner, he is author of over 30 books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development, including the expanded and fully updated sixth edition of the international bestseller, The Leadership Challenge. 

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