Is There Such Thing as "Too Much" of an Exemplary Leadership Behavior?

Jun 24, 2020

Q:  I was recently asked about whether we would really want a leader to “Almost Always” practice some of the behaviors listed in the LPI®: Leadership Practices Inventory®. For example, would we want a leader that almost always practices creative recognition? Is there such thing as exercising “too much” of a leadership quality? Any advice on how to best respond?  
 
A: Is it possible to have too much praise for a job well done, too much show of support or concern, or too much storytelling? As a general rule—in the workplace and in life—that might be a judgment call for each of us to make as individuals. But when it comes to the LPI®: Leadership Practices Inventory®, it’s important to remember that this highly reliable, research-based instrument is built upon The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model that was first introduced 35 years ago. Backed by decades of original research and data from more than three million individuals worldwide, the LPI measures how frequently each individual exercises the 30 leadership behaviors. Using a scale from one to ten, selected co-workers, direct reports, managers, and others indicate how frequently they see leaders engage in the behaviors described. The LPI does not measure if someone exhibits a behavior too much or too little. Rather, it is uniquely designed to help individuals gain insight into how they see themselves as leaders, how others view them, and what actions they can take to improve their effectiveness in a leadership role.
 
Taking the example of creative recognition, for instance, a response of “10” on the LPI simply indicates that an observer sees this behavior exhibited as “Almost Always.” This answer does not indicate that almost always is too much—or too little. What ongoing research conducted by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner does indicate, however, is that personalized, creative recognition matters. And the more leaders do it, the greater the impact. For example, in The Leadership Challenge, Sixth Edition, the authors write, “those direct reports who rated their leaders above average on the leadership behavior ‘praises people for a job well done’ were significantly prouder, more motivated, and more committed to the organization’s success than the direct reports whose leaders are rated below average on this behavior.”  
 
In my opinion, the open comments section at the end of the assessment may provide a welcomed understanding of competency overuse or underuse and its effect on others. As a facilitator or coach, I encourage leaders to look at highs and lows by each practice. For instance, if a leader is receiving 9s and 10s in Inspire a Shared Vision and 6s and 7s in Enable Others to Act, it may indicate that he/she could be overusing the art of “painting the picture” yet failing to provide clear direction around how the team will get the work done.
 
In a case like this, reviewing the open comments can offer additional clarity. Direct written feedback could express a lack of clear roles and responsibilities, defined project timelines, or an unwillingness to allow others to contribute to how the work gets done. These types of comments could indicate that observers don’t feel empowered and connected to the work. And this becomes an opportunity for the leader to focus on encouraging experimentation, help their team develop cooperative goals and roles, and offer the freedom to choose how they accomplish the task at hand.
 
Karen Atwell, PCC, is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge and Vice President of Leadership Development at First Command Financial Services. As a professional with over 35 years of varied leadership experience, Karen is also a founding principal of Dynamic Perspectives, where she focuses on helping leaders create intentional success from vision to results. She can be reached at karen@dynamicperspectives.com.
 


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