October 18, 2008

Predicting Leadership Success

What's the key predictor for leadership success in business and government?

In many organizations it's prior success. Years ago, one of my supervisor's placed individuals in important roles only if they tasted success. Not just any kind of success, the kind that changes an industry. Another leader said that she only wanted key jobs filled by people who failed in an assignment (but learned from it). This is what "failing forward" means.

Reading today's endorsement of Barak Obama by the LA Times made me think that perhaps the support of peers or key influencers is the definitive predictor of success. Apparently Obama's newspaper endorsements outnumber his opponent by three times. The LA Times is part of a larger list that includes the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post.

The LA Times says this about Obama:

"Obama inspires confidence not so much in his grasp of Wall Street finance but in his acknowledgment of and comfort with his lack of expertise. He will not be one to forge far-reaching economic policy without sounding out the best thinkers and practitioners, and he has many at his disposal. He has won the backing of some on Wall Street not because he's one of them but because they recognize his talent for extracting from a broad range of proposals a coherent and workable program."
"Inspires confidence", "won the backing...", "talent for extracting from..." These are things that any business person would want in their performance review or promotion notice.

Perhaps endorsements do predict success. For example in the recent Canadian election the incumbent Conservative Party secured 18 endorsements and its main opponent secured just one. The Conservative Party won the election (although they are forming a Minority Government.)

Still, I'm thinking there has to be more to predicting leadership success than prior success and endorsements from influentials. Back in 2005/2006 I devoted a lot of time in my consulting business to innovation. So when a Canadian Federal election was called I asked each of the national parties for their Innovation Platform. Only one party responded - the Conservative Party, through their local candidate - Peter Kent.

Click here to read what I wrote in 2006.

Peter lost to a very popular incumbent in the heart of Liberal Toronto in that election. In fact he lost big time. But he didn't give up. He learned from that experience, adjusted and won in last week's general election!

Here's what one columnist wrote about his very impressive victory:

I'm not saying that having failed in the past is the definitive predictor of leadership success. I think it's a factor. It's probably as important a factor as the endorsements of others. But in my opinion perseverance coupled with the ability to learn and adjust is what matters most.
Related Links: Leadership, Business

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