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Harry Hertz


What Is a Leader to Do?

What do employees expect?

Published: Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 16:47

I recently read an HBR blog by Sunnie Giles that reported the results of a study of 195 leaders representing 30 global organizations. The leaders were asked to identify the most important competencies for leadership. The study reminded me of a complementary article in Forbes, written by Glen Llopis, about the competencies employees expect in their leaders. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two studies and also look at the overlap with the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence requirements related to leadership.

The top seven leadership competencies in the eyes of leaders (per Giles) are:
1. High ethical and moral standards
2. Setting goals and objectives, and then empowering employees to achieve
3. Clearly communicating expectations
4. Flexibility to change opinions and admit mistakes
5. Committing to ongoing employee training
6. Communicating often and openly
7. Being open to new ideas

The top seven expectations of leaders as expressed by employees (per Llopis) are:
1. Specificity in expectations
2. Empowering employees to achieve
3. Sharing her/his vulnerabilities
4. Honesty
5. Demonstrating personal accountability
6. Showing respect for employees
7. Authenticity

Although the language is somewhat different in the two presentations, there is a lot of overlap. I must admit that I’ve always believed, as the leaders in the HBR study do, that a key expectation of leadership is open, frequent, and two-way communication. Some of the employees’ expectations in Llopis' Forbes article require communication, but this isn’t specifically called out as a top employee expectation. Yet when we go and see organizations on Baldrige site visits, no matter how effective their communication may be, we usually hear an employee give voice to a desire for more communication. 

Baldrige role models also demonstrate their commitment to learning as an organization and to personal learning and development of employees. Although empowerment (identified in both studies) requires knowledge, employees didn’t specifically call out the need for leadership commitment to employee development.

Looking at the employees’ expectations of leaders, they identified both respect and authenticity, which were absent in the leaders’ set of top competencies. Many of the competencies the leaders chose imply a respect for employees, such as empowering them, openness to their ideas, and willingness to admit mistakes to them, but respect is not specifically mentioned.

The one term that appears to me to be truly unique to the Forbes study is the notion of authenticity. Authenticity requires a level of empathy and personal sharing that was not included in the leaders’ description of needed competencies.

Taking a look at the Baldrige criteria, two of these characteristics aren’t specifically identified in criteria questions. They are sharing vulnerabilities and authenticity, both of which are included in the employees’ expectations of leaders. Indeed, authenticity would require a degree of admitting to vulnerabilities. Many of the Baldrige questions, when taken in aggregate, would lead to leaders sharing their vulnerabilities and to their being authentic, but we don’t specifically ask how they demonstrate these competencies.

As we approach the next criteria revision cycle, I’m interested in how people feel about adding specific references to vulnerability and authenticity to the criteria requirements for senior leadership (item 1.1) or to the visionary leadership core value. I welcome your thoughts!

And as you ponder that question, I ask leaders and employees to think about both lists of competencies and see how your organization performs.

First published May 12, 2016, on the Blogrige.


About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.