The Stanford University School of Business conducted a study on leadership effectiveness spanning over a 20-year period. Their primary conclusion was that barely 15% of a leaders’ success comes from technical skills and knowledge and 85% comes from the ability to connect with people and engender trust and mutual understanding.
Even knowing this, we still find a significant percentage of leaders and executives continue to rely on their past technical expertise in their attempts to guide their business.
The same study showed that over 96% of executives today believe they have “above average” people skills. Those of you with statistics backgrounds would recognize this as a statistical improbability. We all make up reasons for believing something to be true and as coaches we see many of the reasons executives still rely on their technical success to drive their leadership roles, the number one reason being that they wonder if they actually have the skills necessary to effectively lead. Many became leaders and executives through the strength of their technical success. Now different sets of skills are necessary to succeed at leadership.
Additional studies confirm that 75% of North American CEOs believe they are “better” than other leaders in their industry, while 90% of physicians, pilots and investment bankers rate themselves in the top 10% of their field. We work with CEO’s in a vast number of industries and believe through our experience that most might say they believe they are “better” than other leaders and after sitting through countless private coaching sessions find most really operate from a place of fear – not knowing how to effectively lead or open up to learning how. After leading for so many years, how do you admit to not effectively knowing how?
Take driving as an example. After a proud record of no traffic violations for over 12 years I recently got a ticket during one of my monthly trips to Phoenix. An option I received was to attend a one evening; four-hour defensive driving class in order to have my violation dismissed and continue to have a clean driving record. I accepted that option and looked forward to the upcoming class with little enthusiasm. Of course I’m a good driver! In fact, better than most. I also have two motorcycles and through necessity ride with a very defensive mentality. So what could someone teach me that I didn’t already know after over 40 years with a driver’s license?
I will admit to learning, or I should say re-learning, many of the things my almost 40 years of driving had come to be ‘natural’ experience. I was surprised to find out that I remembered only a few of the more obscure rules and laws that I just took for granted. And, the instructor asked us who considered themselves good drivers. Of course, I raised my hand, as did all but one other participant. You have all probably heard the old belief that most drivers consider themselves above average drivers, which is another statistical improbability. This semi-forced learning class led me to contemplate what I once read the retired head of Intel, Andy Grove said, “Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure.” I admit to learning how complacent I had become when driving and wonder if the class I took made me aware of that and helped me avoid the back end of a three car pile up while driving downtown just last week. I wonder how many pile ups leaders are having and/or avoiding these days?
When leaders of organizations, particularly those that consider themselves very successful, approach us to consider coaching for themselves and their leaders, their desire to step out of their comfort zones and truly develop their leadership skills and shift away from reliance on technical expertise have a greater potential for leadership success and avoid more pile ups than those that keep ‘driving’ like they always have since the day they got their leadership ‘license’.