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7 Expectations for Transformational Leaders

7 Expectations for Transformational Leaders

by Adam Hickman and Nate Dvorak

Story Highlights

  • A broken competency model makes everyone's job harder than it needs to be
  • HR needs to reevaluate the behaviors that actually contribute to success and effective leadership
  • Read our guide to Become a Better Leader.

The simplest way to be clear about behavioral expectations for leaders is to communicate which behaviors achieve the results your business wants -- not with a list of core competencies that may or may not link to outcomes. Companies that don't examine the behaviors that lead to the desired outcomes are liable to confuse leaders about what is expected of them.

That's not at all unusual. Though knowing what is expected of them at work is an employee's most fundamental need, Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report found that only six in 10 employees know what those expectations are. What's more, just 41% strongly agree that their job description aligns well with the work they are asked to do.

The lack of clear expectations for leadership roles and accurate job descriptions creates an ever-present fear of being exposed as incompetent and being punished for it.


And managers may be worse off than the teams they lead. According to Gallup's first perspective paper in a series on this topic, The Manager Experience: Top Challenges & Perks of Managers, managers are:

  • 15 percentage points more likely to say they have multiple competing priorities
  • four points less likely to say their job description is clear or that it aligns to the work they do
  • six points more likely to feel stress during a lot of the workday
  • 11% less likely to strongly agree they get to do what they do best every day.

The lack of clear expectations and accurate job descriptions for leadership roles creates an ever-present fear of being exposed as incompetent and then being punished for it. Future leaders have a real incentive to meekly accept lists of competency requirements, even if the requirements don't align with their role.

Consequently, HR's performance reviews can't be entirely realistic or comprehensive. When HR must rely on an ambiguous, inconsistent, contradictory array of traits, skills, capabilities, knowledge, behaviors, leadership expectations -- and trust, this describes far too many competency models -- the job is far more difficult than it has to be.

What HR needs, what all leaders and managers need, is a fresh look at the leader behaviors that actually contribute to performance, development and success.

Competencies 2.0: The 7 Expectations for Leadership Behavior

Recently, Gallup researchers conducted a study involving more than 550 job roles and 360 unique job competencies. It showed that good leaders achieve success, despite varied roles, organizations, and industries, by focusing on the behaviors within these seven expectations:

1. Build relationships. Establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and accomplish work.

2. Develop people. Help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.

3. Lead change. Recognize that change is essential, set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work that aligns with the stated vision.

4. Inspire others. Encourage others through positivity, vision, confidence, challenge and recognition.

5. Think critically. Seek information, critically evaluate the information, apply the knowledge gained and solve problems.

6. Communicate clearly. Listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and be open to hearing opinions.

7. Create accountability. Identify the consequences of actions and hold yourself and others responsible for performance.

Changing the expectation from a focus on competency to behavior approach to leadership instead allows organizations and their leaders to focus on the critical expectations of the job, not the things no one can control (e.g., idiosyncrasies), overly specific requirements (e.g., specific knowledge), and unrealistic aspirations (e.g., irrelevant skills).

What HR needs, what all leaders and managers need, is a fresh look at the behaviors that actually contribute to performance, development and success.

Anyone can gear their actions toward an expectation, though everyone does so in their own way. A leader's "own way" can be identified and measured with the CliftonStrengths assessment. People who know and use their CliftonStrengths are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 7.8% more productive in their role
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life
  • 6x as likely to do what they do best every day

The CliftonStrengths assessment provides a common language with which to approach human development that necessitates individualization, allowing leaders to bring their own strengths to bear for each of these behaviors. There is no more effective way to empower leaders than to see each person in terms of their strengths.

And, ultimately, successful performance is the expectation for leaders. Performance is the criteria HR should be evaluating and coaching toward.

Leaders ought to ask, without fear of consequences, if their role expectations are in their job description, if their behaviors help them meet those expectations, and if the development they get is the help they need to achieve the desired outcomes.

Though leaders are often judged on their ability to conform to a competency list, companies are judged for their success. Achieving success can't happen through muddled, ineffective leadership behavior. A good faith examination of behaviors may take some energy and nerve, but it encourages leaders to do what they do best -- and their companies, too -- that's the competency that matters most.

Rethink the route to success:

  • Want to learn more about competencies? Continue reading the second and third articles of this series.
  • Partner with Gallup to evaluate, optimize and align your performance management system to achieve greater performance on the individual, team and organizational level.
  • Download our free perspective paper Re-Engineering Performance Management to learn why traditional performance management systems are being disrupted and how to make them more effective.
  • Read It's the Manager, the bestselling collection of 52 of Gallup's greatest discoveries on the science of management including advice and analytics on the fix for performance ratings.

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