Dr. Robert Hogan – On key factors of leadership success, challenges on different management levels & HiPo selection and retention

We had the opportunity to host dr Robert Hogan, founder of Hogan Assessment Systems and the inventor of the famous personality assessments, so we took this chance to get his view on some of the burning issues in HR now, as well as his insights into the factors which make great leaders. We bring you some of the most interesting answers bellow.

What is required from leaders on different hierarchy levels within the organization (first-line managers, middle-level, C-level)?

There is a real difference in what leaders need to do at different levels in an organization. First-line managers actually need leadership skills, they need the same leadership skills as a coach. They are responsible for implementing the tasks of the organizations, they have to build a team and make sure they do things.

Middle managers have to take over the ideas from the top and pass them to the first-line managers. Many times those ideas are flawed, and the staff will say that’s a crazy idea. However, the middle manager has to sell the crazy ideas, too and next has to justify the performance of the team back to the people at the top.

That is why the first-line managers have to be leaders. Middle managers have to be diplomats, they have to work back and forth between unfriendly agencies. People at the top very often, such as Steve Jobs, just parachute into the top – the job at the top is a strategy, it’s based on figuring out what to do and who should do it, it’s all about strategy and judgment. And for that you don’t need leadership skills, you don’t need diplomatic skills, in fact you just need analytical skills. Someone like Steve Jobs was then very smart about products and product placement, however he was a terrible manager. And the organization had to basically build structures around him to prevent him from terrifying the workforce. So, the real leadership is at the bottom level, it really matters at the bottom level.

You say that winners always win, losers always lose. How did Jobs, Gates, Bezos and Zuckerberg achieve such success? What is the key factor of their success?

I mean it’s true – if you’re good at this, then you’re good at that, you watch these guys being successful wherever they go, and other people just fail and fail and fail. So if you have a person who was a successful salesperson in a car industry, they will be able to do real-estate or whatever you do.

But the question I am most interested in is how you account for their success? And I think the answer is first and foremost – they are quite smart. And smart in a practical way. There are a lot of people with high test scores but they are not smart. But these guys are smart in a functional way and they have a correct strategy, they have recruited enough talented, like-minded people who can build it throughout the organization. I think these people are not leaders – they are just strategists and visionaries who can see opportunities, and they are able to sell a vision and a program, and other people line up, and the implementation takes place. I am sure that as for Apple and Microsoft early on there must have been terrible problems at the implementation level. Because these guys are not about implementation, they are about setting a direction.

What defines a good boss?

We are almost an engineering company, we are very data-based. Everything we say or do is based on real numbers. We actually know what the attributes of a good leader or boss is – there are 4 attributes that you have to have. But first of all, a good boss is someone whose team performs effectively. Senior people typically know who they like, not who their leaders are. So if you want to know the attributes of a good boss you have to ask your subordinates. So what people want to see in their leaders – there are 4 things:

  • The first thing any person needs as a leader is to be perceived as having integrity – as being honest, as telling the truth, as not playing favorites, as not being self-dealing, as not exploiting organizational resources for his own benefit. You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen! And one time they catch you lying – you’re done. Forever. That’s why so many politicians are not good leaders, because they lie for a living.
  • The second thing people want to see in a leader is good judgment – can you make solid, dependable judgments, or are you erratic and flawed in your decision-making? The staff always knows if their boss makes good decisions.
  • The third thing is they need to know what they are talk about. They need competence in the business, they actually need to understand what’s going on at the shop floor, and understand the business in detail. Historically the best leaders came from bellow and worked their way up. But since the ’70s we have had something called the MBA, and the idea of it is that you can acquire formal knowledge that would make you a leader by definition, and you don’t need to know what’s going on at the shop floor because you know all these other things – you know finance, law, and whatever else. Well, then you got a guy in the leadership position who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Which means the staff can lie to him, can deceive him, you cannot hold anybody accountable. If you are the boss, people will be coming to you all day long asking for advice – you have to be a coach. And if you don’t know the business in detail then…. You definitely need to know what you’re talking about.
  • The last thing is – any leader needs to be able to project a sense of vision. They have to be able to tell you why we should doing this and why it matters. Make sense out of the job.

And that’s it! If you have that, the engagement will follow as much as the team performance.

What is the best way to identify HiPo leaders?

There is a very interesting study from the ‘80s, a study of the management performance that included 500 managers from a variety of different organizations in the time period of 3 years. Eventually they found out there were 2 groups of managers: there was one group of managers – of people that were getting rapid promotions and rapid pay-raises, and the second group of managers who had highly performing teams. And the bad news is: they were not the same people, they only overlapped about 10%. They also spent their time very differently – the first group of managers who would get rapid raises spent their time networking, doing politics, spent their time on the phone all day. The second group of managers who had high performing teams spent their time working on their teams, fixing the kind of problems that you had to fix with these teams. The second group made money for the organizations, and the first group made money for themselves.

Organizations have to ask themselves what they want – do you want someone who will look out for themselves, or do you want someone who is actually going to make money for the team? The first group is characterized by self-promotional tendencies, by social skills and having real talent for networking. The second group is characterized by talent for leadership. And it’s not the same thing! The second group are people who tend to be humble, to be understated, they prefer their work to speak for itself. They are the real high potentials, but organizations typically prefer the guys who are really good at self-promotion. And there is a huge financial consequence – the fact that it’s these guys who get rapidly promoted into management – that accounts for the 65-70% of failure rate in management.

How do organizations retain high potentials?

The key to retaining high potentials is engagement and good leadership. What good leadership does is create engagement – to be willing to work hard for the organization and go beyond the necessary. So the key to high potential retention is to get them engaged – to expose them to really effective leadership.

For more answers about high potential management and the future of HR watch the whole interview here:

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