Originally posted at http://www.howtomeasureanything.com on Thursday, March 05, 2009 7:30:54 PM, by Paddy.

“Hi Douglas

Firstly let me give you a huge wrap for the book – I would say its invaluable but that would be wrong, because as I am learning “Everything can be measured”!

I am interested in what is traditionally referred to as a ‘soft’ area, where good measurements are hard to come by – Leadership and [Organizational] Development. Seeing as you asked to be stumped/challenged, Ill throw my biggest fish at you first…

How can you measure leadership?

To help direct the discussion that I hope will flow from this, lets talk about to specific examples: in a sporting context (ie impact of player/coach leadership on scores) and in a corporate context (impact of management/employee leadership on profits)

Lets see if this stumps you…


Thanks for your question. That is something I’ve been asked more than once. As with all measurement questions, I start out with “What do you mean…leadership?”. Then ask, how do you observe examples of leadership? If someone says “Leadership is better here than there” what observations are they basing that on?

Sometimes people define the observations for leadership as being some measure of performance of an organization. In that case, what they really want to measure is the performance. But sometimes they want to ask if particular “leadership styles” result in the improved performance. In that case, they should think about correlating surveys of staff about leadership (to determine the type of leadership style) and correlate that result with observed performance.

Perhaps they are asking about some ill-defined sense of charisma separate from the performance f the organization. In that sense, a survey of subordinates should suffice. But in that case, we want to be careful of some other effects that might get confused with charisma or leadership but most definitions of leadership would not include. For example, physical attractiveness and even being tall are often associated with subjective perceptions of leadership. US Presidents, for example, are almost always significantly taller than average. Tom Malloy in the 1980’s studied how attire affects perceptions of charisma, competence and authority. That’s the problem with the subjective sense of leadership they way it is often used. People can’t help but to let things affect our assessment of leaders even thought we know they shouldn’t.

Perhaps leadership is defined by examples of particularly inspirational ideas such as President Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon. Perhaps Joan of Arc leading the charge is leadership because it so inspired her troops. If the these cases are what you mean, then perhaps you should think about survey people about how inspired they are.

Personally, I think all of this is sort of meaningless if it doesn’t lead to performance. So, as I mention in the book, you need to ask why you want to know this. Are you evaluating prospective executive staff? Are you evaluating who will run a new division better? If you can zero in on why you care, you will probably find that measuring actual leadership (or whatever that means) is not your real concern. If you are trying to predict performance, I suggest that past performance is important. Would Kennedy or Joan of Arc have been that inspirational if they failed? Does a subjective perception of leadership by subordinates matter if the leader doesn’t meat objectives? Probably not.


Doug Hubbard