Is a Leadership Audit in Order?

By Neville Knowles

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The City Manager (CM) knew he had a problem. In an effort to clean up a financially troubled department, a hard-driving numbers person had been chosen to replace the previous director of the department. The CM was aware of the new director’s abrasive style and lack of leadership experience, but council’s desire to straighten out the department’s finances had trumped his concerns.

Before long, the new director had alienated five managers who reported to him. All five had approached the CM with a litany of complaints about the way he was running the department. The issues ranged from disrespect, intimidation, and bullying to the director’s distrustful command-and-control management style.

Resolving the Issues

To solve the problem, the CM opted for a leadership audit, to be followed by a program to be defined after the audit. Leadership audits identify opportunities for positive change and activities, such as coaching, team development, and leadership development workshops to facilitate those changes. They also include a long-term structure, for which all team members are responsible, that helps the team make the changes sustainable and ensures they do not lapse back into old behaviours.

It took commitment and effort from all involved, but after six months, the situation improved dramatically. At first, the director was hesitant to participate in the process; but, he knew his current strategy of pushing his people harder was only making things worse. Deep down, he wanted success for his team and believed the process would work, so he agreed to participate.

To be successful, there must be recognition that some kind of change is required. Leadership audits provide this recognition. Without the audit and a full understanding of what was working and what wasn’t, a change process couldn’t be designed effectively.

In the case of this troubled department, all five managers felt strongly that change was needed. The department head wasn’t as easy to convince. Commonly, leaders aren’t aware of the impact that their styles and decisions have on others. However, once the process began, he saw the issues more clearly and started to buy into the need for change.

To initiate the process, an external consultant met individually with all members of the team, as well as the director and the CM. All information, of course, was held confidentially, and the goal was to encourage people to speak candidly about the situation, so all voices could be heard and issues identified.

Based on audit information, two programs were designed and ran concurrently for the next six months. Leadership coaching sessions were initiated with the director, providing him with a place to reflect, gain insight, and greater self-awareness. He realized he wanted to practice some different management styles to change the impact he was having on his team. He practised and developed some new leadership skills that helped him build trust and greater connection with his team.

A team development process was also launched, bringing together the director and the five unhappy managers in his department. The goal was to build trust in the team and work on the team as a positive operating system. The team shared what was working well and what was not working well. They learned how to have candid, productive conversations to address their issues. Toward the end of the six months, the group created a terms of engagement structure, essentially a code of conduct by which they all wanted to work together. Because they had created it themselves, they all had ownership of it and were committed to making it work long after the formal process was completed and they had resumed their ongoing work together.

Beneficial Process

Leadership audits and trailing processes implemented can have powerful results and typically produce the following benefits:

  • enhanced level of trust and respect;
  • improved positivity, productivity, and employee engagement;
  • strengthened relationships and team function;
  • enhanced communications; and
  • enhanced leadership capacity.

All of these benefits lead to improved results and timeliness of those results. The workplace becomes more efficient because the distraction of interpersonal disagreements and agendas is removed.

Audits can be beneficial in many situations, including when:

  • positivity, productivity, and engagement seem low;
  • resistance is the norm;
  • leadership impact seems suspect;
  • deliverables are often late and/or results seem questionable;
  • day-to-day relationships are conflicted or unsettled;
  • self-interest trumps collective team orientation; and
  • retention seems an issue.

Leadership audits are a very effective way of identifying opportunities for positive change processes. Sometimes, team members are well aware of the problems; other times, they are not and only learn about them as they participate in team building or coaching. In either case, the process builds trust and respect, in effect preparing rich soil in which they can sow the seeds of success.

Taking the first step in leadership can be the most difficult thing. Once underway, the process begins to pay immediate dividends, and participants can see the improvements occurring all around them. Recognition of a new beginning emerges and all get on board in the new direction.  MW

NEVILLE KNOWLES is the founder of the Knowles Leadership Group of London, Ontario and an organizational development specialist. He provides executive leadership coaching, team development facilitation, leadership development workshops, and facilitates transformative sustainable change. He can be reached at or (519) 641-5365.

as published in Municipal World, October 2012





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