Expanding Leadership Perceptions

by taking liberties with cluster analysis

We’ve all heard “what got you here won’t get you there”, yet we still tend to lean heavily on our trusted strengths and strategies when stretching for something new.  Sometimes that works, but often it doesn’t because what we’re aspiring to requires a different skill set. 
Consider a fantastic individual contributor who’s valued for his attention to detail.  That may be important in the current position, but is it a priority for the next?  That more advanced role probably relies on different skills such as conveying vision, meeting budgets and/or managing conflict.  Not only does the employee need to know what the decision-makers will be looking for, he also needs to know how he is perceived relative to those skill/experience requirements.  When trying to launch a transition, evolve your leadership or develop an employee, these two questions are good starting points: 

1. What are the critical skills, abilities and qualities required?
2. How am I perceived relative to those crucial factors?

To help clients prepare and position for their next role, I created a tool that (very) loosely links the above idea with cluster analysis.  This statistical technique groups similar data points into discrete categories to aid in analysis.  Don’t let the thought of stats stop you; this tool is elegant in its simplicity.   Imagine what you do and say as a stream of data points flowing into your environment and available for assessment by your boss, colleagues and customers.  Over time, these people will frequently experience related data items and this group of similar impressions forms a cluster.  For example, every time you close a deal or hit a revenue goal, you’re adding another ping of data to your “meets targets” cluster.  As this cluster develops significant mass, this trait becomes one of the things you are known for.  Clusters can represent both desirable and undesirable traits.  The collection of all your clusters presents a composite of your current leadership style. 
Cluster analysis is not a perfect metaphor and I apologize to those of you that find this confusing (or possibly offensive).  Several clients, however, have thought it useful for highlighting areas of focus and tracking progress, so I’m passing it along.  Here’s how you create your Leadership Cluster Analysis:

1.  Identify Current Clusters Jot down the various categories for which you are known.  In other words, what opinions are others forming by the repetition of what you do and say?  Here’s a simplified example:

cluster 2


2.  Incorporate New Clusters As you anticipate your desired career path, what skills, abilities and personal qualities will be advantageous?  Consider things you already do well that will carry forward as well as new, mandatory requirements for your next position.  Demonstrating strength in the core competencies of your current position casts a positive glow, which makes it easier to be noticed, but also only confirms that this role is a good fit.  It doesn’t mean you will be perceived as ready for the next step.
To be considered a viable candidate, others will need to see how you fit with the requirements of that next position.  How do you know what these are?  Read the job description, speak with the hiring manager, observe the traits of successful people in that role, and mine your own performance reviews for clues.  Now, add these to your Leadership Cluster Analysis:

cluster 3
3.  Shift Perceptions Through Focused Activities Now the fun starts as you define the desired “clusters”, start to populate them with “data” through your actions, and ultimately become associated with these characteristics as well!  (At the same time, look for ways to depopulate undesirable clusters.) This step requires strategizing to create options; it may be useful to have your boss, mentor, coach or experienced colleague help.  
Consider activities that boost your expertise in these areas and make it visible to others.  For example, attend a course/read a book on strategic planning and then present an overview to the team, or volunteer for a companywide initiative that will build new experience and greater visibility.  One client, who had never managed people, volunteered to run the organization’s major philanthropic activity involving the coordination of numerous volunteers.  This success enabled others to see her potential and support her bid for a managerial position.  Sometimes reinforcing a cluster is just a matter of tweaking how you express yourself, using language and tone to change perceptions.
As you move through your day, keep your Leadership Cluster Analysis handy.  Every time you do or say something that provides another data point, mark it down.  To get things really moving, challenge yourself to earn a certain number of data points within a certain timeframe.  You’ll be surprised at how many opportunities there are once you get the hang of it, and your Leadership Cluster Analysis will start to shift:

cluster 4

Recognize that this is not an overnight process, it takes time to catch people’s attention and build trust in the trend they see forming.  This diligence, however, yields another reward; people recognize the courage, commitment and openness required for creating such a shift and those characteristics become valued clusters in your profile as well.

*Originally published January 2009 in Jump In newsletter.  ©Insight Edge, 2009


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