What is missing from developing leaders in your organization?

I had a great day last Wednesday!

I was a guest speaker for a client of mine who is working with their leadership team on exposing and overcoming implicit bias. I recently wrote a post on this topic and if you missed it you can click here to get my take.

Wednesday morning, I was one of two speakers. The first speaker was from the organization’s insurance company and he was there to discuss ways to help the organization be the safest at building high quality products.

I am not much of an engineering safety type, but I did find the lecture to be very interesting and applicable to those of us interested in organizational leadership.

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There were three main points to the speaker’s presentation:

  1. It is vital to measure safety performance.

  2. Most safety measurement is historical.

  3. What we measure is how safe we are not, and not how safe we are.

What was so interesting to me is that what organizations usually track in the safety world are serious major injuries & minor injuries. His point was that this is not measuring how safe an organization is but how unsafe it is. He made the point that what the organization needs to become better aware of are the “near misses” and “unsafe behaviors.”

He made the point that while not every “unsafe behavior” will turn into a serious major injury, every serious major injury started with an unsafe behavior!


As I listened to him speak I asked myself… what about leadership? If I was giving this lecture and using leadership, what would it look like?

  1. It is vital to measure leadership performance. While I do think this domain gets overplayed at times, performance is always going to be a part of what leaders are expected to do. At times we are a bit short sighted in what we measure, but it is hard to argue with performance being one aspect of leadership that is vital to success.

  2. Most leadership measurement is historical. I think this is true both of performance and of behaviors. In the behavioral world we use things like personality assessments and 360 feedback to show how leaders have behaved in the past.

  3. What we measure is when we are “not leaders”, and not what great leadership looks like. Most of the feedback leaders get is trying to nourish (feed) the leader from history. While it is important to understand where you have been, it is just as important to think about where we want leaders to go in the future. Teach them continually what great looks like in your organization.


I think the final “ah ha” moment I experienced was when I turned my thoughts toward wondering if organizations “turn a blind eye” to near misses or allowing unsafe behaviors.

I didn’t have to think too long…

Immediately, I began to think about a client I had coached last year whose career had stalled out because he was seen as being too assertive and not enough of a collaborator to sit on an executive team. I was asked to collect feedback for him so that he could gain some self-awareness around this and hopefully change these behaviors so that he could be considered for the executive team in the future.

As we sat together processing his feedback, he looked up at me from his notes and said, “You know, Scott, for years this organization praised me for my assertiveness. They awarded me for my ability to get things done. I got bonuses for my ability to solve problems and i have made this company a lot of money. Now when it is my time to move to the executive team, the thing that I was applauded for becomes an issue.”

Classic. Really.

What got you here, won’t get you there.

From a leadership perspective, the organization failed to recognize the “near misses” and the “unsafe behaviors.”

In this case, they even rewarded them.

I am very interested in this idea of how we can proactively grow and develop young leaders. How do we help them identify these types of issues that, when in an individual contributor role we applaud, but that as a leader we strive to fix?

Looking forward to continuing this thinking and conversation. I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this idea or topic.