Article: Dr. Robert Hogan on leadership in the age of continued transformation

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Dr. Robert Hogan on leadership in the age of continued transformation

Dr. Robert Hogan, Founder & President, Hogan Assessments, talks about the evolving nature of leadership, bridging the gap between psychological science of talent and common real-world talent practices, and more.
Dr. Robert Hogan on leadership in the age of continued transformation

Dr. Robert Hogan is the founder and president of Hogan Assessment, which leads the world in personality assessment and leadership development. Dr. Hogan was the first psychologist to demonstrate the link between personality and organizational effectiveness and currently is the leading international authority on personality assessment and leadership. Hogan earned a Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley and was McFarlin Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at The University of Tulsa from 1982 to 2001. Prior to that, he was Professor of Psychology and Social Relations at Johns Hopkins University. 

You have researched extensively on leadership and the domain of 'personality'. How do you really define leadership and how does the personality of a leader make a difference to corporate results or the successful operation of an organization?

Leadership is the ability to get a group of people to work together towards a common purpose and to do it efficiently. Leadership is about building and maintaining a high performing team and beating the competition — it is not about getting promoted and getting a salary raise but about building a team that can beat others, almost like how you prepare the army. We know exactly how the dimensions of the personality are related to capability and most of the people get it wrong. What happens is that due to the wrong personality, the staff gets alienated, disengaged, they quit or stop working hard. This phenomenon can be easily observed in athletics when we say that the coach has lost the team and they won’t play for him anymore. The exact same thing happens in business – the manager loses his team as the team won’t perform for him.

Leadership in times of continued transformation is changing just like other workplace dimensions are. How do you think this affects managers, and how can managers be supported in addressing turbulent times in a way that is true to their personality? 

People talk how much things are changing all the time but as the French say, “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” which means that “the more things change, the more they’re same”. Similarly, in the business world, circumstances change, financial crises cause disruptions, invasions come and go, plagues and pestilence cause havoc, but human nature is pretty much the same. We’re pretty much the same people today as we were two hundred thousand years ago — human nature is the constant part of the equation that you have to really get right, and the rest can flow on by.

Leadership is not about getting promoted and getting a salary raise but about building a team that can beat others, almost like how you prepare the army

You have said in the past that 'leadership should be defined in terms of the ability to build and maintain a high-performing team, and evaluated in terms of the performance of the team.' But the vast empirical literature on leadership tells us more about the success of individual managerial careers than the success of people in leading groups, teams, and organizations. What do you have to say about that?

That’s the fundamental problem in the study of leadership all over the world. Researchers have looked in the wrong places and tried to study leadership from the wrong perspective, attempting to understand it in terms of who gets to the top of the organization. But good leaders are humble, understated, and care deeply about how well their team is performing. Bad leaders, on the other hand, are all about self-promotion, being in-charge, showing up on the TV, and posting on Twitter. 

The competition for talent is fierce, and the future of many organizations depends on finding and developing leaders for key roles. However, most organizations struggle to find accurate and useful ways to develop people with the most potential for success as leaders. Why do you think that is the case?

Organizations struggle because they use interviews as a way of finding talent. Talent cannot be evaluated on the basis of interviews because the only way to identify talent is with empirically-validated psychometric devices. There’s absolutely no alternative to it and the data on that goes back to the 1940s. The problem is that the presence of politics in any organization is rampant. Many people in organizations don’t care about how well the organization performs – they care about their own promotions. If they cared about their organizations, they would use validated and empirically-justified scientific procedures to make decisions about talent. 

Psychology should be the main science for understanding people and a pivotal tool for solving talent problems - yet most companies play it by ear, and waste their time and money on futile interventions to attract and retain the right people. How do you think organizations can bridge the gap between psychological science of talent and common real-world talent practices?

A lot of what goes on in the HR is just about having an idea and pursuing and chasing it. There has to be a systematic and analytical method to gather data and analyze it correctly to solve challenges. However, the challenge is getting organizations and particularly the HR fraternity to start paying attention to data and empirical analysis. Many people believe in a fact-based universe but fail to realize that we are the ones who create the facts and that truth can be discovered empirically. It’s just that one has to care and be willing to do the hard work to find the answers.

Organizations still don't have a clear definition of high potentials. Does 'potential' mean 'performance'? Tell us, what is the best way for organizations to define, identify, and retain high potentials? 

The workforce or the employees always know who the good managers and who the bad ones are. The way I see it, the best single way to identify high potentials is to ask the workforce who the good managers are. Don’t ask about the bosses they like, instead, ask about the subordinates they prefer.

What will be the significant trends that look very likely to shape how we assess employees within the HR field in 2019?

There’s this constant search for the new, glittering, shiny new objects and you have an array of vendors selling these shiny new objects in the market. However, the basic technology for identifying quality leadership has been around for 50 years, so for anyone paying attention, it is actually the old that is new again. 

You can watch the interview here.

Topics: ExpertViews, Leadership

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