Aspiring leaders prepare for opportunity

October 11, 2005

Over the weekend, in a Leadership & Motivation MBA course, we had a number of interesting discussions about what it takes to be a great leader. Many ideas were tossed around including drive, luck, ambition, charisma and much more.

Through discussion, our group boiled it down to this simple model:

Leadership performance = Ability x Motivation x Alignment x Opportunity

In reality, this is just a slight variation of Vroom’s 1964 model for performance at work:

Performance = Ability x Motivation
Performance = (Aptitude x Training x Resources) x (Desire x Commitment)

The fundamental difference being that work normally provides you with a context of tasks or opportunity by default while great leaders normally arise out of new opportunities (thrust upon them, created or sought out). For us, opportunity incorporates luck, timing and preparation.

A guest lecturer, Harry Bergsteiner, likes to expand Vroom’s model to include Values:

Performance = Ability x Motivation x Values

In this context, Values includes ethics, policies, procedures and corporate culture. His argument is that the alignment of someone’s values with those of the organisation is very important to performance. Interestingly, he also points out that the only place where punishment or sanctions of staff make sense is when values are not met. Any ability or motivation issues need to be addressed through feedback, encouragement and training. Personally I think that Values is a little bit too idealistic and universal. For mine, it makes more sense to talk about this as alignment with the values of the organisation.

Performance = Ability x Motivation x Alignment

Part of leadership is choosing, building and communicating appropriate values for an organisation (followers). Here alignment remains a vital element to success, both upwards (personal alignment with larger organisation values) and downwards (bring followers into alignment). So, the performance of a leader boils down to:

Leadership performance = Ability x Motivation x Alignment x Opportunity

According to Winston Churchill, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. So, if you have the motivation, keep preparing and looking for the opportunity that aligns with your values.

Comment by Joe Primm on March 06, 2006 11:17 AM
I liked the article. Preparation is key to meeting opportunity.
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