Training News

Levers of Leadership Success: Tips from ATD 2016

This week, we’re presenting valuable tips for trainers that were shared at the annual Association for Talent Development (ATD) Conference and Exposition held recently in Denver, Colorado. Today, we hear from Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger Folkman, on 6 Leadership Levers that drive great results.

Remember when gas was $4 a gallon? We found out we had fuel reserves we didn’t know about, says Zenger, and this same issue of hidden resources is a major problem for organizations. There is a giant potential reservoir of untapped and undeveloped leadership talent within nearly every organization. One such pool is women, says Zenger. Entry-level talent is about 50/50, but when you go up to CEO level, only about 3% of them are women. It’s an untapped talent pool.

There are many competencies differentiating poor, good, and extraordinary leaders, and 360-degree feedback is the best way to assess them. “The more effective the leader, the more committed the employees are,” says Zenger. The least effective leaders have about a 20% satisfaction/commitment rate among employees, while the most effective have about 80%.

However, some organizations resist 360-degree feedback, says Zenger. Some have had negative experiences with a “weakness-based” 360-degree process. For others, key leaders were uneasy about upward feedback. Sometimes the national culture does not endorse feedback from subordinates to their leaders. Or, some companies just plain feel that they’ve been surveyed to death and don’t want to have yet another assessment.

A few organizations plan to use a 360-degreee feedback system in the future—but want effective development now.

So, what can be done without 360-degree feedback? You can still create a leadership development process that can open doors for more organizations, says Zenger.

The Leadership Levers

Avoid the competency language, says Zenger. Basic capabilities are broader than competency, and people should have at least a minimal capability in these six leadership levers:

  1. Innovation. The best leaders create an environment where people are encouraged to find a better way and work toward continual improvement.
  2. Relationships. Work in a positive way with others, build trust, and collaborate toward good results.
  3. Acumen. When leaders understand how the business makes money or the technology underlying their products and services, their effectiveness is greater.
  4. Inspiration. Delivering results is often the “push,” but leaders also need to know how to “pull” by inspiring and motivating.
  5. Strategic vision. Effective leaders help people focus on future goals and objectives, and they provide a clear vision.
  6. Execution. Leadership is ultimately about efficiently producing good results.


Zenger says that building a profound strength in just one of these leadership levers raises you to the 72nd percentile of global leaders! With strengths in all six, you’re up to the 99th percentile.

Strengths or Weaknesses: What Do You Focus On?

“There absolutely is a time and place for people to focus on a weakness that is preventing good performance,” says Zenger, and it’s only a lack of action that is a real problem. But he feels that thinking about strengths is a much bigger payoff.

Most leadership program participants benefit from emphasis on building strengths, and contrary to what some have taught, strengths developed to the maximum do not become weaknesses. Take assertiveness for example, which can be indeed be carried too far—but that’s not a strength, says Zenger. That’s a behavior.

Zenger says that fixing weaknesses improved leadership performance by 12 points—but building on strengths improved performance by 26 points. Why? Because it’s a lot more fun to work on something connected to personal passion than it is to focus on a weakness.

One final thought from Zenger: In order to be effective, leaders cannot be incompetent in any of the six levers.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we present tips for successful compliance training from ATD 2016.