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The Story of the High Impact Leadership Model and the Development of the Leadership Assessment Instrument

June 22, 2010

Having already established its credentials as a top tier leadership development company, Linkage realized in 1994 that the science of leadership development was constrained because there was not a prevailing universal high impact leadership model that applied globally to organizations. Although at that time there was much experimentation with building competency-based leadership models, these models had only specific organization application. Few had been field tested and almost all applied only to companies that the models had been developed to support. Linkage had a privileged position in understanding competency based leadership models as it had taken on the responsibility for organizing and running the leadership development and competency systems conferences on various continents and had first hand knowledge from its research on leadership.

Surveying heads of HR, Linkage concluded early that the field of leadership development required a “standard” for building leadership development programs and systems. It was for these reasons in 1995 that Linkage commissioned a research team to investigate the universal core competencies for high impact leaders worldwide with supporting behaviors that applied to high impact leadership in the best managed global companies. Through its research division, a study design was given the following charter: conduct a worldwide survey of thought leaders, leadership development experts, vice presidents, directors, and managers of HR/HRD and leadership development. Gather together the best competency based leadership models available. The ultimate goal of the research was to analytically sift through hundreds of competency-based leadership models and systematically determine the core competencies that consistently produce superior results for leaders in best performing organizations. Using already published material and compiled research from the competency summits and conferences the research design was to correlate the core competency results against the best thinking on high impact leadership models at that time.

To increase the validity and reliability of conclusions the research team was asked to conduct extensive interviews, using behavioral event interviewing techniques, with more than 100 high impact leaders from well-known and highly respected global organizations. Using stratified random sampling techniques the research team carefully selected sample groups that were representative of truly global organizations. The sampling approach called for a minimum of 30% of those interviewed to be from non-North American organizations, cultures, and be representative of the “global market.” The stratified random sample sought out ten slants, i.e., vertical organizations such as petrochemical, finance, consumer products, etc. Special emphasis was placed on nonprofits, government, and academia to ensure that the results would apply to all sectors.

This in-depth research project included surveys, telephone interviews, literature reviews, and thought leader direct interviews. This project was conducted over a period of 14 months and was led by Warren Bennis, the advisor to the project and the noted number one leadership expert in the world, and Phil Harkins who had conducted extensive research, as well as being a recognized leadership practitioner. Once the data was analyzed and an initial model had been derived from the data, the second phase of the research, field testing, was initiated. This important step is a significant differentiator in the creation of the High Impact Leadership Model. The field testing was rigorously managed by a group of five leading consultants in the field of leadership development. Their role was to scrub and rewrite the behaviors as important information and feedback was further analyzed. For a period of four months this group worked on reducing the behaviors from the initial study down to 75 specific behaviors which contained the critical five competency clusters and five skill areas that most demonstrated the skills, knowledge, and abilities that successful leaders utilize most often that produced better results.

After much testing, the final assessment was presented to 25 organizations for further field testing. This field test produced evidence that suggested that the behaviors and competency clusters applied to organizations at a rate higher than 95%. All organizations reported that behaviors and competency clusters accurately reflected high impact leadership globally. With further modifications it was introduced to the market on a trial basis in 1996 and then immediately presented to organizations in North America, Europe, and Asia/Middle East. The instrument for assessing leaders based on the high impact model was named LAI – the Leadership Assessment Instrument.
High Impact Leadership Model
Over a 14-year period (1996-2010) the high impact leadership model has undergone three complete research revalidations and has had an annual checkup through its use as the core leadership model for the Global Institute for Leadership Development. Most impressively, the high impact leadership model has been used successfully with more than 40,000 leaders from 63 countries representing virtually every industry, as well as in the private, non-profit, government sectors, and academia. Its overwhelming success includes translation into various languages and has become the most widely used and accepted model for assessing and developing leaders. According to Jerry Murphy, a leading Harvard scholar on field research, the acid test for reliability and validity is in usage and acceptability. In its design and application the high impact leadership model, supported by the behaviors, has passed this validity test. Its wide usage around the world in the development of leaders has created an acceptance as the global standard for assessing and developing leaders worldwide.

Why is it the premier instrument? Because it is believable, accepted, and respected as evidenced by its growing usage globally. The assessment results consistently predict high performance and discriminate specifically in behaviors that impede success of lower performing leaders. Moreover, the high impact leadership model is now used by hundreds of organizations in over 50 countries. Because of the discipline and rigor of the initial research combined with the ongoing fine tuning through the years it continues to have universal acceptance across cultures. As importantly, the Leadership Assessment Instrument (LAI) also has been proven to provide valuable information for leaders and leadership teams from entry level leaders to very senior leaders. This is an unusual and highly significant characteristic as it advances broader usage and application providing a wide range of opportunities for organizations of all sizes, regardless of the nature of the organization. The model continues to have increased appeal year over year. There has never been a rejection of the results or a question as to whether the LAI measures or produces unreliable or non-useful data.

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