Discover Leadership Gaps with the Kolbe Assessment

The Kolbe assessment uncovered significant gaps on my leadership team. Here’s what I did to fix them. And how you can too.

You go into battle with your strengths. -Anand Mahindra

You fight your most unproductive battles because of your weaknesses. -Mike Maddock

Something was wrong. The talented executive team that had driven our revenue from five to twenty million dollars in less than three years was now accomplishing the exact opposite. We were in a financial tailspin and despite trying dozens of new ideas, nothing seemed to slow our decline.

Calling in an Expert

In an act that can only be described as desperation, I called in an executive coach to help us figure out what we were missing. On day one, she asked us to take the Kolbe Assessment. She explained our Kolbe scores would help us understand our natural strengths and how we operated instinctively. When I got the results, I was shocked and embarrassed. Nearly all of us had the same method of operation. We all lead with a Quickstart impulse. Put simply, this meant that under pressure we all executed by brainstorming and pivoting to new plans. I had unwittingly surrounded myself with a team of Visionaries who viewed problem-solving through the lens of disruption.

It took me four decades and five businesses to learn an important lesson about my blind spots. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will start treating all your problems like a nail. Since many leaders have––ahem––strong personalities, the hammer is a useful metaphor for how the conative strengths of leaders inform how they see their challenges.

The Law of Instrument

There’s a technical explanation for the hammer and nail. They call it The Law of Instrument. In his 1964 paper titled, The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science, Abraham Kaplan described the Law of Instrument. He said, “It comes as no particular surprise to discover that a scientist formulates problems in a way which requires for their solution just those techniques, he himself is especially skilled.”

In other words, we unconsciously shape our problems to look more like the nail we know how to hammer. Therefore, our problem-solving effectiveness as leaders has as much to do with our unique skills as the lenses through which we see problems.

For curious leaders, there are at least two important questions to be explored when it comes to The Law of Instrument:

What is my unique skill according to the Kolbe assessment?

Back to the Kolbe test and the day that I learned I was surrounded by Quickstart visionaries. Leaders have a unique skill––a hammer––that they carry with them through life. The sooner you figure out your natural strength, the better. I now use the Kolbe test to ensure that every Flourish Advisory Board includes six types of leaders who naturally see problems and opportunities differently. By engineering groups in this way, nobody is at risk of spending time with a group of peers that unconsciously shields them from their own blind spots.

Flourish Advisory Boards are modeled after select, highly functioning executive teams that have engaged my companies for strategy and innovation assignments. These teams delivered consistent growth by instinctively challenging each other to see things differently. In my experience these teams wield at least six types of “hammers”. Instead of using job titles, e.g., CEO or CFO, I prefer to fill seats by using more creative language related to a specific and conative strength: The Operator, The Strategist, The Rainmaker, The Visionary, The Tech Futurist and The Orchestrator.

A leader’s Kolbe assessment result and resume help reveal the lenses through which each of these leaders sees their challenges:

The Operator

The Operator tends to see problems through the lens of efficiency.

The Strategist

The Strategist drives clarity by making complex ideas simple.

The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker sees problems through the lens of sales.

The Visionary

The Visionary sees problems through the lenses of unexpected ideas or outcomes.

The Tech Futurist

The Tech Futurist sees problems through the lens of transformational technology.

The Orchestrator

The Orchestrator sees the problems through the lens of human dynamics.

Each of these six perspectives plays a critical role in challenging ideas because each sees problems and opportunities differently.

Which seat is a match for your zone of genius?  Although most leaders can play multiple roles, the best leadership teams are assembled so that under pressure and in flow, each member can be relied upon to naturally see challenges through their favorite lens.

What other tools do you need?

Once you understand your dominant, unique skill, strive to surround yourself with other leaders who see challenges delightfully differently. The Kolbe Assessment helps executive teams understand that Fact Finders are better leaders when they are surrounded by peers with high Quickstart, Follow Thru and Implementer scores. At Flourish, we do this work for you so joining a Flourish group is essentially a turnkey advisory board.

When complete, the ideal leadership team or Flourish Advisory Board reflexively and respectfully examines the most important challenges through at least six different lenses.

How the Kolbe assessment helps us solve problems in a holistic way

Here’s an example of how it may work:

Strategist team member may present a challenge she is having with profitability. Her POV may sound something like this:

“Despite numerous efforts, I can’t seem to convince my team that profitability is critical to our success. My plan is to find simple ways to demonstrate how their behaviors impact our P&L.

But is the Strategist correct? Or might there be other ways to look at the challenge?

An Operator may say:

I believe we can fix this by measuring leading indicators rather than lagging indicators. Let me show you how we can modify our key performance indicators (KPI’s).”

Rainmaker may say:

“Perhaps we have a pipeline problem. People want to appear busy, so they will spend their time on non-billable work if they have nothing else to do. Let me help find a way to make them busier with paying clients.”

Visionary may say:

“I have an idea for a new offering that will create 4X’s current margins and help reposition our firm in our industry.”

Tech Futurist may say:

“Could this be about transparency? I can create a dashboard that makes hiding your performance––or nonperformance––impossible.”

An Orchestrator may say:

“Perhaps the team has a fear of conflict. Could they be making excuses for each other rather than demanding accountability? Maybe we are being too nice to each other.”

How to use the kolbe assessment to fill leadership gaps

The best leaders do not abandon their hammers. Instead, they surround themselves with people they respect, who naturally see the world differently than they do. I started Flourish Advisory Boards to create a simple way for leaders to do just that.

Want to find out which seat best describes you? Submit your Kolbe score here, and we’ll send you a list of your strengths and blindspots. Plus, we’ll let you know the most important people to have on your team to fill your leadership gaps.

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