Wednesday, November 18, 2015
By James Sartain

Leadership has been the source of study (and debate) for hundreds of years.  Despite the ubiquitous nature of the term, however, there is little agreement on what makes great leaders great. From the “Great Man” theories that emerged in the early 18th century to the most recent wave of behavioral and cognitive-social theories of leadership in this century, there have been attempts by social scientists to explain what great leaders do and how they emerge. Each has contributed to our understanding of the phenomenon of leadership but there continues to be a lack of integration among the various theories and a corresponding lack of a uniform construct for empirical studies.

Over the course of the past 30 years, we have been more than just students of these theorists, but also practitioners in the leadership development arena, applying evidence-based interventions as part of long-term developmental initiatives at universities, for-profit, and not-for-profit organizations.  Over the course of our work with leaders, we began to notice a common characteristic among the leaders identified as effective by their peers, supervisors, and staff. These leaders demonstrated a clarity and confidence in their roles as leaders. Their self-descriptions confirmed, time and again, that they did not hesitate or struggle when asked to describe their leadership approach and philosophy, their values, and their intentions. They knew who they were and what they wanted to achieve. They also demonstrated competencies in critical leadership areas.  Our curiosity peaked, we decided in 2005 to formally investigate this phenomenon and we began to conduct interviews with, and recorded observations of, the leaders with whom we had the opportunity to work.

This data then became a part of a more formal grounded theory investigation (the technical write-up of this grounded theory is available upon request).  Results of this grounded theory captured a unique framework of characteristics and competencies exhibited by effective leaders that we now refer to as the Connected Leadership Framework®.

Summary of the Connected Leadership Framework®

Our qualitative analysis of years of leader interviews and observations revealed specific elements related to the leader’s self-identity, intention, and competencies that were common across effective leaders. These findings informed a grounded theory of effective leadership and the resulting Connected Leadership Framework®. Our theory and model have been reinforced by the growing body of research by scholars interested in examining the link between a leader’s self-identity and performance. Similarly, the specific meta-competencies identified in our framework have also been supported by a strong research base. Each of the elements of the Connected Leadership Framework® are illustrated in Figure 1 below.


Elements of the Connected Leadership Framework®


INTENTION Intention:  Effective leaders have an understanding of what they want to accomplish and are driven to achieve their leadership purpose. Intention is the leadership accelerant that starts the journey of leadership and sustains leadership over time.  Intention is the motivating spark that compels leaders to continually learn, grow, and take risks.  It’s the part of the leader’s inner voice that says I must lead, I want to lead, and I can make a difference if I have the opportunity to lead.


IDENTITY Identity: Effective leaders see themselves, first and foremost as leaders (self-construct).  In addition, they hold positive self-appraisals about their leadership abilities (self-esteem). They are consistent in their beliefs, behaviors, and temperament around leadership (self-consistency), and they believe they can be successful in their leadership roles (self-efficacy).  These self-views are among the most important predictors of leadership effectiveness.  In addition, a leader’s effectiveness is also predicated on a clarity of the values and beliefs that he or she employs in the leadership domain.
Leadership Skills and Abilities (Meta-Competencies): In the grounded theory research conducted by CODA and reflective of other leadership research findings, four categories of leadership skill and ability, known as behavioral meta-competencies, appear to be consistently associated with effective leaders. These behavioral meta-competencies appear to share a reciprocating relationship with the elements of self-identity. Specifically, they serve as the outer wheels of the framework as depicted in Figure 1 on the previous page. These behaviors engage and are engaged by the leader’s identity.   In turn, changes in identity impact the leader’s intention.  The four primary meta-competencies associated with leader effectiveness include:

Examination: Highly effective leaders are acutely aware of theirs, and others’ values, strengths, needs, and weaknesses; understand the social, political, and cultural contexts of the workplace; and are able to leverage this awareness to maximize effective communication, relationships, business processes, and outcomes.


Exploration: Highly effective leaders have a heightened sense of inquiry and actively explore industry and leadership best practices, challenge the status quo, and synthesize information into actionable strategies.  They ask more questions than declare the answers, they try to identify next-and-best, and they are early adopters and lifelong learners.

ENLISTMENT Enlistment: Highly effective leaders define and cast a direction that resonates with their constituents, develop plans that align human resources, strategic objectives, and organizational processes, and maintain an appropriate sense of urgency throughout the course of a project or initiative.  They speak in ways that generates emotions and commitment, challenges thinking, and fosters commitment.
EXECUTION Execution:  Highly effective leaders are skilled in execution strategies and systems to help others prioritize, select, and follow through with the highest leverage actions. They relentlessly pursue results and foster accountability and follow through. They distribute the burden of execution and use fair rewards and incentives.  They use tracking mechanisms to ensure they make continuous progress and stay on course.

Today, we design all of CODA’s individual, team, and organizational development initiatives in consideration of the Connected Leadership Framework® (See Figure 1).  Each learning activity in our leader development programs targets one or more of the elements of the framework. Since adjusting our approach to our training and coaching work, we have seen consistently positive results.  Graduates of our Connected Leadership programs report significant positive changes in their leader self-identities and the strengthening of competencies to improve their overall leadership effectiveness.  Furthermore, follow-up contact with graduates of CODA’s Connected Leadership programs report sustained changes in their leadership well after the program has ended.

The Connected Leadership Framework® is a registered trademark of Dr. James P. Sartain.  All rights reserved

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