Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fitting the Leader into the Matrix

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D., Chief R&D and CEO
Professional Communications, Inc.

University and corporate educators prepare people to lead. They typically focus on the leader and the group being lead. Little thought is given to how the new executive fits into the existing management structure. Yet leaders must mesh their efforts with other leaders to be effective. This research blog looks at the leader-to-leader “fit.”

“I Opt” is used to measure the fit. Psychology
may apply in a specific situation. Information processing always applies. “I Opt” is part of an information processing based technology. The way information is processed determines how people “understand” issues. A common understanding eases integration while differences can impede it. “I Opt” strategic styles are not the only thing determining “fit.” But they are an important thing.

This research blog uses the “I Opt” profiles of 529 undergrad, MBA and EMBA
(i.e., Executive MBA) business students and 3,907 executives. The fit between students and executive levels are measured from both a corporate and university perspective. The implications for leadership education are then specified.

Chart 1 shows that different levels of business education have different “I Opt” profiles (i.e., information processing patterns).


(111 Business Undergraduates, 293 MBAs, 125 EMBAs)

“I Opt” profiles reflect the ways students acquire and assess new knowledge. For example, an undergraduate will tend to “understand” new knowledge in structural terms—the “how” and “why.” The EMBA will see the knowledge more in terms of opportunity—the “what” and “when.” Effectively, students at different levels will “understand” the same knowledge in different ways.

This finding has teaching implications. The best way to teach an undergrad is not the best way to teach an EMBA. Teaching the same course the same way between levels is a formula for suboptimized learning. Instructional design should know about and adjust for these differences.

Instructors themselves are also affected. Instructors who are effective at one level may not be at another. Delivery as well as content must be adjusted if learning is to be optimized. Knowing when and how to adjust is a necessary component for optimized learning.

Many educators know of these differences from experience. This finding tells them what exists, its direction and its magnitude. Knowing these things opens the door to improved learning. This can be far more effective than waiting for each educator to “discover” the differences for themselves.

Executives also come in gradations. Three categories can be identified. The 1st Level includes titles like supervisor and leader. Mid-level encompasses managers, directors and similar titles. Senior executives include VP, General Manager and the various “C” level titles. The “I Opt” profiles of these categories are shown in Chart 2.

(473 1st Level, 2,850 Mid-Level, 574 Senior Executives)
A “stair step” is again visible. This suggests that the demands of the position—not the field within which it is applied—is the driving factor. In other words, the scope and nature of the different management levels is causing particular “I Opt” profiles to be favored.

The executive “stair step” reflects that of the students. Lower level positions favor structure
(the how and why). This posture is oriented toward the present. Higher level positions are more opportunity oriented (the what and when). This is a future oriented stance.

It makes some sense that leaders are more future oriented. Their job is to chart a path. The job of those being lead is to keep the machine running. If this is not done a path to the future is useless. Both qualities are needed in a successful organization. They just reside in different proportions at different levels. Corporate educators would do well to recognize these distinctions.

Chart 3 matches education level with a level in management. Almost all of the undergraduates in the sample are full-time students earning entry-level credentials—the 1st level of management.

The MBAs are a mixture of full and part-time students. Many hold or have held professional positions. Their likely match are the mid-management levels.

The EMBA typically is being groomed for a senior position. Most already hold significant roles in their firms. One of a firm’s motives for sponsoring their education is to ensure a “fit” with their soon-to-be peers. Those peers are likely to be senior executives.


There appears to be a rough consistency in match proposed above. Looking a bit deeper into the data can help identify the opportunities imbedded in each level.

EMBA vs. VP Levels
The EMBAs are usually marked by their firms as candidates for senior positions. Chart 4 suggests that part of this judgment may have been based on their management “fit.” Overall, the EMBA’s profile strongly resembles that of senior management.


(125 EMBAs, 574 Senior Executives)
While the profiles are highly similar, they are not identical. Educators can help close this gap by accenting the value of idea generation (i.e., options and alternatives) in their teaching. This leverages the EMBA’s substantial existing skills. Sensitizing them to the value of this skill will probably to cause them to hone this skills to higher levels. The gap will close.

Reducing the tendency to approach issues with analysis, assessment and evaluation (HA) is also warranted. Knowing how to judge the analysis of others is more important than knowing how to do the analysis. Educators might want to stress “thumbnail” evaluation techniques, critical factor methods and consistency tests. The integrity of the decision input can be reasonably assured without the high cost of detailed analysis.

Educators do not have to give much attention to the disciplined (LP) or spontaneous (RS) action tendencies of the EMBA. These are already well matched to the senior executive level. In other words, these capacities are already present at about at the right level.

Overall, the EMBA is already well positioned to work on a common plane with other senior executives. But the refinements above will help the EMBA navigate the final steps. The reputation of the teaching institution will also benefit. Its students will seem to “fit” better than those of other schools. The small effort involved will pay everyone dividends.

MBA vs. Mid-Management
Chart 5 shows a looser fit between the MBA profile and that of the executive rank to which they aspire.

293 MBAs, 2,860 Mid-Level Executives)

Classroom experience will not change “I Opt” profiles. But, the way they are deployed can be changed. The prescription is the same as given for the EMBA—just in greater strength. Less analysis (HA) and more emphasis on generating options and ideas (RI) will serve the MBA well.

The wider gap means that sensitizing the average MBA will be more of a challenge. It is likely that instruction will have to be repeated from different angles to have a lasting effect. However, the size of the gap also suggests that the return on this effort will be much higher than with the EMBA.

In addition, the MBA will tend to put about 8%
(not shown on the chart) too much value on the deliberate, exacting action (LP). They will also undervalue decisive, spontaneous action (RS) by about 13%. Since the gap in these action dimensions is smaller, the teaching challenge will not be as great. Exercises showing that the cost of exacting action can exceed the value it returns may be enough to make the point.

Overall, the MBA is too focused on structured (i.e., patterned) methods. Guiding them to appreciate the value of spontaneity in both thought (RI) and action (RS) will pay dividends. They will be more “in tune” with fast paced demands of their mid-management target.

Undergraduate vs. 1st Level Management
Undergraduates follow the MBAs in their “fit” with the level to which they likely aspire. Chart 6 shows the pattern is the same but the difference is less severe.

(111 Undergraduates, 473 1st Level Executives)

Some undergraduates may be early in their careers and preparing for professional non-management positions. To test whether this would cause a change in diagnosis an added test was run. Undergraduate profiles were matched to those of 527 non-managerial professionals. The results are shown in Chart 7.



(111 Undergraduates, 527 Non-Management Professionals)

The fit between undergraduates and professionals is closer but the pattern is the same. The students will tend to over stress structural approaches (LP and HA—the how and why) and devalue spontaneous methods (RI and RS—the what and when).

Overall, the educator’s return for adjusting their strategy will be less than realized for the MBA. But there will still be a positive return. Students sensitized to the value of unpatterned methods will tend to integrate better with their peers as well as those at a higher level (i.e., mid-management). It’s an effort worth making.

Corporate educators do not work with students. They focus on preparing employees to assume higher levels of responsibility. The educational challenge is the same. Only the subjects change.

Chart 8 shows “I Opt” styles for various levels of management. “I Opt” profiles for 527 non-management professionals have been added since they are in the corporate educator’s mix.


The “stair step” pattern is again visible. What this means is that increasing responsibility will involve both growth and decline. And both happen at the same time. The spontaneous, unpatterned strategies of RS and RI grow. The disciplined, structured strategies of HA and LP decline. Education is a matter of change, not just “growth.”

Overall, the prescription for corporate and university educators is the same. The higher the level being targeted, the greater the emphasis on unpatterned strategies—in both thought and action
(RI and RS).

But don’t overdo it. The objective is to target the level being addressed not some ultimate level. Each level has its own “optimal” profile. Both university and corporate educators have to be smart enough to recognize this. There is no single, universal leadership profile. There are many.

But there is a universal. That universal is the need for continuous change as responsibilities change. There is no right or wrong. Different levels just confront different issues that demand different ways of seeing the world.

If leaders are to be fully successful they must be prepared to make these transitions at the appropriate time. Too early and they may compromise their ability to attain the role to which they aspire. Too late and they may have trouble keeping the job or progressing further.

This research blog used averages. Averages apply to groups, not to individuals. To illustrate this Chart 9 shows the “I Opt” strength distribution of the 473 Senior Executives that were averaged for this study.



473 Senior Executives )

The senior executive ranks include people using a variety of strategic profiles. What this means is that there is no “silver bullet” profile. However, there are odds. Those odds will favor people who subscribe to “I Opt” strategies that are proven at the managerial level in question. The “most proven” of these tend to center around the average for the level being targeted.

Used with understanding and caution, the results of this research blog can be helpful to an individual. The results can be offered as a probability assessment rather than as a prescriptive formula. Used this way it may instill a level of flexibility and tolerance for change. This will serve them well throughout their career.