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  • Leadership and Individual Capability

  • There have been thousands of books and articles about leadership and capability to perform work. Yet despite the vast accumulation of literature on this topic few have identified the building blocks that define what leadership is when it is applied to an individual’s capability to perform the work. The requisite organization system of management formulated over a sixty year period by the late Elliott Jaques is the only management system that has constructed a model that applies leadership capability to the complexity of the role. Elliott Jaques was a genius level professor, psychiatrist, prolific writer and global consultant. Elliott was born in Toronto and went on to Harvard University, to Brunel University in England and then to the United States where he consulted with some of the largest organizations in the world. This article will focus on the building blocks for assessing an executive’s ability to perform the work required by the hiring manager or the hiring Board of Directors.

    Five Components of Leadership and Capability to Do the Work

    There are five components of capability to perform work and to apply leadership to a role.

      1. Complexity of mental processing or cognitive ability in relation to the complexity of the role.
      2. Valuing the work in the role.
      3. Having the necessary technical knowledge and experience.
      4. Possessing the necessary wisdom about the nature of people and the world.
      5. The absence of disruptive personal qualities.

    Complexity of mental processing (cognitive ability)

    As you go up the organization hierarchy the work becomes more complex. In order to perform effectively at any level in the organization, job holders must have the cognitive ability equal or higher than the complexity of the problems encountered at each level of the organization. Cognitive ability is akin to horsepower or the size of your CPU to take in complex information and make the right decisions after analyzing all of this complex information. If an executive’s cognitive ability is not aligned with the complexity of the role then suboptimal decisions will be made and the company, department or plant managed by this executive will not operate at full capacity.

    We all know and understand that we are not all equal. Some of us are smarter than others. As we mature our cognitive ability increases but no amount of training or experience will escalate this maturing process. Companies employ a weeding out process by putting individuals into jobs whereby, if they don’t work out, they get rid of them and try someone else. This hit and miss approach takes time and causes a tremendous waste of company resources and angst for employees who must report to an individual who lacks the requisite cognitive ability to add value to his/her direct reports. By understanding how cognitive capability works, companies will greatly reduce their chances of putting the wrong executive into a job. Studies are now showing that the impact of a faulty executive hire can be as much as seven times the executive’s salary.

    Valuing the work in the management role

    The executive must value the work of managing people. Too often times a technically proficient executive is promoted to a greater leadership role and he/she fails. An executive must not only have the capability but must also value the management art of getting people to work together effectively; to align them around a common vision and goals; to get them to cooperate with each other and to trust each other.

    Having the necessary technical knowledge and experience

    This is the most predictable dimension of leadership and most hiring managers, boards of directors, internal recruiters and professional recruiters are very adept at assessing this capability to perform the work. This includes education, professional designations, expertise and experience in specific industries and markets. This will also consist of an executive’s track record of effectively leading organizations with various numbers of employees and managerial levels.

    Possessing the necessary wisdom about the nature of people and the world.

    Over time, managerial wisdom emerges as discernment about how organizations and industries work, what motivates people, what customers and suppliers truly need and desire and how to work effectively at higher levels of management. In a nut shell executives must learn to say the right thing at the right time. Some executives never learn this skill adequately and consequently their career is derailed when their team, their customers and their superiors stop supporting them. Once an executive’s team lays down and refuses to go the extra distance for an executive then, like a hockey coach, the executive’s tenure is at great risk.

    The absence of disruptive personal qualities

    In our experience executives with disruptive personal qualities are rare. These are defined as severe pathological behaviors that the executive in question despite any coaching or treatment is most likely incapable of correcting. Some examples of disruptive personality qualities are: being paranoid and thinking the whole world including subordinates, colleagues and superiors are against you; severe anxiety in making decisions thus paralyzing an organization; having alcohol or substance abuse difficulties that cannot be cured after repeated rehabilitation. Usually these executives will weed themselves out but there is more and more literature surrounding the toxic and belligerent bosses and the great harm that they can perpetrate on an organization. In fact book titles are becoming more colorful with one popular book titled: “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace & Surviving One That Isn’t.”


    The above factors determine the success of an executive in any job. Hiring managers must take into consideration all these five factors when hiring an executive. By understanding how cognitive ability works companies will reduce their chances of putting the wrong executive in a role. This type of cognitive ability tied to understanding complexity does not correlate to IQ scores. In fact an analysis on why executives derail that was performed by the Centre of Creative Leadership over a multiyear time frame determined that having an IQ above150 was one of the determinant as to why an executive derails in a job.

    Nevertheless the hiring managers can quickly learn how to assess people for cognitive ability and to hire executives who have the cognitive ability to operate at the level of the role that they are being hired for. It is amazing how companies grow and prosper when all their executives are fully capable to analyze complex issues, lead and add value to their people.

    To understand more about cognitive ability and levels of complexity please download the Global Organization Design document.

    To obtain a book showing cases on how companies implemented these requisite organization concepts for outstanding results please contact Maurice Dutrisac, Mastermind Principal Strategic Planning and Organizational Design at 416 527-3536 or email him at maurice@mastermindsolutions.ca.

    Maurice is a co-author of this book called: “Organizational Design, Levels of Work & Human Capability.”

    View Maurice