Your Biggest Leadership Gap is Your Operating System

By Andy Johnson

What’s the biggest gap or deficit in your leadership of others? Your understanding of this question will directly connect to your attempted solutions to the problem. If you had to guess today, what do you think your biggest gap is related to? More importantly, how do you think closing your biggest leadership gap would affect your leadership effectiveness or the connected business results?

Fortunately, there has been relevant research conducted that sheds light on these questions. With a fairly large sample, researchers related to the Leadership Circle have shown that your overall level of personal/leadership development is likely your biggest gap to fill. Let me explain why that is the case.

Many times, as leaders, we see gaps in parts of our leadership that are connected to what can be called the outer game. The outer game is the realm of skills, competencies, knowledge or even specific behaviors. This is usually reflected in a leadership development plan that focuses on learning new skills or working on a specific behavior that may be problematic. Although these kinds of efforts can improve our leadership effectiveness and impact, these changes are akin to uploading new apps or programs that are still running on our overloaded or outdated operating system.

Outer Game: Applications

  • Behavioral changes 
  • Competencies
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Technical expertise

Would you upload the latest and greatest software on an old computer that is running on DOS (that’s pre-Windows 95 for you younger folks)? This is similar to what we do when we simply focus on learning a new skill or working on one behavior that causes us problems. It can help, but it may have serious limitations, especially in the complex ever-changing world we live in today. What we need is an upgrade to our operating system, or what is sometimes called the “inner game.”

Inner Game: Operating System

  • Meaning making
  • Decision making
  • Self-awareness
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Mental models
  • Core beliefs / assumptions
  • Self-identity

The inner game operating system is located near to the heart of who we are, our identity and level of personal development. In this way, working on these core levels of self and consciousness, sets us up for an increasingly different way of being, thinking, feeling, or behaving in the world around us. And, importantly, it’s not just fluffy developmental thinking, but rather it has been concretely connected to hard results like leadership effectiveness and business results.

The Leadership Circle has clearly connected the dots for us. In their research, they have shown that higher levels of personal development (referred to as creative leadership) are correlated with higher levels of leader effectiveness, as rated by followers. This is a very strong correlation of r = .93, very near to a perfect correlation of 1. In addition, they have consistently shown that leaders’ reactive tendencies, the ways they are continuing to react based on previous learned coping mechanisms that diverge from creative leadership strategies, are negatively correlated with leadership effectiveness. Again, this is a very strong negative correlation of r = -.68. These combine to reflect the reality that your effectiveness as a leader is very strongly connected to your ability to continue to evolve to higher levels of personal development while you reduce your reactive tendencies. The greater the ratio between these two aspects of self, the higher the leadership effectiveness overall.

In addition, the Leadership Circle also conducted research in 2006 looking at the relationship between leadership effectiveness and business results including: sales/revenue growth, market share, profitability/ROA, quality of products / services, new product development, overall performance. That study (n = 486) found that leadership effectiveness was correlated to business performance in these six areas at r = .61. Putting these things together, here is the overall equation:

This means that increasing levels of leadership development leads to higher leadership effectiveness, which leads to an 88 percent probability that business performance results will follow. In that same study, the top 10 percent of business performers had leadership effectiveness scores at the 80th percentile or above. Bottom 10 percent of business performers had leadership effectiveness scores at the 30th percentile or below among a sample of 500,000 Leadership Circle profiles.

For these reasons, Whole Person Coaching incorporates the best available science to focus not just on behavioral change or skills development (new apps), but on the personal development and growth (the operating system) of the whole person in a leadership position. We focus on coaching all aspects of the leader, including this central concept of identity or operating system. In this way, it works from the inner game to the outer game.

To talk about leadership coaching that includes the Leadership Circle as a means of identifying this deeper order of leadership change, email Andy Johnson ( If you’re still not convinced about the ROI, click here to watch a video from Bob Anderson, one of the co-creators of the Leadership Circle, illustrating a case study that shows the value that clients gain from this approach.

Your biggest gap in your leadership is likely at the level of your operating system. Why spend more time upgrading apps when what you really need is to upgrade the inner game?