The Most Successful Leaders
If you are a leader who hopes to take your leadership skills and your career beyond where you are today, it would help to know what skills matter and where you should focus. Most of us have an idea of what a good leader looks like, but what really makes the difference? What are some of the effective leadership personality traits?
A 30-Year-Long Study
Harvard Business Review published an analysis by researchers at the executive development consultancy Egon Zehnder. They studied data from executive development programs going back some 30 years to see if they could identify factors that predicted success in top executive roles. The data revealed both good and bad news.
The Bad News
Executives themselves don’t have much confidence in the effectiveness of leadership development programs. In organizations that have programs to identify and cultivate high potential employees, only 24% of executives think they work.
The Good News
But by digging further into the data, they found five key traits that did a good job of predicting whether someone would ultimately succeed in a leadership role. These were not simply the traits of people who were already leaders; they are qualities found in “diamonds in the rough” who would eventually become successful leaders.
The 5 Traits that Predict Long-term Leadership Success
Though the “right” motivation for the leader of a major social-justice nonprofit will be very different from what motivates the head of an industrial distributor, the common thread is that both leaders have a deep desire to excel in their chosen field.
The nonprofit leader wants to lead an organization that makes a difference. The distributor CEO wants his or her company to deliver the best service in the industry and work with the best partners.
Action Step: Understand what motivates you. What is it about your job that sparks your passion? Maybe it’s the product or service you deliver. Maybe it’s your team. How can you be the best at what you do? If you pursue what matters, the rest tends to fall into place.
People who go on to become great leaders are intensely curious about everything. They want to know how stuff works, why things are the way they are, and what changes are on the horizon. They solicit feedback and get excited by learning new things.
Action Step: Cultivate your curiosity by asking questions. Even if you think you know the answer. Ask “Why?” Or “Tell me more” Or “What do you think?”
Here’s a pragmatic definition of insight: the ability to gather and make sense of a vast range of information; to change one’s views; and to set new directions. It is the opposite of a “because we’ve always done it that way” mentality.
Action Step: Consider whether your thinking has gotten stale. Are you seeking out new sources of information? Talking to people outside your immediate circle of friends and colleagues? Are you aware of your own assumptions and constantly testing them? Are you looking at the big picture, or just what’s right in front of you? Are you redirecting your team’s efforts to reflect changing conditions and new information?
Engagement is about how you connect to others, and how they connect with you. As you rise in the ranks, it’s easy to end up feeling disconnected, but you can’t inspire people to do their best unless they feel that you truly understand and care about them.
Action Step: Get out from behind your desk. Practice management-by-walking-around. No matter how busy you are, make time for the people you lead. Ask their opinions about the business, whether they’re in the executive suite or working on the loading dock. Ask what they like about their jobs and what could be better. Ask about their families, where they went on vacation, what they do when they’re not working. Know their kids’ names.
Determination is what is commonly called “grit” these days – the ability to stick with something and see it through. In numerous studies, grit has been associated with long-term success. And it’s a quality that can be developed.
Action Step: Identify times when you put your shoulder to the wheel and achieved a long-term goal – pursuing a degree, breaking into a difficult industry, overcoming a career setback. Consider what it took to reach that goal. Are you working toward a similar goal today? If not, why not? There’s never a time when you can afford to coast.
The Bottom Line
Take a close look at your leadership style and match your personality traits to those five that we know lead to success. Are you prepared to act in ways that will strengthen the gap areas? If so, you will significantly enhance the likelihood of succeeding as a leader.
To learn more about effective leadership personality traits, download The Top Skills for High Performing Leaders