Identifying Leadership and What Makes Leaders Effective

Leadership | April 10 2018

Finding your Leaders

How can we identify the key predictors of effective and impactful leadership, and the people in our businesses who have the potential to be the best leaders? It’s a challenge that almost all organizations face.

Selection and development of leaders are crucial tasks for every organisations’ strategic development plan. Effective leaders must promote employee engagement, facilitate team processes and empower employees to achieve organisational goals, making a direct impact on business performance.

This article is a reflection on the important link between personality and leadership. By using psychometric tools such as Trait, organisations can improve the robustness of their succession planning processes and enable their employees to engage in goal-directed activities that help them grow to be effective leaders.


How are leaders selected?

In many organisations, leaders are selected by election or appointment. For example, leadership is considered a natural progression from one’s current duties, leaders are selected based on situational needs, expertise in specialist fields, or due to a developmental opportunity.

An innovative approach to selecting leaders can be derived from the leadership and personality literature in which two outcome criteria are considered: leader emergence and leader effectiveness.

Leader emergence relates to the extent to which a person gets ahead or is identified as leader-like by others. Leader effectiveness is represented by a range of criteria such as team outcomes and follower perceptions of leader performance.


What behaviours are likely to be perceived by others as leader-like?

While leader emergence can be difficult to predict, Judge et al., (2002) have shown that all the Big Five traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) to some degree predict leadership emergence and effectiveness. However, leader emergence has been most consistently associated with Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Conscientiousness.

With respect to the Trait dimensions and leader emergence, it is possible to use this frame to identify relevant facets of the Trait inventory that are likely associated with leader emergence. The effects of the Trait dimensions on leader emergence were examined in a study that showed that employees were rated as having a higher potential for leadership when they scored highly on Leadership, Achievement, Industriousness, Optimism, and Stability.

For example, Optimism correlated strongest with leaderlike characteristics which suggest that being positive is a key element of demonstrating leadership potential. For team leadership, Achievement and Stability were the only correlates, suggesting that results drive combined with composure, are considered as critical by line managers. Strategic leadership seems more dependent on having a positive outlook (Optimism), motivation to work hard and commit to work (Industriousness).


Putting Evidence to Work

In practice, people perceive leadership in others because of expertise or traditional behaviours associated with leadership (i.e. being assertive in meetings). However, this does not always translate to that person being effective in a leadership role across all competencies. For example, in a team where all the employees were highly qualified in their field, Trait was used to identify the different leadership strengths of those employees. While all members of the team were efficient at what they did, some were more enthusiastic to take on certain roles than others which created contention. By using Trait, and efficient coaching skills, the team was able to re-allocate responsibilities based on strengths, creating more ownership and increasing productivity levels.

The Trait assessment can help managers and HR specialists to identify their employees’ leadership potential, in order to build a leadership pipeline and plan development programmes. This type of approach can close a gap often created by training leaders reactively once they have jumped from a production or technical role to a leadership position. The key message is that by knowing what to look for and by having a validated instrument to assess these traits and competencies, organisations can develop their future leaders in a proactive way. Employees can also be empowered to be similarly proactive, taking ownership of their own development towards a leadership role.

Contact us for an evidence-based consultation on leader emergence, selection and leadership team development. Or click here to find out more about our assessments.

Judge, T. A., Bono, J. E., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. W. (2002). Personality and leadership: a qualitative and quantitative review. Journal of applied psychology, 87(4), 765.
Taggar, S., Hackett, R. and Saha, S. (1999), “Leadership emergence in autonomous work teams: antecedents and outcomes”, Personnel Psychology, Vol. 52 No. 4, pp. 899-92
Zaccaro, S.J. and Klimoski, R.J. (2001), The Nature of Organizational Leadership: Understanding the Performance Imperatives Confronting Today’s Leaders, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

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