Is being an effective leader something you’re born with, or can you acquire those skills over time? And are there core elements of leadership that never change, or do you have to change and adapt with the times to remain effective?
Those are questions that have been asked for as long as I can remember. It’s also something that was discussed by a panel of experts last year and what they had to say may hold the key for those of us trying to become more effective leaders, or trying to find the right kind of leaders for our companies.
The panel discussion took place as part of McKinsey’s Leadership Development Practice and included Helen Alexander, former CEO of The Economist Group; Robert Kegan, the developmental psychologist and author, from Harvard University; Nadir Mohamed, former CEO of Rogers Communications; and McKinsey partners Claudio Feser, Mary Meaney, and Tim Welsh.
One of the themes that came out of the conversation was that there are both timeless and changing aspects of leadership.
Changing Leadership Traits
Technology, business cycles, and markets are all moving and shifting faster than ever. Part of being an effective leader is having up-to-date skills and knowledge relevant to the job, according to Tim Welsh. Those things change with time and stages of a business’ natural evolution.
Leaders need to be willing and capable of learning to remain effective. Arguably, this ability to learn is more of a timeless trait.
Timeless Leadership Traits
While the group generally agreed that the traits of an effective leader consisted of a combination of timeless and changing aspects, more of the conversation focused on the importance of those timeless elements.
Claudio Feser noted that “several studies suggest that open-minded, conscientious people who are emotionally tuned to take charge tend to be stronger leaders than people who aren’t.” And these core personality and character traits are set by the time you enter the workforce.
Self-awareness also stood out to the group as an essential trait of an effective leader, which Robert Kegan said has always been a required quality of a leader. This is also something that tends to be a core character trait and not something that is learned.
Finding the Right Leader
So, the organization looking for the right kind of leader needs to be assessing for both timeless character traits and more changing aspects of skill and knowledge. Before you can do that, though, you need to identify which of those traits will enable a leader in your company to succeed.
That means developing an ideal candidate job profile, or Employee Persona. Be sure your profile is three-dimensional so you get a true picture of what a successful leader will look like and use it as both a tool to help find and engage with candidates and as a target to measure candidates against; or, in the case of existing staff, develop them toward.
Assessing for skills and knowledge is best done using behavioral interviewing techniques that ensure you identify candidates who not only possess the right ones, but can demonstrate that they have used the skills and knowledge you’re looking for.
To assess more timeless character traits, your most effective tool is a behavioral assessment. This will allow you to accurately predict how someone will behave on the job and whether they possess the core traits you’re looking for. If you follow our recommended process and complete a Job Analysis before assessing candidates, you can actually get back level of fit measure and customized interview questions to help you with your interviews.
Developing Your Own Leadership Skills
In much the same way a recruiter looking to find a leader needs to start with a target, to develop your own leadership skills you need to first identify the traits that spell success as a leader in your field. Find out what others say is required to be an effective leader; including skills, knowledge and character traits. Then compare that profile with yourself and identify strengths and gaps.
On the character/behavioral side, a self-assessment will provide you with a detailed view of your core personality with respect to work. This kind of insight also dramatically increases your level of self-awareness, a key trait according to all the experts. The McQuaig Self-Development Report includes a personal work plan along with your profile to help you create action steps that lead towards leveraging your strengths.
What do you think makes an effective leader?