There is a lot of information out there about what makes a good leader. How to prioritize your time, what to focus on, what skills you need to develop. But can anyone become a successful leader, or do you have to have a certain something in order to become great?
Our research over the years suggests that there are certain traits that make some people more likely to become good leaders than others.
In a number of studies conducted over the past 30-plus years using The McQuaig System, a pattern emerges of the behavioral profile of a successful leader.
What we’re talking about here, when we talk about a behavioral profile, is someone’s temperament or personality. These are characteristics, or traits, that are ingrained in us at an early age and remain pretty consistent throughout our lives. There are times when we can stretch beyond them, but we inevitably snap back to our natural state in time.
Each of these studies looked at people who had been rated for their success in leadership roles by their organizations. In each case, they were profiled using our leadership assessments. What the studies consistently found was that those leaders who were rated as successful were primarily from a category we call the Generalist Group.
There are several profiles within this group, but the two primary types are called the Generalist and the Pioneer.
The Traits of a Great Leader
At a high level, both are characterized by being competitive, ambitious and goal-oriented. They’re restless and energetic, with a lot of drive and sense of urgency to get things done. They’re independent, persistent and decisive. Both dislike routine and detail.
Where the two types differ is that a Generalist is more oriented towards people and they rank high on our Social trait scale, whereas the Pioneer is more oriented towards ideas and may step on toes with their communication style. (You can download this cheat sheet to learn how to identify and manage the different profile types.)
In the studies, Generalists slightly outnumbered Pioneers amongst successful leaders, but as a group they dominated by as much as 90% of successful leaders in some cases.
Interestingly, in one study of 763 business leaders from Canada and Australia, the representation of this group amongst senior leaders (CEOs and Presidents) was 17% higher than the representation amongst managers. This suggests that these core traits become even more important as you ascend in the organization.
Being born to lead may be an overstatement, but these studies show that success as a leader is tied to a person’s core temperament. If you can create a profile of a good leader and identify those traits in candidates and employees, you can better focus your hiring and development on people more likely to succeed as current and future leaders.
Learn more about how The McQuaig System helps more than 1500 companies world-wide identify and develop leaders.