Recent research suggests that a small subset of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success, particularly among frontline leaders. Academic literature identifies a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. Next, 189,000 people in 81 diverse organisations around the world were surveyed to assess how frequently certain kinds of leadership behaviour are applied within their organisations. The sample was then divided into organisations whose leadership performance was strong (the top quartile of leadership effectiveness as measured by McKinsey's Organisational Health Index) and those that were weak (bottom quartile).
The research highlighted that leaders in organisations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behaviour; these 4, indeed, explained 89 per cent of the variance between strong and weak organisations in terms of leadership effectiveness (exhibit).
Top kinds of leadership behaviour *
*Based on a survey of 81 that are diverse in geography(e.g. Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America), industry (e.g. agriculture, consulting, energy, government, insurance, mining, and real estate) and size (e.g. from ~ 7,500 to 300,000 employees).
Solving problems effectively. The process that precedes decision making is problem-solving when information is gathered, analyzed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).
Operating with a strong results orientation. Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with strong results orientation, tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.
Seeking different perspectives. This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.
Supporting others. Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.
It's understood that different business situations often require different styles of leadership. However, the research points to a kind of core leadership behaviour that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line. For organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, prioritising these four areas is a good place to start.
This article was originally written by Claudio Feser who is a director in the McKinsey’s Zürich office, Fernanda Mayol who is an associate principal in the Rio de Janeiro office, and Ramesh Srinivasan who is a director in the New York office, and full credit goes to the McKinsey, who published this article over a year ago. This article has been reprinted for the purpose of education.
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