The Best Predictors of Effective Leadership
There has been much debate about whether leaders are born or made and more recently, about whether introverted leaders can be as effective as extraverted leaders. The research is clear:
FACT: The Assertiveness aspect of Extraversion, which consists of Energy and Assertiveness facets, is indeed a strong predictor of Leadership Effectiveness (r=.48)1. Other traits have lower, but still significant correlations with leader effectiveness, such as the Achievement aspect of Conscientiousness.
FACT: The Leadership Style employed by the leader is a strong predictor of Leadership Effectiveness (r=.48)2.
FACT: Leadership development interventions have a significant effect (r = .28)3 on Leadership Effectiveness.
Bottom Line: Being Energetic, Assertive, and Achievement striving can help you to be an effective leader, but having those traits is not a requirement. Regardless of where you fall on these continuums, you can improve your effectiveness by engaging in appropriate leadership development activities that help you to develop an effective leadership style.
It is, though, important to assess where the person falls on the personality trait continuums AND what leadership style they are currently employing so you know how to target their development. For instance, if you have an introverted team member who is employing a Laisse-Faire style (which is negatively correlated with leader effectiveness), their developmental plan will be different than an extraverted team member who is employing an authoritarian style.
How to Assess the Current State
- Measure the person’s traits:
- Administer a BIG 5 personality survey to see where the person naturally falls on the continuums of traits that predict emergence and effectiveness. Keep in mind that the results of this survey should NOT change after inventions. So, this is more of a “starting point” than a baseline measure. It tells you how much the person will need to work outside of their natural comfort zone to be viewed as (and actually become) an effective leader.
- Get a baseline on the individual’s current leadership style:
- Use a normative psychometrically sound leadership style survey that measures how often the individual engages in specific leadership behaviors that have been shown to improve effectiveness. This helps to identify underused and overused behaviors that impact effectiveness. The results of this survey CAN change after interventions.
- Get a baseline on the person’s behavior, as perceived by others:
- Consider using a 360-degree feedback tool to help the individual see how their behavior is perceived by direct and indirect reports, as well as by their superiors. This can be repeated 1 to 2 years later to measure progress after interventions. See the next section of this article for the types of behaviors you should include in the survey to ensure that you are measuring the things that actually predict effective leadership.
Defining the Future State: What Behaviors to Develop
A meta-analysis4 showed that leadership effectiveness, follower satisfaction with the leader, and follower job satisfaction had the strongest correlations with the behavioral clusters shown below. Depending on the level of leadership and your organizational culture, select the behaviors that define success and use those to evaluate your leaders and design learning and development activities.
Showing Consideration for People: The focus of this construct is on the relationship between the leader and their followers. Some studies suggest that if you had to chose just one element of leadership to develop, it should be Consideration4. Behaviors include:
- Encouraging two-way communication, seeking input into decisions, implementing suggestions, being considerate of team members’ feelings, helping them with problems, speaking to them respectfully and as equals rather than subordinates.
Initiating Structure: The focus of this construct is on getting followers to execute tasks and deliver results. Research shows that combining a moderate degree of structure with a high level of consideration is best. Behaviors include:
- Communicating information, structuring roles and responsibilities, directing group behavior by making decisions, planning, scheduling, and following up; providing constructive criticism; encouraging extra effort; and measuring results against goals.
Transformational Leadership: There are 4 behavioral clusters associated with this type of style.
- Idealized Influence: displays deep convictions, takes stands on matters, and appeals to followers on an emotional level.
- Inspirational Motivation: articulating a compelling vision, challenging the team to meet high standards, communicating optimism for future goal attainment, and providing meaning for tasks.
- Intellectual Stimulation: questioning assumptions, soliciting ideas, taking risks, and challenging the status quo.
- Individualized Consideration: attending to each person’s needs, providing coaching and mentorship, and listening to team members’ concerns.
Contingent Rewards. This is an aspect of transactional leadership that has been shown to enhance a leader’s effectiveness. Behaviors include:
- Setting up constructive interactions with followers by clarifying expectations and establishing rewards for meeting them.
Effective Interventions for Developing Leaders
The “70:20:10” framework proposed by Mintzberg5 indicates that only about 10% of adult learning happens within formal educational settings, 20% from interactions with others, and 70% from hands-on experiences. Consistent with this framework, the most effective leadership development programs involve not only formal training, but learning opportunities afforded by direct experience or via networks and informal communications. Focusing on these latter components, organizations can choose any or all of the following methods on an individual or group basis:
Coaching. By placing coachees in real situations, coaching enables individuals to see and experience first-hand the problems that emerge in their practice. One study showed that the use of executive coaching as a follow-up to a training program increases productivity by 88% in public sector managers6.
Mentoring. Mentoring has been described as a support relationship involving two individuals in which knowledge, strengths, and experiences are passed on from a mentor to a mentee. While there is a paucity of scholarly research on the topic, one study showed that targeted mentorship intervention increased mentee’s level of leader self-efficacy7. Leader self-efficacy then predicted rated leader performance.
360-degree Feedback. This is most effective in feedback-rich cultures and when it is integrated into a leadership development program. Leaders who work in a favorable feedback environment prior to attending a leadership-development program that incorporates 360-degree feedback had better outcomes than those who work in an unfavorable feedback environment8. This suggests that improving workplace feedback processes prior to leadership-development interventions can improve the outcomes of those interventions.
Developing Effective Leaders starts with understanding the individual’s personality and current leadership style (via personality and leadership style surveys and 360-degree feedback) and pinpointing specific behaviors for the leader to start, stop, and continue doing. In addition to formal training, coaching, mentoring, and 360-degree feedback can improve leadership effectiveness.
1Wilmot, M. P., Wanberg, C. R., Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D., & Ones, D. S. (2019). Extraversion advantages at work: A quantitative review and synthesis of the meta-analytic evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(12), 1447–1470.
2Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., & Ilies, R. (2004). The Forgotten Ones? The Validity of Consideration and Initiating Structure in Leadership Research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(1), 36–51.
3Avolio, R., Hannah, W., & Chan, (2009). A meta-analytic review of leadership impact research: Experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Leadership Quarterly (20), 764-784.
4Piccolo, R. F., Bono, J. E., Heinitz, K., Rowold, J., Duehr, E., & Judge, T. A. (2012). The relative impact of complementary leader behaviors: Which matter most? The Leadership Quarterly, 23(3), 567–581.
5Mintzberg, H., (2004). Leadership and management development: An afterword. Academy of Management Perspectives, 18(3), 140-142.
6Roupnel, S., Rinfret, N., & Grenier, J., (2019). Leadership development: three programs that maximize learning over time, Journal of Leadership Education 18(2), 126-143.
7Ellison, L. J., Steelman, L. A., Young, S. F., & Riordan, B. G. (2022). Setting the stage: Feedback environment improves outcomes for a 360-degree-feedback leader-development program. Consulting Psychology Journal. Advance online publication.
8Lester, P., Hannah, S., Harms, P.D., Vogelgesang, G. R., and Avolio, B. J., (2012). Mentoring impact on leader efficacy development: A field experiment. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 10(3), 409-429.