Books on leadership proliferate. As does research and speculation on the characteristics or traits one requires to be a great leader
The Range of Traits
The problem is, which set of traits predicts leadership success? One book advises humility and compassion; another strength and decisiveness; another courage and directiveness; another empowerment. The list of traits is almost endless and often contradictory.
Although many of these lists have been compiled from studying successful leaders, most researchers have not asked “what differentiates between the successful and unsuccessful leader?”, especially in our current business environment. The volatility and complexity of the marketplace; ambiguity and uncertainty of economies mean that every leadership decision must take into account a new context and changing parameters. Above all, leaders must be agile and respond with an open mind to each new challenge in a unique manner.
At Psynet Group we believe that developing leaders using a trait-based approach (i.e. “demonstrate these 5 behaviors consistently and you will be a great leader”) simply doesn’t work today, if it ever did.
We have worked with high-performing leaders around the world who display the full range of MBTI and DISC styles, for example. Equally, we have met average performers who exhibit the same styles. So traits don’t predict performance.
What Does Work?
Nearly every situation a leader encounters will be unique. Outstanding leaders recognize this, seek to discover what is different, and have a cognitive and emotional agility that allows them to craft a unique response. Average performers are easily entrapped by biases and emotional distractions (fear, anxiety, conflict) that interfere with their ability to innovate and think critically. Both limit the data they collect, how they analyze it, and range of possible responses.
Ninety-fifth percentile leaders have a process for observing and discovering that involve:
- Setting an intention – These leaders are conscious that they truly do not know the full picture and set their intention to experience the world without blinders. They consciously state their starting position,what they know, what they assume, and what they don’t know.
- Listening without prejudice – They have many models, frameworks, and experiences at their disposal, but are aware of their biases and put these aside to fully attend to data with fresh ears and eyes. They listen for what is being expressed; and more importantly to what is missing. They take in data from many sources. They observe.
- Questioning appreciatively – They are open, non-directive, explorative, and genuinely curious. They challenge the data, their own and others’ beliefs about it, and seek alternatives.They exhibit a high tolerance for ambiguity.
- Monitoring their process – They follow a deeply sensing process, reflecting on when to seek more data (or show more empathy; or engage the team) and when they have reached the point of diminishing returns and have sufficient information.
- Experimenting – These leaders create their own luck, try new things, fail fast and shift quickly.
What about Decisiveness?
Making decisions that move the organization forward is critical, yet the challenge to leadership is how to avoid the biases and emotional reactivity that constrain thinking and result in swift but poor decisions. The more time spent in discovery, the more likely the best decision will emerge.
Curious? Call us for a 15 minute discussion on how we can help your organization escape the gravitational pull of trait-based development and develop agile leaders who discover new worlds and create unique solutions.