Nine Essential Qualities of Great Leaders

Appointing the right leaders for your organisation may be one of the most difficult and important decisions that you make.  Select the right people and you will have set your organisation up for years to come. Make the wrong decision however, and the consequences could be severe.  It is estimated that for the world’s largest 2,500 companies, forced turnover at the top-level costs shareholders an estimated $112 billion in lost market value annually.

Not only do leadership changes cost significant time and resources, they can also become a public debacle, generating negative press that reflects badly on your organisation’s public image.  The recent controversial departures of Travis Kalanick from Uber, and Alex Malley from the CPA proved to be costly for their respective organisations.  Both ex-CEOs displayed qualities that led to a toxic and unsustainable workplace culture, which eventually resulted in their departures.  Identifying the right leaders through a selection and recruitment process can prevent these sorts of situations from occurring and allow knowledgeable organisations to set themselves apart from the competition.

So what are the essential qualities of a great leader?

1.    Decisiveness.  Decisiveness, especially in the face of incomplete information, is essential for a great leader.  Being decisive doesn’t necessarily mean always making the correct decisions, rather it means making decisions earlier and with conviction.  In today’s fast-paced world of corporate business it is not always feasible to make decisions with absolute certainty.  While risks do exist, C-suites and management teams tend to fare better when they commit to a decision, as opposed to making no decision.  Mistakes are rarely so severe that they cannot be resolved, but a lack of decisiveness may result in an opportunity lost forever or ‘decision paralysis’ enveloping the organisation.   

2.    Integrity.  Ethical standards of behaviour are often overlooked or underestimated as an important quality for successful leaders, but in this day and age have never been more crucial.  Value-driven behaviour is extremely important to millennials who now make up the largest group in the workforce. By abiding to appropriate standards, leaders can set the tone for the rest of the workforce to follow, creating a sustainable, productive and pleasant workplace culture.  Time and time again, integrity appears at the top of any survey about required attributes, competencies or characteristics of CEO’s.

3.    Passion.  Being able to inspire others is part and parcel of being a great leader, and there’s rarely anything more inspiring than a leader who is passionate about the goals of the organisation and the people within it.  Passionate leaders effectively build momentum and motivate the team to see and achieve his or her vision.

4.    Adaptiveness.  The ability to strategically adapt to novel situations is crucial for successful leadership. The rapidly changing technological landscape requires leaders to be able to agilely deal with unforeseen shifts in the playing field while staying aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the organisation.  The key to being able to adapt strategically is having a strong focus on long-term perspectives.  This allows leaders to sensitively pick up on subtle changes in the business landscape and proactively capitalise on the opportunities that are presented. 

5.    Strategic Thinking.  Being able to take a broad, long-term approach to problem-solving and decision-making is critical to success as a leader. That means being able to think in multiple time frames, and determine what needs to happen right now, in six months, and in a year, to get to where the organisation wants to go. In taking this systematic approach within an organisation, great leaders can identify the impact of their decisions across differing segments of the organisation, including other departments, personnel, suppliers, and customers.  This is the basis of the Balanced Scorecard approach to management.

6.    Composure.  Almost every organisation will face substantial challenges that may propel the future of the company into uncertainty.  During these times having a confident leader that acts with composure is essential.  Teams will naturally take cues from their leader and any sign of distress or unease can be infectious.  In times of crisis a leader that projects calm confidence will help the team to maintain composure and work effectively.    

7.    Engagement.  A great leader understands the importance of inspiring engagement from employees.  Research shows that employee engagement begins by creating a connection between the employee’s values and those of the organisation.  To do this, leaders need to instil confidence in others by showing that they are willing to do what is necessary to succeed.  In addition, they need to show that they are willing to listen and solicit different viewpoints that do not default to the consensus.

8.    Delegation.  A great leader must be skilled in the art of delegation and collaboration.  It is not feasible for any one person to carry the entire workload, therefore successful leaders learn to trust their team with their vision, and delegate responsibilities.  Leaders that can delegate effectively understand the strengths and weaknesses of their teams and assign tasks accordingly.  An issue that is wisely delegated by a leader is a development opportunity for a direct report.

9.    Consistency.  The ability to reliability deliver results day after day is a highly desirable quality in all leaders.  Studies suggest that 94% of strong CEOs are consistent in producing results.  From the perspective of the board of directors, leaders that deliver reliable results are far preferable to those with performance that fluctuates.  The key to consistency is in setting realistic expectations up front and having strong organisational and planning skills. 

Recruiting and developing leaders based on these nine essential qualities ensures that knowledgeable organisations find individuals that can maximise their potential.

Understanding the qualities of a successful leader is only half the job done however; it’s important to have a means of assessing potential candidates for these qualities.  One possible means to evaluate candidates is through assessment tools that can quickly and effectively differentiate the leaders from the managers.

The Business Personality Reflections® is one personality questionnaire that measures business-related competencies to assist in selection and personal development decisions.  Developed by Psych Press, this assessment contains 70 personality scales that can be tailored to any organisation’s needs.  Below is more information about the Business Personality Reflections® Strategic Orientation scale. 

Strategic Orientation
Strategic Orientation is described as a focus on the big picture, an attention to defining the future direction of an organisation, and using this definition to direct and guide the efforts of others.  

The Strategic Orientation scale in the Business Personality Reflections® questionnaire measures the ability of individuals to focus on the big picture, as well as the amount of time an individual is likely to spend considering the outcomes of their choices.  Employees who score low on the Strategic Orientation scale are more likely to make fast decisions without considering wider organisational objectives, whilst high scorers prefer to deliberate over their options and consider the potential consequences.

Organisations that operate in a strategically orientated manner have been found to bring in stronger economic return through the development of responsible products, mitigating potential risks and building enduring stakeholder relationships (Wang & Bansal, 2012).

Research suggests that employees with a long-term (strategic) orientation value hard work and planning for future benefit.  Nepomuceno and Laroche (2015) found that individuals with strategic orientation in conjunction with self-control are more capable of restraining impulses for short-term goals, as they strive for long-term goals.  Therefore, these people are highly motivated and are better able to resist corruption. This is associated with the individual being less materialistic, having greater well-being, and behaving more ethically.

A sample item for the Strategic Orientation factor that you may see in our questionnaires could be: “I have no problems making quick decisions without considering the consequences”.

You might consider using the Strategic Orientation scale in your recruiting and development processes if:

  • Your company lacks direction and wants employees who will work towards key goals
  • You need leaders who prefer to consider the potential consequences of actions
  • You know where your organisation would like to be but your employees are unsure of the actions to get there

Organisations need leaders with a strategic orientation to see the bigger picture of work. The Strategic Orientation scale can assist you continue to find and develop the right people for your organisation to maintain your competitive advantage.

If you were interested in learning more about the Strategic Orientation scale, or the Business Personality Reflections® Personality questionnaire, please simply enquire now for a free trial.


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