Ask ten experts on leadership which skills are most needed for leadership success and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.
In an effort to clarify this murky topic, an exhaustive McKinsey & Co. study suggests that a small subset of leadership skills does indeed closely correlate with success, especially among frontline leaders.
The study involved nearly 190,000 people in more than 8o organizations around the world. People were asked how frequently certain carefully-selected leadership behaviors were applied within their organizations. The organizations were divided into two groups–one with strong leadership effectiveness and one that was weak, as measured on McKinsey’s organizational health index.
Leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed four of the 20 possible types of behavior. The four behaviors, listed below, account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness.
- Solve problems effectively. Problem solving, when information is gathered, analyzed and considered, precedes decision making. This is a difficult process. But, it’s a critical input into decision making for major issues such as mergers and daily ones such as how to handle a team argument.
- Operate with a strong results orientation. Leadership is about developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives. It’s also about following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work, important to many of us as we’re continuously bombarded with more to do.
- Seek 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.
- Support 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 promote organizational efficiency and communicate in ways that prevent the energy of employees from becoming diffused.
Other leadership behavior in the study that didn’t make it to the top includes:
– Champion desired change
– Clarify objectives, rewards and consequences
– Keep group organized and on task
– Make quality decisions
– Motivate and bring out the best in others
– Communicate prolifically and enthusiastically
– Develop others
– Develop and share a collective mission
– Differentiate among followers
– Facilitate group collaboration
– Foster mutual respect
– Give praise
– Offer a critical perspective
– Recover positively from failures
– Remain composed and confident in uncertainty
– Role model organizational values
Of course, this won’t end the age-old debate over leadership behaviors. But if you’re investing in leadership development, the research would suggest that these four behaviors are worth targeting.
Source: Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters, McKinsey & Company