We often consider the best leaders to be those who are inquisitive; they come up with ideas, ask lots of questions and dig into the details. We might think of this person as someone who has a dominant personality, who isn’t afraid to make tough decisions and who would be described as “ambitious”, “driven” and “confident”. While these traits are useful, recent research has shown that simply focusing on them alone is not enough. These traits are not entirely what leadership is about.
In fact, there is an intrinsic link between a leaders’ personality (which drives their behaviour) and employee engagement. For example, leaders with high emotional intelligence and certain personality traits – such as interpersonal sensitivity and showing a genuine interest in others – are more likely to have engaged and loyal teams. Those who are inquisitive are not (although they are not more likely to have disengaged teams either).
In many companies, leaders are promoted because they are strong figureheads and technically excellent at what they do. However, many are selected without considering personality as a factor. These people are great at engaging with external stakeholders and creating short term excitement, but often lack the personality traits and self awareness needed to create highly engaged teams that perform well.
Are businesses doing it right?
During the recruitment phase, as part of ongoing development and in promotion decisions, businesses need to be diligent in their selecting criteria and testing to ensure their leaders are suitable.
There are three common mistakes made by businesses when evaluating personality and potential leadership:
1. Companies profile successful leaders rather than good ones.
This is an important difference. We should be looking for leaders who are able to generate sustainable results from their teams and organisations.
Using employee engagement or other survey feedback as a metric to help assess leaders can be extremely powerful because it complements financial and operating performance and gives insight into the reputation of the leader internally.
2. Usage of inaccurate or poorly validated tools
This is a very common occurrence – many performance tools on the market simply do not have solid research to back them up.
3. They do not consider all the factors involved in great leadership
A full assessment consists of competence (such as knowledge and technical ability), competencies and character (values and personality).
However many companies do not consider all these factors when making their decision – all of which make a difference to the type of ‘leader’ they hire or promote.
Hiring and talent managers should look closely at their candidates and assess their leadership suitability, as these traits can directly impact team engagement and overall performance. The most effective organisations consider operational, financial and people based performance data for leaders when they are making important promotion decisions.
Asia vs. the world
Our research has frequently demonstrated that the way people are managed has a much larger impact on engagement and employee attitudes than the influence of the country they are working in.
So for example, we tend to see people for Shell in China are more likely to managed (and respond to engagement surveys) in a similar way to others working for Shell globally; the strengths and challenges they see in the company are the similar.
However, when considering personality data we do find some interesting differences. Hogan personality profiles for Asian leaders tend to be more prudent and dutiful but less ambitious, and in terms of values, Asian leaders tend to be more traditionalist and altruistic. Most notably though, leaders in Asia showed lower levels of interpersonal sensitivity and EQ, suggesting they are less likely to be engaging managers.
To help overcome Asia’s current leadership problems, businesses must start at the beginning. Hiring managers must delve deeper into the suitability of their hires and understand that a leader should possess not only technical knowledge, but also have the personable traits that are likely to help them engage with their team on the whole.