My professional association’s magazine published a very small note about a new study done at University of Chicago: Which CEO Characteristics and Abilities Matter? They express surprise (shock might be a better word) that “warm, flexible and team-oriented people are less likely to thrive [sic – they really mean ‘get results’] than organized, structured, attention-to-detail types.”
Oops, that’s an article I have to read! It didn’t take long to find (link above), but, even double-spaced, 54 pages isn’t an easy-to-digest document. This is a great example of why leadership is so often misunderstood.
The key is to understand that when someone misses the point in an article it sometimes helps reinforce the real story when you go dig it out. This is a point I’ve continually tried to make and it comes into very clear focus when you dissect this study.
The researchers, themselves, are very, very clear about several things. 53% of leadership impact comes from one group of skills, which they describe as follows:
“The first and most important factor is a general factor, explaining 53% of the
variation in the ratings. All individual characteristics [emphasis mine] load positively on this factor, ranging from a loading for “integrity” of 0.33 to a loading for “efficiency” of 0.68. It is natural, therefore, to interpret this factor as capturing general talent or ability.” And THEN they go on to identify the second most important factor, which explains 20% of leadership results and is much more difficult to understand. It contrasts warm, team-builders with hard-driving, conscientious types who follow through details and gives preference to the latter for achieving results.
By highlighting what they said, I’m prefiguring the better conclusion. We know from many studies that the most important work trait among the so-called “Big Five” personality characteristics is ‘conscientiousness.’ We also know it’s not the only contributing factor to success. To be highly effective as a leader or in any other challenge involving people, the best results come from having a complex of skills WORKING TOGETHER.
Duh, that means the best solution is NOT the ‘either/or’ one. If you have a choice of only one skill set, of course select the hard-driving, one-man-band, the charismatic if possible, the analytic person who dishes out orders. provided they have one even more important element from that group – they’re consistent. If you want the best results, however, find someone with ALL the contributing skills in a good balance. an ‘all rounder,’ a leader who also coaches and builds effective teams and relationships in addition to these. Get it? Look for the #1 skill set, not the #2 where, if you have to make a choice, you should absolutely pick the hard-driver over the warm team-builder.
Why is it so darn hard for reporters of good research to pick out the key fact not the most explosive? Every leader, to be worthy of the basic name, must drive hard toward the end goals. They need passion and constant attention to details. but the best leaders, the very best, go beyond only that to add in the team-building, coaching abilities. If you can’t find the best, settle for the drive, but don’t suggest those traits are the only ones that count. Don’t make it either/or.