I had a real insight last week, I attended Adrian Furnham’s talk, “from Good to Great” in London. Adrian has written dozens of books on Leadership and I was really interested to hear his thoughts around this topic, particularly elements around whether Leadership is “teachable” or not, the “good to great” hypothesis and why leaders fail.
I was totally captivated throughout his three-hour talk and when I consider why he held my attention so studiously for so long, it comes down to two things; firstly, for me, any individual talking about leadership without exuding presence and charisma themselves doesn’t really do it for me, and Adrian has both by the cart load, secondly, he so eloquently challenged some of my deepest beliefs around the qualities of a good leader and how to spot one, not only in yourself, but in others too! We are so frequently asked by our clients who we know that is a first class, truly exceptional leader, great people person, has presence, top notch business acumen etc etc.
So, how do we really spot potential in others (and recognise it in ourselves, as we have to lead ourselves before we can lead others…something you will have heard the iTS-Leadership team say more than once…)?
What are the true qualities of a great leader?
Well, traditionally in the corporate world most of us turn to the 9 box performance/potential grid to neatly plot our leaders, but how robust is this familiar tool? I guess we can plot performance (based on results), but how can we really determine someone’s true potential?
True potential is so organic and can twist and turn as naturally as a river, we are all full of natural wisdom if we choose to tune in and listen to it, but often we get derailed and paralysed by excessive process, detail and politics. Often during “potential” conversations in the boardroom, one might hear the words; “they will go far, they are bright, they are up there, the next big name…” but what does that really mean, and how accurate is it really, and can it always be backed up with more than a gut feel? To be fair, I guess we have to start somewhere and the 9 box grid is practical and simple, but maybe too simple, what does it miss?
According to Adrian, he cites six personal characteristics (that can be measured) that give a really good indication of the potential for exceptional leadership. We call this the “Leadership Six-Pack”.
- Conscientiousness – a good level of personal organisation
- Openness / curiosity – the more the better
- Approach to risk – wouldn’t want this to be too high, or too low
- Stress reactivity – how much pressure can they really take when the chips are down, the more resilient the better
- Tolerance of ambiguity – how certain do things really need to be – important when thinking about organisational change – would expect good leaders to be fairly tolerant of ambiguity and stay calm etc
- Competitiveness – a healthy level, but again not too high as this prevents sharing and can generate self interest
Adrian poses that (when measured) these personal characteristics give a broader view of talent and predicting future success/potential (as opposed to solely looking at performance and potential). When he was challenged on the ability to relationship build (as a leadership skill) he said that relationship building naturally runs like a thread through these factors.
Food for thought, and maybe it is an “and” conversation, measure the above and then plot on the grid, remembering to measure yourself, as well as your people. So useful, and one thing is for sure, get the right people in the right roles, then set the direction (the WHAT and the WHY or higher purpose) and the business will flourish, profit and smiles for all.
For more chat around any of the above points, please don’t hesitate to contact the iTS-Leadership team, we love hearing your insights and stories.
~Author: Liz Babb