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Uncovering the Personality and Psychology of Successful Leaders

Appraising the potential of executives to reach the top is a tedious task for HR professionals as well as the top management.  The characteristics and competence of leaders isn’t something etched in stone.  It is a matter of great interest for organizations to identify the attributes that make their managers and senior managers successful.

To explore the key traits of successful leaders, a 2-stage leadership development profiling study of over 1500 international managers was conducted by Deloitte.  The study was aimed at revealing:

  • The key attributes of personality, reasoning, and business mindset of a leader
  • The noteworthy differences in personality and psychology of leaders who consistently demonstrated success throughout their career versus those who couldn’t

The study explored the relationship between the personality, reasoning abilities, business and leadership capabilities of an executive with the potential to reaching a senior position and being successful there.  The study utilized a series of 5 psychometric tests to assess the personality and reasoning process of senior managers and managers.  The evaluation also utilized standardized repertory grid interviews to evaluate the extent of manager’s business and leadership competence.

The following 5 personality tests were used in the leadership study to assess the personalities of leaders:

Now, let’s take a bit deeper look at the psychometric tests employed.

NEO PI-R

A 240-item personality inventory that examines a person’s 5 personality traits:  Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator

A self-report questionnaire to profile an individual’s psychological type on 4 elements of psychological functions:  Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perception.

GMA(A)

The Graduate and Managerial Assessment Abstract test assesses an individual’s strategic thinking, new and changing patterns identification capability, and flexibility to devise new methods and analyze information at different levels.

Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (W-GCTA)

The analytical reasoning skills test based on 80 reading passages presenting problems, statements, arguments to measure 5 aspects of critical thinking:  Drawing Inferences, Recognizing Assumptions, Deductive Reasoning, Logical Interpretation, and Argument Evaluation.

Consequences Test

A test of divergent thinking which elicits originality and measures the creative potential of individuals in problem-solving situations.

The Study Approach—Step 1

The leadership personality study was carried out in two steps:  The first step compared all senior managers (sample size 899) with other managers/supervisors (sample size 668)—14% women and 86% men—to see whether there were any differences at this level.

The objective of the first step of the study was to identify whether the senior managers were any different from managers on personality, reasoning, business and leadership facets.  The managers represented a wide range of sectors, industries, functions, and nationalities.

Key Takeaways—Step 1

The results showed that senior managers notably differed from managers on a number of personality, reasoning, and business and leadership aspects.  The senior managers scored higher on extraversion and drive, and lower on neuroticism.  They were also better on analytical and creative thinking, business and leadership skills than managers and supervisors; and were observed to be more driven, assertive, dependable, open, intuitive, and emotionally balanced.

The Study Approach—Step 2

The second part of the leadership profiling study focused only on a small group of senior managers whose performance was observed for several years.  The group was segregated into 2 sub-groups; the first one encompassed senior managers with a consistent track record of success, whereas the second group included those with an uneven track record.

The sample encompassed 101 senior managers from a range of sectors, representing 12 distinct functions and 9 nationalities.  Altogether, there were 51 consistently successful leaders and 50 not so successful leaders.  The two groups were then compared using the same tests, as in the first study.

Key Takeaways—Step 2

The results indicated that the senior managers with consistently successful track record scored higher in almost all aspects of personality and psychology.  They were found to be significantly more extravert, open, agreeable, and conscientious, yet less neurotic.  In terms of logic and intelligence, they were better creative thinkers and innovators.  The consistently successful leaders were also observed to have more advanced business and leadership acumen than senior managers with inconsistent track records.  To find out more about both groups’ scores on individual psychometric tests, click here.

Interested in learning more about the leadership profiling study?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on the Personality and Psychology of Successful Leaders here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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