What is your succession plan? How are you identifying your leaders of tomorrow? Anyone running an organisation is regularly challenged with questions like this.
Answering these questions ultimately helps you identify successful leaders. But is this something you can pinpoint and measure? Research in the field of organisational leadership suggests that some leadership traits are inherent to the individual and others are acquired skills.
Management Versus Leadership
So while many leadership qualities can be developed, there are some factors that allow certain individuals to stand out from others. This is where psychometrics can help to bring science and data to an area that has relied heavily on ‘instinct’ in the past.
One of the most important aspects of any form of measurement is to understand what you are measuring before you determine how best to measure it.
To start with, many organisations confuse ‘management’ with ‘leadership’. A manager has a formal position of power given by the organisation and therefore has a strong competency element in the exercise of that power. Leadership is derived from the informal power that someone exerts on the organisation and so, is more personality driven.
Defining Leadership Behaviours
With this understanding of leadership, what are the behaviours that differentiate a person who has strong potential and one that doesn’t? Up until the 1980s, leadership measures focused on the transactional side of leadership with the emphasis on targets, performance reviews and problem-solving.
Since then, the focus has switched to the social, rather than organisational, side of leadership. This means traits like empathy, intellectual challenge, and risk-appetite are valued. One fascinating study highlighted a new key leadership trait: ‘dispositional hope’ which is defined as an individual’s belief that they can find and execute solutions to the difficulties they encounter.
Other factors to consider are biases around perceived or socially desirable traits associated with leadership, such as extraversion and assertiveness. There is little evidence that such traits differentiate strong leaders from poor ones.
Mapping Leadership in the Brain
Once you understand what makes a successful leader in your organisation (which a good occupational psychologist can help with), the next step is to find ways to identify who exhibits those traits and to what degree. This is where the science of psychometrics can help.
Psychometrics have come a long way since Katherine Myers and Isabel Briggs first pioneered the categorisation of personality. Advances in the use of new technologies have led to a greater understanding of what differentiates performance in leadership roles and with it, our ability to measure those differences.
Winter Circle members measured significantly higher in determination, impulsive risk and social dominance
One of the most interesting recent studies used advanced neuroimaging methods to determine that leaders from a variety of contexts were significantly more likely to have strong activity in the prefrontal and frontal lobe areas of the brain. These areas are involved in planning, anticipating future events, dealing with emotions and understanding unusual situations (all shown to be good leadership traits).
Gamification of Personality Testing
Although researchers can use neural imaging technology for analysis, this is not a practical tool for companies looking to recruit or identify leaders within their own staff pool. This is where new behavioural type assessments, like those using game-technology, are offering a powerful and innovative solution.
The benefits of this new wave of psychometrics is that they combine previously independent areas of expertise, such as neuroimaging and gaming, bringing advances in science and technology together.
Game-based assessments, for example, translate neuropsychological tasks into a game format to assess differences between individuals at the biological level without having to rely on self-assessment questionnaires or neuroimaging techniques. The output from this type of assessment is totally behaviour-based and free from bias, as the data sets collected are largely beyond the conscious control of the test-taker.
Leaders Among Winter Circle
Winter Circle have been running a study in which a small sample group of its members have revealed some interesting differences when measured against the general population.
While Winter Circle members as a group ranked the same as the average population in emotional recognition, altruism and creativity, they were significantly higher in determination, impulsive risk and social dominance.
More samples need to be gathered but this study of senior leaders will reveal some fascinating insights on the common traits of people who achieve senior leadership positions.
The Future of Science in Leadership
Measuring leadership potential in organisations has been too subjective up to now and not sufficiently scientific. The situation is starting to change with several global companies like Unilever, Vodafone and Siemens now taking a more digital approach, using the latest psychometric science and measurement tools to provide a more data-driven way to identify leadership potential.
So while there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to measuring leadership potential in an organisation, there are methods and tools available to make the selection process more objective. The challenge now is for leaders with the responsibility for succession to open their minds to the advances psychometric science is enabling.
Robert Newry is the Manager Director & Co-Founder of Arctic Shores, a global provider of games-based assessments. Winter Circle members are exclusively invited to take part in a bespoke gaming trial to find out more about your professional personality. To set up your personal assessment, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.