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Expert opinion: The key to successful leadership

Written by Jan de Jonge on .

Jan de JongeJan de JongeAlthough there is no secret recipe for success, there is a lot of research indicating there are several clear characteristics of higher-than-average effectiveness in leadership.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions to these findings, but clearly, it has been found many times, that successful leaders:

  • are nearly always emotionally stable 
Effective leaders tend to be better at self-regulation, controlling any disruptive emotions and impulses. They adapt. This bears on trustworthiness, integrity and comfort with ambiguity.

  • are conscientious 
Effective leaders are more likely to work hard and smart, show self-discipline, act dutifully and aim for achievement. They are organised; they plan things.

  • are willing to learn to behave as if they were extroverted, even if they are not Introverts seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to being given leadership opportunities and this dynamic gets more pronounced as leadership seniority increases. 

  • are open to new experiences in the context of their business and beyond - within reason
 Ample research indicates that leaders (from SMEs to presidents) are often more successful when they have broader interests and embrace the complex, ambiguous and subtle.

  • need to be agreeable at times 
They have an optimistic view of other people and tend to get along with others. They are helpful, respectful and willing to compromise, believing that others are basically trustworthy. Yet, they are able to hold people to account when needed and can be tough.

  • possess sound judgement, trustworthiness and have integrity
 There is a significant correlation between intelligence and success in leadership, but the former is not a guarantee for the latter. In other words, for leaders, some intelligence may be enough. Other characteristics play a role, too.

  • have a vision 
They have a compelling story that persuades staff to work for the collective good. Strong(er) leaders paint a picture, inspire their followers and thus shape the behaviour and aspirational trajectory of their organisation. These leaders set a strategy.

  • have a good dose of self-awareness 
Perhaps more important than all of the above; this is a starting point for leaders to direct themselves, and grow and develop. People with inflated views or denial of their weaknesses will not be able to build a full leadership team in which leaders complement one another.

Good leaders cannot be good at everything; strong leadership exists by virtue of a strong team of leaders that complement one another within the senior leadership team.

Self-awareness is key in that. Some leaders naturally excel in strategy, some in people management and relationship building, and some in, for instance, operational delivery.

Jan de Jonge, founder of business psychology consultancy People Business Psychology Ltd. will be presenting on this fascinating subject at an event for learning and development professionals hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce on 22 May in Bratislava, Slovakia. Jan has also been invited to talk to some sharp minds within a special interest group with Mensa UK, focusing on business.