What makes a great leader in the workplace?

Written by Josie Truscott, C.Psychol Forensic & Occupational, HCPC Registered, Head of Talent Identification

When you hear the phrase ‘great leader,’ who comes to mind? Is it the best boss you worked with throughout your career? Was it a teammate or coach you interacted with while playing organized sports? Or perhaps a friend or family member who left an indelible impression on you?

No matter who you picture, the reality is that we have all interacted with leaders – some with a formal title and some who just embodied the role naturally. And while those experiences are all unique, there are a number of important and consistent qualities that leaders should possess.

When it comes to the world of talent management, who you select or promote into leadership roles plays a pivotal part in moving your organization forward. I’ve compiled a number of quotes about leadership that resonated with me and convey the importance of assessing for those critical competencies that will ensure they are remembered as an effective and capable – and even a ‘great’ – leader.

“Leadership cannot just go along to get along. Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day.” — Jesse Jackson

In today’s fast-paced and complex business world, effective leadership is more critical than ever. Leaders must inspire, guide, and empower their teams, to ‘meet the moral challenge of the day’ – and for leaders in the 21st century, there are many moral challenges. To do this successfully, leaders need a deep understanding of themselves and their team members. This is where insightful people-centered leadership comes into play.

“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity, and courage.” — Fuchan Yuan

Insightful leadership goes beyond traditional leadership approaches. It is characterized by a leader’s ability to understand their own strengths and challenges, and those of their teams. Such leaders are self-aware, empathetic, and open to feedback. They recognize that people are not ‘one-size-fits-all’ and strive to adapt their leadership style to suit the unique needs of their diverse team.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” — Vince Lombardi

There is a wealth of research that illustrates the cost of a bad hire, including reputation and financial impacts, only amplifying the importance of organizations ensuring that they select the right people. This starts as early as recruitment and continues through to promotion, succession planning, and development as leaders.

“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” — Ray Kroc

One of the cornerstones of leadership is self-awareness. Leaders who understand their own personality traits, values, and cognitive abilities are better equipped to make informed decisions, manage their emotions, and build strong relationships with their team members. This self-awareness helps leaders to leverage their strengths and work on their challenges. Furthermore, insight into the drivers and motivators of leaders gives a clear indication of the culture they are likely to establish.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” — Max De Pree

Creating purpose and motivating teams around a compelling vision are core expectations of leadership. Time and again, research into leadership highlights the importance of setting a direction. But, to go back to Rev. Jackson’s point about moral challenge, there have been some recent powerful examples of leaders who have rallied followers around morally dubious visions and realities. Robust, evidence-based assessment offers a route to identify the potential leaders whose motivators and drivers are likely to risk serious damage to people and organizations.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers.” — General Colin Powell

Successful leaders are able to read their team members and understand that a cohesive and harmonious team is more productive and innovative. Keith Grint’s work on ‘wicked issues’ further highlights the necessity of a cognitively diverse team bringing a range of views, experiences, and knowledge.

By promoting better communication, leaders can foster a more positive and collaborative work environment. Measuring the adaptability of leaders and their readiness to create an environment in which everyone feels safe to voice their views is critical to establish a culture of inclusion and psychological safety.

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” — Rosalynn Carter

Like any journey, a reliable roadmap ensures that you will get where you need to go, and the same goes for personal and professional development. Leaders should have personalized development plans for themselves and their team members. In addition, firms can use the insight offered by rich, in-depth assessments for onboarding programs, targeted leadership and team development initiatives around common themes, and identifying roles that will play to individuals’ strengths.

“Earn your leadership every day.” — Michael Jordan

Leadership is not just about short-term wins; it’s about achieving sustained success for the organization and its people. Leaders who are better equipped to make decisions that contribute to long-term growth and stability can identify and nurture future leaders within their teams, ensuring a legacy of effective leadership.

How to select the best leaders for your organization

If you want to ensure that you have the best leaders in the roles that steer the direction of your organization, leadership assessments are an effective way to measure for necessary competencies needed for success in the position. And while there are many leadership assessment solutions to choose from, there are a number of features that your organization should be sure are addressed when it comes to the selection of leaders:

  • Measure emotional intelligence (EI) EI is a critical component for successful leaders and leadership assessments should be validated tools that provide an understanding and awareness of the influence of mindset and emotions on behavior.
  • Focus on people – People are at the heart of this entire process, so you’ll want to ensure there is transparency in your approach and provide participants with a fair opportunity to prepare. During the assessment, use exercises that are designed to create a positive participant experience. To continue the journey, all leaders should receive personalized feedback and development planning support to create a well-rounded, development-focused experience. Furthermore, this should be aligned with other organizational development programs.
  • Assess fairly, inclusively, and objectively – Using a robust and consistent process helps provide a clear picture of performance, ensuring all participants are assessed fairly and reliably.

As the quotes listed above describe, being a leader isn’t a passive position; it’s being an active participant every single day. Investing in your current and future leaders has a direct impact on your company’s morale, finances, and sustainability. Because of that, it is critical to utilize the right tools that measure the most relevant competencies and provide the necessary data to move your workforce forward.



Great leaders: what do they do differently?

We all know that having great leaders is critical for success for most organizations.

However, less clear are the behaviors great leaders engage in that others do not. We designed a research program around shedding insights into this issue. In order to answer this question we used our proprietary executive assessment process to assess current leaders. Then we gathered outcome information (e.g., promotions, salary increases, behaviors) so we could see the correlations between assessments scores, job outcomes, and leader behavior.

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  • How do we know who the great leaders are?
  • What do great leaders do differently?
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