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What Science Tells Us about Leadership Potential

If you scrape together highlights from all of the available data on leadership, what picture emerges? In an article for Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic attempts to answer that question. He has collected information on several of the most pressing leadership questions to expand our perspective on what constitutes leadership potential and why.

The Portrait of Authority

Get ready for a lot of numbers. For instance, research suggests between 30 and 60 percent of managers “act destructively,” costing $1-2.7 million for each bad manager. Furthermore, more than half of employees leave their job because of their boss. Those are just the doom and gloom numbers though. Next is the rosier data.

The people most likely to become leaders are the ones who are adjusted, sociable, ambitious, and curious. Higher intelligence also increases likelihood of leading, but only by a meager (less than 5) percent. Successful leaders unsurprisingly tend to express high emotional intelligence and integrity.

As for how successful leaders lead, there is not one clear-cut way:

Leadership style is largely dependent on personality. Ambitious, thick-skinned leaders tend to be more entrepreneurial, so they are focused on growth and innovation. Curious, sociable, and sensitive leaders tend to be more charismatic, though charisma often reflects dark side traits, such as narcissism and psychopathy. Studies also highlight gender differences in leadership styles, with men being more transactional and women more transformational. However, gender roles are best understood as a psychological and normally distributed variable…

Speaking of gender, Chamorro-Premuzic finds there is no real difference in leadership capability between men and women. Sometimes studies find women are actually slightly more capable than men, but this is likely a result of there being a saturation of incompetent male managers with which to compare the competent female managers. It is easy to call this both a good and bad thing.

Since personality is a major factor in leadership capability, leaders can indeed be “born” through graceful genetics. Still, leaders can also be “made,” as deft leadership coaching has been shown to improve leadership competencies by 20-30 percent. Typically, the type and quality of the leadership on display will actually be what creates the company culture.

Finally, it is worth remembering that leaders do not always fail as a result of lacking good traits. Sometimes, they fail because they have too many “dark” traits accompanying those good traits. An addiction to pills or lasciviousness never helped anyone, for instance.

Do you feel like your perspective on leadership has improved now? Maybe, maybe not. Articulating leadership will always be like catching footage of a ghost on a camera—fuzzy. You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2016/09/what-science-tells-us-about-leadership-potential

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