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Who in your firm exhibits the leadership qualities that can lift your staff to a higher level?

By  Julia Kramer and Todd Henshaw

Most firms try to define the leadership qualities and behaviors they most admire because doing so helps firms set expectations for their future leaders.

The process typically begins with a firm preparing a list of things that good leaders should do. Sometimes the firm will use a published leader competency template or set up leader effectiveness measurements based on best practices standards.

But wouldn’t it be more effective if each firm, rather than accept a universal definition of effective leadership, elected to build its own leader competency models to reflect its own culture and objectives? Those that do are one step ahead in ensuring that their emerging leaders have a clear picture of what it takes to be promoted into positions of greater responsibility.

Firms shouldn’t stop there. In addition to setting clear behavioral and productivity standards for leaders, forward-thinking firms also focus on who their leaders are.

Those in management roles actively observe and evaluate what is frequently referred to as “character,” no longer satisfied to use business results as the exclusive indicator of advancement potential. Not that the bottom line has decreased in importance. We still need leaders to be first and foremost producers. But producing isn’t enough. Today leaders need to achieve results by working collaboratively with their followers. They need to create a workplace culture where talented people want to stay, allowing the organization to benefit from their abilities.

So how does a firm know who has the right stuff to achieve required results and effectively lead, inspire and retain a motivated and productive team? Many of us have learned the hard way that some leaders get the immediate job done but leave a bloodied and demoralized staff in their wake. To avoid this imbalance, smart firms assess leaders on the way up not just on business results but also on their ability to work with a team and develop a positive culture. They identify leaders early on who can maintain high levels of trust and confidence while asking followers to accomplish very difficult things. They know who can build relationships that endure over time and provide a sense of purpose and belonging for everyone on the team. They understand that the firm’s ultimate success is dependent on the strong and positive relationships that leaders develop with followers and other team members. They observe, they evaluate, and they frequently use assessment tools to give potential leaders a better understanding of the elements of personality that drive leader behavior—both good and bad.

There are many assessment tools on the market, and the best of them identify those personality traits that create tension in leader-follower relationships. Data from Fortune 500 firms provide insight into the range of common, negative leader descriptors, including “arrogant, indecisive, abrasive, controlling, untrustworthy, narcissistic, insensitive and detached.”

But identifying personality traits is not an end in itself. Assessments merely provide a starting point for a leadership development program. Providing personality data to an individual is one way to open his or her mind to leadership learning and self-improvement. The data often catch participants by surprise at first. But after they process the information, they think of examples that confirm the results. Once these connections are made, they begin to find ways to improve their leadership skills.

Hogan Assessments is one example of a high-quality, valid and reliable leader assessment. Years ago, West Point was looking for ways to convince cadets of the need for self-awareness and the continuous improvement necessary to be effective leaders. They piloted the Hogan Challenge Report with several classes of cadets and were pleased to learn that the data caused cadets to take a closer look at their behavior. Today, every cadet at West Point takes the Hogan Development Survey, and each year Hogan collects leadership and personality data on over 1,000 cadets.

Hogan Assessments are now regularly used with executives and senior managers, and leadership programs that integrate these assessments actually accelerate leader development. Participants are able to use the Hogan data as a catalyst for learning and can make the connection between program content and the areas in need of improvement.

There are three assessments in the Hogan series. The first examines those “bright side” characteristics that make leaders successful, and the data gathered highlight those areas where the participant might exhibit strength. The next examines “dark side” characteristics that might create challenges for participants as they work with others. Finally, Hogan assesses key motivators for the participants, revealing the reasons leaders choose different types of work and seek different types of rewards.

Assessments form a multifaceted picture of a leader and start or further the process of leadership development. The data can be used in coaching and can be referenced as part of a formal planning and change process.

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