We measure 10 leadership competencies - but only 3 differentiate great leaders.

How to be a great leader tile V1.1

What is it that the best leaders actually do that separates them from the rest?

There can be no argument that leadership – and leaders – are consequential.  Bad leaders do untold harm (see Russia; Syria; Myanmar; China and England).  Good leaders may not do untold good, but they tend to keep things stable, peaceful and fairly productive (see Germany; Sweden; New Zealand; The Netherlands; Bhutan).  

It’s the same in organisations. Poor leaders destroy value or waste human capital or both (see Travis Kalanick; Elon Musk; Adam Neuman or Mark Zuckerberg). Wait – do I see a pattern there?

Anyway. Great leaders build value, make workplaces rewarding and enjoyable and generally act as stewards for the greater good.

If you read books about leadership, most emphasise the qualities that leaders are meant to possess. Think integrity, ambition, charisma and so on.  These are all useful traits – and I’d add humility, EQ and good judgement to the list.  But how do these traits get operationalised.  Or rather, what is it that the best leaders actually do that separates them from the rest?

For 15 years the Winsborough team have been gathering detailed feedback on leaders via 360 surveys.  Managers from companies like AirNZ, BNZ, NZ Defence Force, Hunter Water and BECA have helped us amass over a million point-by-point observations of their leaders. Those judgments were made by about 30,000 of their peers, direct reports and managers.  Recently, using machine learning, we dived into these data to understand what behaviours make good leaders good. 

To do that we sorted 6000 leaders by their total score on all the items in our 360º survey.  Then we examined the top 10% of scorers, and looked at the competencies and specific behaviours that most differentiate them from everyone else.

We found that the 10 Key Competencies of Great Leaders are:

1. Resilience

2. Self Awareness

3. Communication

4. Can build and sustaining relationships

5. Can build effective teams

6. Manage and develop others

7. Create and drive vision

8. Achieve results

9. Analysis and problem solving

10. Strategic thinking

But there's more to the story.  We found there were three specific competencies that make really great leaders shine:

1. Manage and develop others – High scorers set expectations and hold people accountable. They encourage and coach others to be better. Low scorers leave people to their own devices and fail to manage poor performance.

2. Self-awareness – High scorers understand the impact of their actions on others and adjust their approach appropriately. They are open to feedback. Low scorers seem closed and insensitive.

3. Create and drive vision – High scorers engage through a purpose that team members buy into. They have a long-term vision and get it across. Low scorers struggle to motivate and inspire the team.

This is the wisdom of the crowd (of 30,000 raters). 

Great leaders are self-aware and attuned to others, whom they care about. They demonstrate that respect by actively coaching staff while at the same time holding them accountable.  They also show respect by not ignoring poor performance or bad behaviour and by actively dealing with it. Great leaders are humble, admit when they get it wrong, and are open to the good ideas of others. And great leaders inspire people with a great vision and goals and direction.  

Here at Winsborough we apply these findings everyday in our work training leaders what to do, via the Leadership Essentials programme.  Click here to find out more about our award winning programme.

Leadership Essentials

Or reach out to support@winsborough.co.nz for more information.