Is it Possible to Predict Leadership Success? Part 1

On March 8, 2011, in Blog, Leadership, by Christine Glasco

In a recent article: What Predicts Executive Success?, the author states “conventional thinking holds that a CEO with a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners style will more often positively impact an organization’s bottom line than a ‘nice guy’ would, but there’s been little hard evidence to support such a theory.”

To finally settle the argument concerning which qualities really do predict executive success, an assistant professor at Cornell University led a research team that examined the assessments of 72 senior executives from 31 companies.

In phase one of the study, an organizational consulting firm conducted four-hour intertiviews with the study participants to probe the executive’s background, family, education, early career and recent career experiences.  The assessment output information became individual ‘maps’ identifying leadership styles and technical competence.

Phase two documented information from interviews with each study participant’s boss, including identifying performance metrics and achievements compared to position requirements.  “Through statistical analyses, performance was simplified into two separate categories: the ability to drive results and the ability to manage talent.”

Research Study Findings“The research study results revealed that an executive with strong interpersonal skills will drive more positive business results, while “arrogant, hard-driving, impatient and stubborn” leaders rated low on all performance dimensions of the study.

What predicts success?

The research also reinforced the belief that an executive’s experiences and leadership style are directly linked to performance.”
Some management theorists attribute executive success to the soft skills such as understanding ourselves and others (emotional intelligence and self-awareness). Others associate executive success with “those leaders who are driven by an inspiring vision of success, excel at communication of the vision and those who exercise superior judgment.”  



Whether you start with emotional intelligence or inspiring vision, these ‘soft’ skills are typically the most underrated and undiscovered of strategic leadership practices.  Even though we expect that expert mastery and impeccable execution of a functional area (finance, operations, HR, etc.) is the more traditionally expected predictor of business success, the ‘soft’ skills should be acknowledged and celebrated in that they are the precursors to strategic leadership and business performance success.

To become a truly successful leader, continue to develop your soft skills while you exceed expectations in the performance of your position requirements.  Strategic leaders set continuous improvement goals for developing their functional competencies and their soft skills.

Part 2 of this Blog Post, will continue the exploration of the characteristics and competencies that tend to co-exist with executive success.  We might even answer the question posed by the Cornell research study:  “Do nice guys — or gals — finish first when it comes to company performance?”

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Christine M. Glasco consults to company executives, business owners and non-profit leaders on strategic leadership and career management/career transformation solutions. For a complimentary copy of Five Tips to Transform Your Executive Career  to help you be more effective in your career, go to
Email:    Phone:  1.940.367.0837

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2 Responses to Is it Possible to Predict Leadership Success? Part 1

  1. Bob Walton says:

    Good insights. It’s been my experience that people generally want to follow and believe in someone they admire and respect, and who clearly adds value to the organization. That said, I have seen leaders on both sides of the “nice” equation succeed…and fail. Clear vision, the ability to communicate and reinforce it, to be decisive and exercise sound judgement are all critical success factors. Some leaders wrap these qualities in a hard shell, and come across as directive or dictatorial, others are softer and give folks more warm and fuzzies. It turns out either “shell” works as long as the core (vision, communication/reinforcement and decisiveness) is strong. I would prefer to work for a ‘nicer’ leader overall, but I’ve had people tell me I’m “too nice” and should be harder on people to be respected. That remark came in a high tech company, while I heard the opposite in a healthcare organization (“you shouldn’t be such a hard charger and so ambitious, it appears self serving”). So clearly culture plays a role. I was too “hard” in one and too “soft” in the other, but held to my core competencies in both cases.

  2. Bob, culture does play a role in how we are perceived as a leader. There will always be companies where our natural leadership characteristics are not quite right for that company. Conversely, there will always be companies where our natural leadership characteristics are just right.

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