Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001

Leadership Quality

What are the important leadership qualities?

Growth leaders (those individuals that will work towards the ongoing growth of the company) typically have the following essential leadership qualities:1

Good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience.

A growth leader must have strong leadership qualities: high enterprise tendency, a vision of growth and high educational attainments.

An above average enterprise tendency for the leader is essential if the organization is to survive (see Leadership Skill; you can also take a quick Enterprise Tendency Test). However, it will not indicate if the leader is a strong leader, or has a growth vision. Nor will it give an indication of the leader's level of education.

Team design is of paramount importance, that is, the characteristics of the team members. Their behavioural characteristics will not change so you must get it right from the outset; this includes the leadership quality of the CEO.2

Research has separated leadership into two broad categories: leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness.3, 4 Leadership emergence refers to whether (or to what degree) an individual is viewed as a leader by others, who typically have only limited information about that individual's performance. In contrast to being perceived as leader, leadership effectiveness refers to a leader's performance in influencing and guiding the activities of his or her unit towards achievement of its goals.5 Meredith Belbin also differentiated between what he termed elected and effective leaders, stating that important differences exist between them that is well attested in the literature. He goes on to state that of the two types, from a management standpoint there is only one option: the effective leader.6

There are a number of psychometric tests that are available commercially and that claim to be applicable to team working and leadership quality. Possibly the best known is the 'Myers-Briggs Type Indicator' (MBTI).7 Cattell's '16PF Personality Questionnaire' is also very well known and widely used in industry.8 Unfortunately, both the MBTI and the 16PF instruments measure primarily personality types or traits, as opposed to behavioural characteristics, that is, they represent underlying behavior-generating tendencies, in contrast to surface traits which consist of observable behaviour.

However, Rushmer stated that in the area of team working, two dominant schemes tower above all others.9 They are the Team Management Systems (TMS)10, 11, 12 and Belbin's Self-Perception Inventory (SPI).13, 14 Both the TMS (also known as TMPQ) and SPI instruments are used primarily to measure observable behavioural characteristics of team members in work and occupational settings. The TMS contends that leadership is a skill in itself and can be performed by any team member in addition to their ordinary team role, thus its usefulness for the measurement of leadership quality is limited. On the other hand Belbin's SPI measures nine clusters of behaviour that he called 'team roles', two of which relate directly to leadership, the Coordinator (originally called Chairman) and the Shaper.

A growth vision is also an essential attribute of the growth leader. Whilst there is no way of measuring the extent of a leader's vision of growth, it is possible to identify if his or her direction of vision is towards growth through analysis of their current behaviour (decision making etc) and past achievements. But beware of the narcissist who will claim credit for the achievements of others.

Education and growth organizations

There is a significant body of research that indicates leaders with higher education qualifications are strongly correlated with growth organizations. Research by Bolton15 found that the educational attainments of owner-managers were generally lower than those holding managerial positions in larger organizations. These findings were supported by Burrows.16 However, these were findings taken across the whole range of SMEs, which incorporate a very high percentage of 'lifestyle' businesses. Work by Curran and others17 demonstrated that the level of educational attainment among small business owners is highly contingent upon the type of business they are running. When lifestyle businesses are removed and the educational levels of entrepreneurs are analysed, the link between a leader's educational attainment and growth and enterprise is irrefutable.18, 19

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a significant minority of growth leaders who do not hold higher educational qualifications. It may be that the most successful growth leaders do not have time to fit in college courses, being too busy building the business from an early age, for example, Virgin Group's Richard Branson.20 In addition, many narcissistic leaders are reticent to take examinations for fear of failure. Their association with lifestyle organizations may have influenced the research findings. It is also possible that the growth leader without a high educational attainment may have a highly qualified close associate in the senior management team to compensate for his lower educational attainment level.

For more information about the important leadership qualities, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1 Thomas, D.K., Murphy, W.D. and Fearn, G. (2001), 'Analysis of senior management teams in growth and lifestyle SMEs', The 24th ISBA National Small Firms Policy and Research Conference, Leicester, Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1, pp. 433-452.
2 Wageman, R. (2001), How leaders foster self-managing team effectiveness: design choices versus hands-on coaching, Organization Science, Vol. 12, No. 5, pp. 559-578.
3 Lord, R.G., De Vader, C.L. and Alliger, G.M. (1986), A meta-analysis of the relationship between personality traits and leadership perceptions: An application of validity generalization procedures, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 71, pp. 402-410.
4 Hogan, R., Curphy, G.J. and Hogan, J. (1994), What we know about leadership: Effectiveness and personality, American Psychologist, Vol. 49, pp. 493-504.
5 Judge, T.A., Bono, J.E., Ilies, R. and Gerhardt, M.W. (2002), Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, pp. 765-780.
6 Belbin, R.M. (1981), Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Heinemann, London.
7 Myers, I. and Briggs, K. (1976), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Consulting Psychologists' Press, Palo Alto, CA.
8 Cattell, R.B., Eber, H.W. and Tatsuoka, M.M. (1992), Handbook for the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, Institute for Personality and Ability Testing Inc., Champaign, IL.
9 Rushmer R.K. (1996), Is Belbin's shaper really TMS's thruster-organizer? An empirical investigation into the correspondence between the Belbin and TMS team role models, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 20-26.
10 Mergerison, C.J. and McCann, D.J. (1985), How to lead a winning team, MCB University Press, Bradford.
11 Mergerison, C.J. and McCann, D.J. (1989), How to improve team management, MCB University Press, Bradford.
12 Mergerison, C.J. and McCann, D.J. (1990), Team management: Practical New Approaches, Mercury, London.
13 Belbin, R.M. (1981), Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Heinemann, London.
14 Belbin, R.M. (1993), Team Roles at Work, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
15 Bolton Report (1971), Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Small Firms, chaired by J.E. Bolton, Cmnd. 4811, HMSO, London.
16 Burrows, R. (1991), Deciphering the Enterprise Culture: Entrepreneurship, Petty Capitalism and the Restructuring of Britain, Routledge, London.
17 Curran, J, Blackburn, R.A. and Woods, A. (1991), Profiles of Small Businesses in the Services Sector, June, ESRC Centre for Research on Small Service Sector Enterprises, Kingston Polytechnic.
18 Maxwell, J.R. and Westerfield, D.L. (2002), Technological entrepreneurism characteristics related to the adoption of innovative technology, SAM Advanced Management Journal (USA), Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 9-14.
19 Storey, D.J. (1994), Understanding The Small Business Sector, International Thompson Business Press, London.
20 Blackhurst, C. (1998), At the Court of King Richard, Management Today, April 1998.