In July 1974, TIME® Magazine asked a group of businessmen, historians, military men, and writers one question: Who were history’s greatest leaders? Among the elite listed were emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, Winston Churchill, George Washington, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Buddha, and Gandhi. What made these men great leaders, according to those asked, were qualities like moral character, imagination, foresight, zeal, and fearlessness. They made an impact. They were confident leaders who brought out the same sense of self-assurance in others, often by actions, but sometimes with their words alone. Even the more notorious leaders in history had the amazing ability to convince masses of people to follow them, albeit to great catastrophe.
After comparing people rated as excellent leaders to those who were considered of “poor” quality with our Leadership Skills Test, we discovered that there were some very distinct lines in the sand. Excellent leaders outscored less successful leaders on every factor we assessed on the test. The biggest differences (of 10 points or more) were found for traits/skills like:
- Goal Setting (score of 85 for excellent leaders, 68 for poor leaders, on a scale from 0 to 100)
- Motivating others (score of 87 for excellent leaders, 76 for poor leaders)
- Coaching (score of 83 for excellent leaders, 73 for poor leaders)
- Problem Solving (score of 72 for excellent leaders, 62 for poor leaders)
- Vision (score of 79 for excellent leaders, 61 for poor leaders)
- Setting an Example (score of 83 for excellent leaders, 71 for poor leaders)
- Agreeableness (score of 70 for excellent leaders, 53 for poor leaders)
- Conscientiousness (score of 89 for excellent leaders, 74 for poor leaders)
- Open-mindedness (score of 85 for excellent leaders, 73 for poor leaders)
- Extroversion (score of 75 for excellent leaders, 58 for poor leaders)
- Emotional Stability (score of 74 for excellent leaders, 52 for poor leaders).
The importance of demeanor, in terms of extroversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability was interesting to see. This isn’t to say that the “strong silent” types cannot be effective leaders. But those who can embolden with their words and who are charismatic can appeal to the masses more and draw people in. This is what made leaders like JFK and Martin Luther King so endearing to those who followed them – and what also tends to differentiate great managers and CEOs from the rest.
Although there wasn’t a great deal of difference between excellent male and female leaders, women were shown to be slightly more likely to value giving feedback to employees, while men were slightly more open-minded and emotionally steady.
Here are some other interesting findings from our study on leadership:
Those rated as excellent leaders tended to strongly believe that…
- Leaders must behave in a trustworthy manner in order to set a good example for those they lead.
- A leader’s performance will be improved by asking subordinates for their opinions and ideas on projects.
- Part of being a good leader means harnessing the strengths of employees to do the best possible job.
- It’s better to do the right thing (i.e. follow legal/ethical standards) than what is most profitable.
- It’s important to clearly state the goals that employees should be working towards.
- Employees should be praised after a job well done.
- Leaders should constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve their own performance.
- Delegation is necessary in order for a leader to perform well.
- Money is not the best way to motivate people.
- Maximum efficiency is achieved when a leader helps people to motivate themselves. (I can recall one manager I worked with who actually placed cement blocks under his desk so he could look down on us from an elevated position – I kid you not).