Wednesday, December 23, 2015
By James Sartain
Categories: Leadership, Self-Identity

In the middle of my yearly ritual to purge my office of stacks of papers, reports, and articles that accumulated during the year, I came across a nugget that I had apparently overlooked since 2010. Yes, there is a stack that tends to “roll over” into subsequent years. At the bottom of a pile of white papers and technical reports, I found a study completed by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The report confirms what we have increasingly come to believe in the leadership development world: Self-aware leaders deliver better performance.

Led by principal researcher John Hausknecht, an assistant professor at Cornell University, the study examined the interpersonal traits of 72 executives employed by 31 public and private companies with revenues ranging from $50 million to $5 billion. In their research design, they employed a two-phased approach.  First, executives participated in an in-depth, four-hour interview to assess their backgrounds, experience, interpersonal qualities, leadership styles, and technical competence. Following the interviews, the research team met with the executives’ supervisors to gauge the level of executive performance against the required outcomes for which the executives were hired to achieve. Their analysis evaluated performance from two perspectives: The ability to drive results and the ability to manage talent. Their primary findings support our strong beliefs that cognitive factors are among the most important factors in predicting effective leadership performance.

The survey found that high self-awareness was the strongest predictor of leadership success.  Conversely, leaders who were “arrogant, hard-driving, impatient, and stubborn” rated lowest on the performance dimensions included in the study.  As a result, the study suggests that organizations should reposition self-awareness as the primary criteria for selection.

J. P. Flaum, Managing Partner at Green Peak Partners, stated “Our findings directly challenge the conventional view that ‘drive for results at all costs’ is the right approach. The executives are most likely to deliver good bottom line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams.”

Our research has confirmed, time and again, that the ability to accurately self-evaluate is a critical meta-competency for effective leadership.  In fact, it could be argued that strong self-awareness is a non-negotiable foundational trait for successful leaders.  In our 27-year partnership developing individuals, teams, and organizations, we are hard pressed to identify a strong leader who wasn’t self-aware.  In fact, leaders who lacked self-awareness were often cited as a root cause for companies experiencing morale problems, execution snafus, high turnover, or other indicators of sub-par team and organizational performance.

Similarly, our research has reinforced the fact that strong leader self-identities cannot occur without strong self-awareness.  A leader who cannot critically self-examine, or identify core personal strengths and weaknesses, or accurately evaluate how she is experienced by her supervisor, peers, and staff cannot make the nuanced adjustments in style and approach to get the best results out of herself and out of her team.  It is that simple.  To be a connected leader, you have to, first and foremost, be connected with yourself.  And being connected to yourself—you have to have the ability to look inward in an honest and non-compromising manner.  Only then, can you harness the leadership potential within.

© James P. Sartain, MBA, Ph.D., CODA Partners, Inc. and Connected Leadership. (2015). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to James P. Sartain, CODA Partners, Inc., and referencing the Connected Leadership blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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