Tag Archives: Behavioral leadership models

What You Need to Know About Leadership

Executive Summary

Since the inception of business, organizations have searched for clues to help identify and select successful leaders. They have searched for men and women of vision with that rare combination of traits that help them serve as motivator, business driver, and authority figure. The concept of leadership has been widely observed and frequently studied, but a thorough understanding of what defines successful leadership has always remained just out of reach.

I wanted to find the answer(s) to the age-old question, “What makes a great leader?” After studying the behavioral attributes of thousands of business leaders, the resulting data could reveal commonalities that define strong leadership. What similar patterns or behaviors might possibly be found over and over again? By forming a concise “leadership recipe,” the never-ending search for quality leaders could finally be simplified to a standardized set of characteristics that might help predict successful leadership in any organization. But could science and behavioral psychology be successfully applied to extract these leadership “revelations” from the data?

I centered my investigation on 30 behavioral leadership models that were used across 24 unique companies encompassing 4,512 business leaders from all performance levels. These companies included several from the Fortune 500 list. Each of the 30 leadership models was analyzed to identify the most common behaviors that differentiate higher-performing leaders from low-performing leaders. The findings compiled from this data set revealed new evidence that must serve as a foundational piece of every leadership hiring or training endeavor.

Expectations of the Study

Leadership is a concept that is difficult to capture. You know it when you see it, but it is difficult to quantify. The components of leadership are often examined and observed, but the ability to predict successful leadership has thus far avoided the confines of a repeatable recipe. Many approaches have been used in an attempt to document commonalities among successful leaders, but only with mixed results at best. Taking a new approach to the issue, I set out to study the behavioral characteristics of successful leaders in comparison to leaders of lower performance levels. The two main objectives of this study were:

  • To identify the three most important behaviors that are predictive of leadership performance.
  • To identify the level or degree of the three most common behaviors that are predictive of leadership performance.

Behavioral Leadership Models

Before discussing the study findings, it is important to lay the groundwork of this study using the behavioral leadership model. The behavioral leadership model is the cornerstone to this research study since it is designed to capture the behavioral preferences of successful leaders currently working in the position. Essentially, the behavioral leadership model captures the unique combination of behaviors that predicts success. Each unique model was created using the same methodology, but the customization was made possible by using performance data related to a specific position. To create a behavioral leadership model, each organization used the following three-step process.

Define Success– Traditionally, leadership success is determined by education, experience, potential, or other non-performance related measures. For this study, success was determined by actual performance on the job. We want to better understand the behaviors of the real leaders who produce results on a daily basis.

To keep the study focused on leadership productivity, each company defined success based on their business practices, and their leaders were evaluated on their ability to produce the desired business results. Those who did not produce the desired outcomes were considered ineffective leaders while others who produced the desired results were considered successful leaders. Each organization utilized specific performance data captured from those leaders actively engaged in the leadership role. The types of performance data collected ranged from subjective data (i.e., performance evaluations, soft achievement ratings, etc.) to objective data (i.e., store sales, percent to plan, profit metrics, etc.).

Continue reading

Leadership Is More of a “Practice” Than a “Theory”

Lessons from our recent Leadership Academies with clients.

Summary of article key points:

Leadership is more about practice than theory, even if theory can inform some relevant insights as part of a leadership development programme.

Leadership is a blend of art and science. Some leaders are born / pre-equipped better than others (nature), but intelligent training and development (nurture) can enhance virtually anyone’s leadership capability.

Theories and models have a use, but only to underpin “practice” in leadership and real world outcomes.

Functional skills and previous performnace are no guarantees of future leadership capability.

You will only get the leadership qualities that you select and train for.

The cost of promoting without leadership skills and then desperately seeking to equip people with adequate leadership skills can be high in human and economic terms.

Well-designed internal leadership academies can help when they match enhanced leadership awareness and capability to actual business needs.


Main article:

For centuries much has been written about the “science” and the “art” of leadership.

Most of us have read and absorbed elements of this wisdom (and too often perhaps some of the come and go fads rather than wisdom). Many of us have subsequently pondered that age-old question about leadership; “are great leaders born, or are they made”?

Based on our experiences we have found that effective leadership capability tends to arise from a little of both in terms of settling that ‘nature versus nurture’ debate? Sabre’s recent work on a number of high-level leadership academies (including one that was integral to the Coles turnaround) has confirmed that whilst there are many valid theories and models for the “science” of leadership, it’s often the “art” of leadership that still evades adequate capture and definition.

Many businesses simply don’t get it right, but it’s reassuring to see those that do reap the positive rewards that flow so evidently from putting in the effort.

It is certain that nature does equip some people better than others in terms of their leadership traits (from a genetic, neurological and thence a behavioural perspective). There are those who just seem pre-loaded with healthy measures of IQ, charisma and also enough EQ to meld it all together in a way that gets their people to where they need to be.

Arguably though the honing of these skills that may at first glance seem to be gifted from “nature” can be attributed in at least part also to a degree of “nurture.” For example, the development of complex neurological systems and patterns that drive much of our behavior (social systems of the brain, core belief patterns and embedded personality) can be traced to responses to external stimulus over the course of a lifetime.

It is however equally certain that proper approaches to ‘nurture’ can be used to raise the bar for virtually anyone who wishes to play the leadership game by enhancing awareness of their own strengths, areas of struggle and weakness as they manifest day to day.

Discipline is then required to act upon those insights of self-awareness to help cultivate better leadership capability for their own personal and professional circumstances.

One thing we often see is that being gifted in a particular functional skill or specialization, even to the point of genius, is no assurance that you can then lead a group of former peers in that field (or indeed any other).

Regular experiential “practice” of leadership comes into play as a valuable tool for enhancing the quotients of leadership talent that are gifted or acquired from our own recipe of nature and nurture. In the cut and thrust of day to day work life we don’t always have adequate time to discern the true source of, and impact of our leadership and team role styles.

Current research and models from such emerging fields as neuroscience confirm some leadership theories and debunk others, and are often very useful in framing approaches and delivering ongoing insight. They are at the end of the day however just more tools for the toolbox, with leadership capability itself something that needs to be lived and developed day to day and powerfully linked to real world outcomes.

One of the clearest examples that I have observed was in the military when being selected for and subsequently entering into Army Officer training. Now whilst not all attributes of military leadership are relevant to commercial or non-military endeavors, it’s safe to say that many are with respect to the human dynamics of leadership (particularly leading amidst complexity).

For Officer selection the emphasis was first and foremost upon personal leadership capability (and the potential to hone it further for a military environment). It was only much later after rigorous training in general military skills and leadership that relevant specialist streaming was done into various specializations and functional skills.

Continue reading