Are you prioritising the right leadership traits?

Choosing the right executive is one of the most critical decisions a company can make. Besides the cost of replacement, hiring the wrong leader could cost a company its reputation, lost opportunities and revenue, market capitalisation, and the risk of losing the trust of valuable employees.

With good leadership, corporate culture is developed naturally, not forced. In addition, good leadership results in high morale, a high employee retention rate, and sustainable long-term success.

Despite understanding these high stakes, many corporations continue to make pivotal mistakes during the search & recruitment process.

So how do you get the mix right?

Leadership is a complex and value-laden concept. Choosing the right leader involves a comprehensive understanding of your corporate goals and what each level and department of the organisation needs to play to achieve them.

Candidates should be evaluated holistically against these criteria, considering their attributes, traits, competencies, skills, values, and experience to get the right match.

Consideration should be given to a full range of leadership criteria, including ‘soft skills.’ In addition, candidates should be evaluated based on feedback from diverse perspectives held by past colleagues of varying levels of seniority.

One of the most common mistakes is a tendency to overvalue specific characteristics, attributes, and skills while undervaluing or completely disregarding others.

In the property industry, positions are often filled on the base of ‘who knows who’, which can lead to unconscious bias or getting the ‘same results’ rather than identifying the best candidate.

Overvalued traits

Numerous studies show that the following traits are overvalued, leading to costly recruitment mistakes:

  • Operational skills – being excellent at day-to-day operations doesn’t necessarily make a person good at long-term strategies, able to make decisions in complex situations, or earn the trust of employees. As a result, companies often hire subject matter experts, assuming that as they are good at one thing, they will also be good at leadership or at making strategic decisions.
  • Results-orientated performers – while strong operational performers are invaluable for business, they may not be suitable for top positions due to character flaws such as over-competitiveness or a lack of integrity. As a result, these people may fall short of gaining the team’s respect to follow their lead.
  • Familiarity – sometimes, hiring from the same industry often results in getting the same results as everyone else. Another common mistake is to put too much weight on the big ‘names’ that person has worked for, as often this doesn’t equate to significant results. Consider similar industries to bring a fresh perspective and don’t get caught up in brand names. Do your research on their achievements during their employment and how they were perceived.
  • Public speaking ability – companies tend to overvalue public speaking ability. While it’s admirable, public speaking is a skill that can be developed with proper training. Instead, companies should focus on a person’s ability to engage and influence others to support their cause on a one-to-one level.
  • A team player – while life is easier with executives who ‘get along’ with others and manage by consensus, studies have shown that exceptional leaders are independent thinkers who make decisions alone. They are confident without the agreement of others.
  • Alpha qualities – we tend to equate confidence with competence as we want leaders to convey that they have the answers and a clear vision. Yet the things that signal confidence, are often not reliable cues of competence.

What qualities should you be looking for?

According to the leading assessment tool Clifton Strengths, the traits that employees crave the most in a leader are:

  • Trust – without trust, people won’t feel confident to follow.
  • Compassion – means caring about your team holistically while seeing them as more than just their ability to perform.
  • Stability – this enables people to feel psychologically safe. They can depend on you to answer their questions, hear their ideas, and address their concerns.
  • Hope – while stability focuses on today, hopefulness deals with the future. People need to see that their leaders have a clear direction in mind.

While we agree with the above traits, through our own experience, we have identified others that include:

  • Self-awareness – being self-aware helps leaders to improve their performance over time.
  • Vision – teams need leaders who help others understand the meaning and value of their work, along with the big picture of what the organisation is creating.
  • The ability to think critically – critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value.
  • The ability to inspire others – leaders should inspire a shared vision so that employees can find greater meaning in their daily work that contributes toward a purpose.
  • Emotional intelligence – leaders with high emotional intelligence are likelier to stay calm under pressure, resolve conflict effectively, and respond to co-workers with empathy.
  • Social skills – leaders who possess the ability to make an emotional connection with communication can deliver news in a way that makes people feel inspired. It also helps with resolving conflicts and managing change.

Cultural fit vs skill set

We are often asked, what matters more, a better culture fit or a person’s skill set?

The answer is both. You don’t want someone figuring out a job and leadership skills at an executive level. But, at the same time, you can’t afford to hire someone that doesn’t share the same cultural values.

Finding the right leaders leads to improved performance, cohesive teams, increased engagement, employee commitment, and sustainable growth. A methodical data-supported approach to human capital decisions ensures that the right employee is matched to the proper role and will ultimately create the most value.