What are the characteristics of an effective leader and how do we evaluate them? This question underlies high-potential, succession management, leadership selection, and other organization-‑wide HR programs. Yet there is no clearcut answer. In our experience, it varies from one organization to the next. And since the contexts and job requirements are different depending on the role and level, one organization might have different definitions of what makes a leader successful. However, regardless the organization’s definitions of effective leadership, the starting point remains the same: identifying leadership behaviours and impact.
As a result, personality is often the first aspect organizations look at when assessing leadership effectiveness. Personality provides insight into how someone behaves across time and situations and their impact on others. Thus, personality answers the questions: What is this person’s leadership style? What are their strengths and limitations? What is their impact on others?
How do we assess personality?
The most universal personality model is the five-factor model (FFM), which categorizes personality into five dimensions or domains: Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Openness to Experience. This model’s universality is evidenced by the fact that its dimensions exist across all cultures, its biological basis, and its timelessness.
In the 1960s, there was an emergence of research on the topic of personality and many researchers independently concluded that there was a hierarchical structure to language in which more specific and precise trait adjectives could be grouped into five broad categories. For example, adjectives like energetic, colourful, entertaining, talkative, and happy all describe someone who belongs in the Extraversion dimension. Similarly, visionary, curious, unconventional, and adventurous all describe someone who fits in Openness to Experience.
There is a plethora of personality assessments available on the market today, making it hard for HR professionals to determine the most effective ones. Fortunately, we have familiarized ourselves with all the research and have ascertained that the most accurate personality assessments are those based on the five-factor model.
Let’s look at the Hogan Personality Inventory, which was the first of its kind to be validated in a business context. Based on 30 years of research, this tool predicts career success and performance across different job types and industries. When used in the selection process, it can help HR professionals determine whether a candidate is likely to possess the skills necessary to perform their duties effectively and is a good fit with the organization’s culture. When used for development purposes, it can increase leaders’ awareness of their leadership style and their impact on others; this developmental feedback helps them identify developmental objectives and necessary changes their behaviours to maximize their effectiveness.
Benefits and Drawbacks
There are many benefits to using personality assessments. The first one being that many core competencies that are required to effectively perform a job can be linked to underlying personality traits. For instance, a leadership role that requires the creation of a vision and its communication in a compelling manner would likely call for someone higher in Openness to Experience and Extraversion, as they are more likely to be seen as visionary and frequently communicate in an energetic and captivating way. Since equivalencies can be made between the results of personality assessments and an organization’s existing competency model, they are highly useful in both selection (probability that the candidate possesses the right skills) and development contexts (the individual’s strengths and limitations).
Secondly, in a selection context, personality assessments are less likely than other tools to have an adverse impact on women and minorities. As a result, personality assessments can support diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The third benefit of using personality assessments is that they are less likely to lead to adverse reactions than other tools. Personality assessments accurately describe an individual’s natural tendencies, including their approach when interacting with others and their working style, and those who receive feedback from personality assessments often recognize themselves in the results. In a selection context, for instance, it is a lot easier to accept that you did not get the job because your personality is not a good match with the organization’s culture than because you have a low IQ score, which may seem harsh.
There are important considerations for HR professionals using personality assessments. The results of these assessments indicate how a person is likely to behave but there are some limitations. Individuals gain a better awareness of their natural tendencies over time through feedback, which prompts them to change their behaviours and develop their skills. Thus, more precise predictions of leadership effectiveness can be made by combining the results of personality assessments with behavioural feedback.
The rich information contained in personality assessments helps to better understand an individual’s leadership style, strengths, and impact on others and, thus, are often the starting point for assessing the effectiveness as leaders. Highly useful for both selection and development purposes, personality assessments provide participants with a positive experience while enabling HR professionals to make sensible business decisions.