A few years ago I had a call from Chris, a client who was the Chairman of his organization. Chris told me he had just hired a man named Jim as his new CEO, and asked me to conduct an assessment of Jim’s fitness for the role.

After we joked Chris’s call would have been better off coming BEFORE he hired Jim, I conducted the assessment as requested. The results were not what Chris was expecting.

Although Jim had many useful skills, leadership was not one of them. When I informed Chris of this outcome, he asked me to identify some things he could do to ensure Jim’s success in the role. Unfortunately, I had strong indications Jim was not going to be successful.

About 6 months later, Chris called to let me know Jim hadn’t worked out and was let go. Chris had learned an important, and expensive lesson.

Selecting and developing leaders is both an art and a science. Yet, over the years, I have found there can be more science than art to the practice of successful hiring, and the science isn’t terribly difficult to figure out.

It turns out personality is a highly reliable predictor of selection and development success, and there is considerable research to back this up. My own work and experience over the years can also attest to personality as a reliable predictor. The issue, however, is being crystal clear on the exact personality factors to zero in on.

Let’s face it – it is extremely rare to hire or promote someone who is a 100% perfect match for any role, particularly a leadership role. Yet, with a predictable and reliable process, the success rate can be close to 100%.

Here are a few considerations:

  1. A Leader’s Growth Mindset Is Important– Each one of us (yes ALL of us) would benefit from some level of continued professional and personal development. Maintaining the status quo is not possible, nor is it a successful leadership strategy.

Critical personality factors therefore, include curiosity, ambition, and an openness to new experiences and methods. If a leader cannot demonstrate openness to development, how could they possibly ask others to develop?

  1. Not All Leaders Learn The Same Way– Just as we have preferences for food, weather, and reading material, we all learn differently. Any leadership development initiative must be tailored to the individual learning style and preference of the leader in order for significant impact to occur. Not taking this into account would be akin to expecting a fish to be able to fly!

Individual learning factors such as experiential, auditory, visual or observational, are also important to consider. This is why customized leadership coaching provides the highest return on investment of all leadership development initiatives or methods.

  1. There Is No Development Without Self-Awareness– Successful leadership development will certainly create new awareness of how the leader’s operating style is seen by and impacted by others. It would be extremely difficult to change behavior (which leads to results) unless we are aware of how personality factors impact our behavior. The greatest development possible is the ability to continually increase our self-awareness.

Clients often ask me for book recommendations to enhance their leadership. If their personality is open to reading, I’ll generally ask them to name a book they previously read and enjoyed on the topic (maybe one, even two years ago). I’ll then suggest they reread the same book simply because the passage of time and life experiences have brought new awareness. They will now see and understand things in the book they missed the first time.

  1.  Personality Can Predict Derailment– Personality factors such as volatility, impulsivity, blaming others, and narcissism are strong predictors of derailment. Remember the story of Bob Nardelli, the former CEO of Home Depot, who had a private elevator installed so he could go from the lobby to his office without having to interact with anyone?

Do you know the “dark side” of the leaders you are developing? Helping to tame some of these tendencies can be helpful, yet you have to know about potential weak spots to be able to manage them. That’s why they are called “dark” – they are not always visible.

Chris, the client I mentioned at the opening, didn’t fully understand the detrimental personality factors Jim was bringing to the role which would ultimately lead to his failure to succeed.

What can you do? Without needing to be an amateur psychiatrist, there are assessment tools available to help inform you and others. These tools are equally good for selection as they are for development. It is well worth the investment up front. If you have doubts about this, I can put you in touch with Chris!

Be forewarned however – since not all assessment tools are equally effective or predictive, choose carefully.

As always, let me know if I can be of assistance. I have utilized over two dozen assessment tools in my career and I can help you select the right one for your needs.

Best Regards,

Bill

This post has been adapted from an article found on Forbes.com by Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Psychology and CEO of Hogan Assessments. Although I have utilized Hogan Assessments in the past, and I found them to be reliable, this is NOT meant to be an endorsement.