Boldness and Good Judgement Are Important Leadership Capabilities

This is a HBR post written by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article is about the leadership quality ‘boldness’ stands apart from other leadership qualities in being perceived as an effective leadership quality. The link to the original article is here.

Fortune favors the bold, goes the old Roman saying. Our research suggests fortune is not alone in this: so do the Americans and the Chinese. But although some cultures do like boldness in their leaders, and reward it when they see it, this isn’t universally true.

Our leadership development work with organizations has given us a database of 360-degree assessments from over 75,000 business leaders around the world. In the last couple of years, we’ve heard from multiple Fortune 100 companies that they’re interested in encouraging their leaders to be bolder, so we wanted to look more closely at that type of leadership. We identified seven behaviors from the standard assessment that, taken together, would measure a leader’s boldness:

  1. Challenges standard approaches
  2. Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement
  3. Does everything possible to achieve goals
  4. Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible
  5. Energizes others to take on challenging goals
  6. Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed
  7. Has the courage to make needed changes

We called this the “bold index” — we then compared it to 42 other leadership behaviors. We found a highly significant correlation (r= 0.936 sig .000 N = 76,717), which suggests to us that, on average, leaders perceived as bold are also perceived as being extremely effective on other leadership skills. This accords with other, peer-reviewed research that shows a connection between displaying confidence and being perceived as competent. (If you would like to participate in this survey to get a sense of your preference for engaging in bold leadership, you can do so here.)

But the average masked big differences between countries and regions. When we sorted the data that way, we saw that in some geographies, boldness and effectiveness didn’t go together.

W160412_ZENGER_BOLDNESSREGION

 

We noticed even starker differences between individual countries. China showed the strongest correlation between perceived leadership effectiveness and boldness, and the U.S. also ranked highly. But the story was much different for leaders in Japan and Canada, next-door neighbors to China and the U.S., respectively. Clearly, although there are bold leaders in every culture and country, cultural norms in some places may be at odds with “boldness” as a value.

W160412_ZENGER_BOLDNESSCOUNTRY

 

Further analysis of our dataset showed us that bold leadership is much like a powerful fuel: when it’s ignited in an appropriate environment, such as an engine, it can be very helpful and propel the organization forward. But without the appropriate control, it can be explosive – dangerous and even disastrous. Bold leadership can be a great differentiator when it is mixed with other important leadership characteristics, such as good judgment, honesty, integrity, collaboration, and a strong strategic perspective.

To demonstrate this, we did an analysis with over 75,000 leaders and looked at two different leadership capabilities, boldness and good judgment. We isolated the best leaders in our data, specifically those rated at the 90th percentile or higher. We then looked at leaders who were rated at or above the 75th percentile on having good judgment but below the 75th percentile on bold leadership. We found only 1% of our population of the best leaders who had that combination of capabilities. Next we looked at leaders who were at or above the 75th percentile on bold leadership but were below the 75th percentile on good judgment. This produced a higher, but still small, result of 9%. When we looked at the combined effect of bold leadership with good judgment, we discovered that 91% of the best leaders in our database were skilled at both good judgment and bold leadership.

Bold leadership is a great differentiator when it is mixed with other leadership characteristics, such as good judgment, championing change, honesty, integrity, innovation, strategic perspective, and collaboration.

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