To Step Up Your Leadership, First Take a Step Back

Developing Leadership Competencies | Illustration: Norman Gracia

By stepping back and gaining distance, we’re able to reflect on our true passions, unique skillsets and future aspirations in both the short and long term. | Illustration: Norman Gracia

In our digitally driven world, technology is revolutionizing and reshaping the way we work, live and conduct business. It won’t be long before many of these technological advances become commoditized, prompting firms to increasingly rely on the caliber of their people to gain competitive advantage.

According to Edward S. Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia and the author of Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age, Technology will require businesses to become much more humanistic – much more people-centric environments designed on psychological principles and the science of learning to enable the highest levels of human cognitive and emotional performance […] Leading those organizations requires a new story about leadership.

Recent research by Cornell University and Green Peak Partners supports this view, offering surprising insights on the qualities behind exceptional leadership. After analyzing the leadership styles and track records of 72 top-tier executives, the study rated self-awareness as the clearest predictor of overall business success. Specifically, executives with strong interpersonal skills were found to deliver better financial performance, while those with harsh, hard-driving leadership styles underperformed in key executive functions and actually undercut the bottom line.

Based on these findings, what can global managers do to elevate their self-awareness? Although the journey can take various pathways, for most of us, it starts with a process of introspection. By stepping back and gaining distance, we’re able to reflect on our true passions, unique skillsets and future aspirations in both the short and long term. Rigorous self-assessment evaluations, like those listed below, are also effective to heighten our self-understanding:

1. Personality Assessment
The TCI-R test – short for the revised Temperament and Character Inventory – is a 240-question survey on personality traits. As its name indicates, it analyzes temperament, measured along the axes of novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence and persistence, and character, assessed by degrees of self-directedness, cooperativeness and self-transcendence.

2. Self-Assessment Exercises

Self-assessments examine participants’ cognitive styles and preferences, specifically, how they process information and their typical mode of thinking, remembering and solving problems.

Over the years, numerous cognitive styles have been identified and analyzed. For instance, do you approach situations with an analytical stance or are you more of a “big picture” person? Do you remember events in technicolor detail or do the specifics tend to fade over time?

3. Leadership Competencies

Keenly aware of the direct link between personal stagnation and organizational inertia, successful leaders are committed to their personal development and that of their team members.

One of the best leadership-development exercises is a 360-degree evaluation, which offers feedback on skills, effectiveness and influence. When executed properly and received with humility and a willingness to grow, these evaluations play an instrumental role in sparking personal and professional growth.

Developing Leadership Competencies (DLC)” is a dynamic four-day program that helps global managers enhance their leadership potential and empower their teams to reach their fullest potential. The program will be offered June 29 – July 2 at IESE’s Madrid campus; Aug. 31 – Sept. 3, 2020, at IESE’s New York campus, and Dec. 1-4, 2020 (*dates TBC), at IESE’s Barcelona campus.


Written by business communicator and editor Suzanne Hogseth

This post is also available in: Spanish

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