Why Are Leaders Successful? Understanding the Whole Person

July 22, 2020 Share this article:

By Tony Leng, Managing Director of Diversified Search and the heads up the Technology and Private Equity practices. He also leads the firm’s San Francisco office.

This blog was first published on Tony’s blog, to view the original post, click here

One of the most impactful things leaders do is build teams – hiring other leaders and enabling them to deliver to their potential. We so often get it wrong, and when we do, it is seriously disruptive.

I believe that most people want to create value and do the best that they can, but it doesn’t always work out. People excel in different roles and environments, and it is a leader’s job to maximize potential by getting their members into the right job, at the right time, and then leading them well.

Success in a role is dependent on several variables: the ability to handle complexity, knowledge and skill, personality, values, and maturity. I am going to spend the next few weeks/blogs unpacking these variables, which will hopefully give you a framework to better understand your own career trajectory, as well as enabling you to more effectively hire and develop your own team members.

I want to say right at the outset that nothing I’m about to convey is either original research or original thought. It is a synthesis of the thoughts of the following leadership thinkers: Elliott Jacques and Fabiaan van Vrekhem (Complexity and Cognitive Capability), Jean Piaget, Robert Kegan, Keith Eigel (Maturity and Adult Development), Hogan, Belbin, DISC, Schwartz, and many other leadership gurus on Values and Personality. All I’ve done is attempt to simplify their thinking into a model that I can understand. Hopefully, you will too!

People are value creators. I like to think in pictures and here is a simple illustration of this:

whole person

This picture conveys the “whole person”, and in this series I am going to discuss each piece of this diagram so that you build up your understanding of what makes you, and others around you, effective.

In this first blog, I am going to talk about Personality and Values. They are important when it comes to “fit” for a role and integration into culture, but they don’t often predict long-term performance. Performance is more dependent on Knowledge and Skill, Cognitive Capability, and Maturity. Values and Personality can determine what kind of career or job is most suited to a candidate, but by the time they reached the executive ranks, they should be on a path that matches who they are as a person. For example, the typical accountant is introverted, analytical, detail-oriented vs. the typical salesperson who is extroverted, passionate, persuasive, etc. This doesn’t mean they are all like that, but personality, style, and values often tilt a career path in one direction or another.

Personality and Values: There are a great many conventions/measures/tools to define these and I don’t want to debate the merits of one vs. another. I think you know the names: Hogan, Myers-Briggs, DISC, Value Preference Indicators, and Personal Value Assessments, etc. Take as many as you can.

My advice to any aspiring leader is to understand who you are as a person, play toward your strengths, work on remediating any weaknesses or derailleurs, and understand your impact. Be curious about yourself, constantly seek feedback and input.

Values are strongly tied to authenticity and trust. Higher order values can lead to success if combined with maturity and cognitive capability – which I unpack later. Here are some examples of higher order values: Openness, Honesty, Courage, Justice, Selflessness, Hard work, Service, Respect, Mercy, Kindness, Generosity, Authenticity, etc. I find it intriguing that the younger generations tend to index on these and I can’t wait for them to reach their full potential!

The more you know and understand yourself as a person, the more authentic you become, and authenticity is a key ingredient to success. If you want to read my blog on authenticity, please click here.

In the next blog, I will unpack the “Knowledge and Skill” aspect of the whole person.

Related Practice

Leadership Consulting