Over the years Dodd Partners has interviewed, recruited, assessed and counselled many leaders from Chairman to Chief Executives and beyond. Here we give some frank and forthright answers to question around leadership drawn from over 25 years of experience.

What are the key predictors of Executive Success?

Although not always a popular perception statistically, Intellect is the leading predictor of success (although this comes in many forms) – the ability to analyse complex information and make sound judgements. Second is hard work – importantly the best leaders simply put more effort in. Third is emotional resilience – the ability to remain emotionally stable and balanced amid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. After those three dimensions, interpersonal warmth and openness to new ideas are the next best predictors of executive success.”

That’s said no amount of intellect will make you successful without the other key factors and hard work is in our view the single most important factor that leads to success.

Does it vary according to context?

“Yes. In larger organisation the CEO needs to manage across scale, and leverage his/her influence through teams of others. In smaller institutions or charities it is much more about being a jack of all trades and moving at pace. Clearly in the public sector process-adherence, inclusion and stakeholder management are critically important. But you still need intellect, hard work and emotional stability whatever the context”.

How much better is a star than an average performer?

“A star is worth 6 or 8 average performers. If your goal is social justice then spread employment, rewards and attention around. If your goal is optimum performance, then concentrate on recruiting and retaining the very best people. Gear your opportunities, development and remuneration towards them. You don’t want every employee to be a star performer as conflict will arise, but better too many than too few”.

How would you allocate scarce HR resources between selection and development?

Here it is essential to get the balance right as each organisation is unique. As a guide 70% to selection and assessment, 30% to learning and development. Getting the right people on the bus is the most important factor.

How do you ensure future leaders realize their potential?

“The evidence increasingly supports the concept of deliberate practice, which has 5 steps. 1) Exposure to excellence – allow them to work with and observe talented leaders. 2) Encourage them to isolate the key components of the excellence they are seeing. 3) Give future-leaders opportunities to repeatedly practice these different components, followed by timely, honest feedback. 4) Continual stretch – keep raising the bar, keep giving them a coat one size too big. 5) Give your high potentials time to reflect upon their experiences and assimilate what they have learnt. More generally, in the area of employee development it is particularly important to avoid professional fads – there is no silver bullet.

If you could only do one thing to improve team performance, what would it be?

The best piece of advice we can give organisation is to ensure everyone understands the goals of the team, and reviewed these regularly, for example, every 6 months. The next most important thing is role-clarity – does everyone understand what each of them is there to do and how each role relates to the

organisations strategy. The final element is clear and concise communication of the vision. If people do not know where they are going, how will they ever get there.

Explode some management myths for us.

“The idea that a successful executive career can proceed hand-in-hand with reasonable work-life balance is something we have rarely seen in practice. Also flawed is the notion that cream always rises to the top in organisations. Having the right skills mix is essential but you also need luck, and effective planning particularly in relation to timing. Finally, some commentators hold the view that the best leaders are very team orientated – very consultative. In fact, we have seen many leaders fail by being too inclusive. Their strategy becomes a mushy amalgam of everyone’s ideas, ultimately indistinct and bland. The best leaders do some consulting, and they do some market research, but they also back their own instincts and beliefs – they pick one line and pursue it, usually without compromise.”

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