Why skill alone cannot predict leadership performance


Jun 10, 2021


When it comes to succession planning, the most technically skilled people are often the ones who are earmarked for leadership roles, however skill alone cannot predict leadership performance. The skills required for a lawyer to win a case, a finance manager to oversee a merger, or an engineer to mastermind a complex design, are not the same set of skills required to run a business, win new clients or most importantly, manage people and teams effectively.


Why is this so?

A person’s skill level in a particular role or industry is not a sufficient measure of how that person will perform in a leadership position. Leadership requires specific people skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) in order to: encourage teams to share a common vision; share enthusiasm for the business; and motivate people to work hard towards meeting organisational goals. In addition to competence, the most effective leaders demonstrate integrity, judgement and vision.

Emotional intelligence

Leaders of all types of organisations are required to interact effectively with a diverse range of people inside and outside the company.

Emotional intelligence refers to how adept a person is at reading, managing and responding to their own, and others’ emotions. Those with high emotional intelligence possess in equally abundant amounts, self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy for others. EQ has many benefits including improving collaboration, teamwork and morale. The best leaders engage their EQ skills to effectively manage a wide range of individuals with unique personalities to improve business performance.


According to Derek Lusk, PhD, "Academics and businesspeople agree that self-awareness is a key aspect of improving performance. Studies show that without it, people tend to be closed-off to feedback, difficult to coach, overestimate capabilities, and ultimately struggle to build and maintain high performing teams.  Conversely, awareness of one’s own behavioural tendencies facilitates leadership effectiveness”.


If a potential leader lacks the motivation to learn and develop his or her leadership skills, and is not self-aware, they will assume they know best, and continue to make the same mistakes time and again. Motivated individuals with the desire to learn can develop and improve their leadership capability with applied practice and change internalisation.

There are many personality traits that demonstrate why a leader can fail. The Hogan Development Survey provides insights about counterproductive tendencies that can lead to managerial failure. These characteristics become heightened during times of stress, and result in poor relationships with employees and other key stakeholders. With self-awareness and motivation, mindful leaders work on actively managing their behaviour to ensure these characteristics don’t manifest into counterproductive behaviours.

Succession planning

According to Hogan, “No matter how much a board learns about an outside candidate, executive stakeholders simply have a better understanding of an internal contender’s strengths and weaknesses, especially as they relate to the specifics of the current business landscape and strategic objectives. As a result of the inherent ‘information misalignment’, the chance of making a mistake is much higher for a CEO hired from outside the company”.

Succession planning requires more than just earmarking people for your organisation’s leadership team. It requires defining, assessing, developing, and engaging your future leaders. Organisations can future proof their businesses by developing high performing employees in preparation for senior leadership roles.

Leadership, engagement and performance model (LEAP)

The LEAP model suggests that leadership drives engagement which in turn drives performance. A leader that can step into a senior role well prepared will ensure teams are engaged, willing to put in the required effort, and comprised of individuals who have a belief in the organisation, leader and strategy. This is crucial for business success.

Selecting the right leader can leap a company forward, but choosing poorly will set the organisation back.

For over 30 years, Peter Berry Consultancy (PBC) has been using an evidence-based approach to leadership assessment and development to ensure future leaders drive strategic and sustainable success in their organisations. Our team of qualified organisation psychologists work with businesses large and small to develop succession planning and leader development programs tailored to each organisation.

To learn more, download our complimentary ebook ‘How to ensure your star employees become your superstar leaders.’

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