How can you tell if someone will make a successful leader?
It’s not easy. After all, technical competence doesn’t always translate to effective managerial skills, and superstar employees won’t necessarily be superstar bosses.
In a recent article for The Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., a professor of business psychology, suggests that instead of looking at employees’ performance in their current roles, we should be focusing on three key personality traits.
Taken together, these qualities paint the picture of a boss who isn’t the loudest or most confident person in the room, but who’s nonetheless able to support his employees and keep them on track.
Here are three traits of highly effective managers:
1. They’re “boring.”
Chamorro-Premuzic notes that the more acceptable psychological term for “boring” is “emotionally mature.” It’s about being emotionally stable, agreeable, and conscientious.
He cites a study led by Timothy A. Judge, Ph.D., which found that the best predictors of effective leadership are extroversion, or sociability, and conscientiousness, or your organization and work ethic.
And while we typically think of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos as examples of successful leaders, Chamorro-Premuzic says that those legendary figures are exceptions — the best managers are typically less volatile and narcissistic.
In fact, an analysis by Google, which was highlighted on Inc., revealed that the best leaders are predictable and consistent.
“If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations told The New York Times in 2013. “If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.”
2. They’re emotionally intelligent.
Being a manager, Chamorro-Premuzic says, is fundamentally about managing people, as opposed to projects. That involves managing other people’s emotions as well.
Effective leaders are personally calm and grounded, so that they can handle other people’s upsets appropriately. They are not, on the other hand, highly emotionally reactive or prone to body language that betrays negative feelings.
Sometimes that means “faking it,” Chamorro-Premuzic says, and displaying “strategic emotions” for the sake of your employees’ well-being.
3. They demonstrate integrity.
Leaders who display integrity are unlikely to act in counterproductive or unethical ways. And it’s crucial to effective leadership: As the experience of someone like Bernie Madoff indicates, simply being smart and talented doesn’t cut it. Your immoral actions will eventually undermine you and your organization.
Interestingly, Fred Kiel, Ph.D. found that CEOs rated as high-integrity by their employees had a multi-year return of 9.4%, while CEOs rated as low-integrity saw a return of only 1.9%
In the end, it all comes back to being “boring”: Managers who are predictable and reliable are rated highest on integrity by their subordinates, Chamorro-Premuzic says.
Organizations should recognize that their budding leaders aren’t necessarily the most self-promotional or demonstrative people in the organization. Instead, it’s more likely the employees who are stable and reliable who can guide their company to success.