There is evidence suggesting that behavioral training through modeling exercise can increase an individual’s ability to exhibit charismatic leadership qualities. Finally, there is accumulating research showing that leaders can be trained in transformational leadership skills. Once learned these skills have bottom-line results, whether it is in the financial performance of Canadian banks or the training effectiveness of soldiers in the Defense Forces.
What kinds of things can individuals learn that might be related to higher leader effectiveness? It may be a bit optimistic to believe that we can teach vision creation, but we can teach implementation skills. We can train people to develop an understanding about content themes critical to effective visions. We also can teach skills such as trust building and mentoring. And leaders can be taught situational analysis skills. They can learn how evaluate situations, how to modify situations to make them fit better with their style, and how it assess which leader behaviors might be most effective in given situations. A number of companies have recently turned to executive coaches it help senior managers improve their leadership skills. For instance, Charles Schwab, eBay, Pfizer, Unilever, and American Express have tried executive coaches to provide them improve their interpersonal skills and to learn to act less autocratically.
The entire process that organizations go through to fill management positions is essentially an exercise in trying to identify individuals who will be effective leaders. The search might begin by reviewing the specific requirement for the position to be filed that is knowledge, skills, and abilities that are needed to do the job effectively. The concerned authority or selection committee should try to analyze the situation in order to find candidates who will make a proper match.
Testing is useful for identifying and selecting leaders. Personality tests can be used to look for traits associated with leadership extroversion, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Testing to find a leadership candidate’s score on self-monitoring also makes sense. High self-monitors are likely to outperform their low-scoring counterparts because the former is better at reading situations and adjusting his or her behavior accordingly. You can also assess candidates for emotional intelligence (EI). Candidates with a high EI should have an advantage especially in situations requiring transformational leadership given the importance of social skills to managerial effectiveness.
Interviews also provide an opportunity to evaluate leadership candidates. For instances, we know that experience is a poor predictor of leader effectiveness, but situation-specific experience is relevant. The interview performance can be used to determine if a candidate’s prior experience fits with the situation required to be filled. Similarly, the interview is a reasonable good vehicle for identifying the degree to which a candidate has leadership traits such as extroversion, self-confidence, vision, verbal skills to frame issues, or a charismatic physical presence.
The knowledge of importance of situational factors in leadership success should be used to match leaders to situations. If the situation requires a change transformational qualities in the leader are required to focus on the changed situation. If not, look for transactional qualities. They may be situational factors that substitute for or neutralize leadership. If there are, then the leadership essentially performs a figurehead or symbolic role, and the importance of selecting the “right” person is not particularly crucial.
Organizations, in aggregate, spend billions of dollars, yen, and euros on leadership training and development. These efforts take many forms from $50,000 executive leadership programs offered by universities such as Harvard to sailing experiences at the Outward Bound School. Although much of the money spent on training may provide dubious benefits, our review suggests that there are some things management can do to get the maximum effect from their leadership-training budgets.
First, let’s recognize the obvious. People are not equally trainable. Leadership training of any kind is likely to be more successful with individuals who are high self monitors than with low self-monitors. Such individuals have the flexibility to change their behavior.