Leadership Skills Inventory and DevelopmentResearch Paper

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Leadership development plan is an important step towards becoming a better leader, proving a self-assessment and then a pathway to becoming a better leader (Craig et al., 2015). The objective of a leadership development plan is to underscore some of the things that contribute to one being a better leader. Such plans provide a valuable inventory of skills and attributes for a person who is studying with the aim of entering into a leadership position (Patterson et al., 2012).

The person performing this exercise can then outline some of the areas where they may be lacking, or where they feel that they would like to improve in order to become a better leader. The idea is rooted in trait leadership theory, one of the older leadership theories. This theory holds that leaders generally have certain traits, and that those traits are what make people more effective leaders. There has been some evidence in meta-analyses that supports the idea of a few traits being related to leadership, in particular intelligence, masculinity-femininity, and dominance. For the most part, these are related to leadership emergence rather than leadership performance (Lord, de Vader & Alliger, 1986), but for the student, understanding what gets you noticed and put into a leadership track matters. That makes a leadership development plan a valuable starting point for somebody with leadership ambitions, to take stock of where they are, and what steps they need to undertake in order to get to where they want to be. There are a number of assessments available that can help an individual to gauge his or her leadership traits and leadership potential, and that will be the basis of this development plan.

The Building Blocks

Much of leadership is more about what you can do, rather than what traits you have -- there is a difference between an idea and applying it, after all. But you have to start with the sort of traits that correlate well with leadership. A self-assessment can provide insight into one's strengths and weaknesses, and these can be matched up with the characteristics of a typical leader. There is an argument to be made that traits matter in a couple of ways. As Lord, de Vader and Alliger (1986) noted, they help a person to get noticed, that is, to be perceived as someone with leadership potential. There are issues here, notably that outsiders typically have biases when evaluating somebody else's leadership potential. Lord et al. (1986) noted that masculinity is a key leadership trait, not in terms of actual leadership performance but in terms of how people are perceived according to their leadership potential. While they were writing thirty years ago, and there is evidence of shifts in gender bias in leadership trait perceptions (Sczesny, et al., 2004), this points to a change in how we understand leadership. Leadership today is more refined, nuanced and arguably complex than it was when formal authority was all that was required of a leader.

Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) examined leadership trait theory through a similar lens to Lord et al. They determined that traits were important in determining things like who sought a leadership role. In particular, the identified drive, motivation, honesty and integrity, cognitive ability, self-confidence and knowledge of the business as key leadership traits. The latter is important for performance, doubtless, but the first two are particularly associated with seeking out leadership positions in the first place. In other words, other traits are nice, but if one does not have the drive and motivation to become a leader, those other traits end up as little more than untapped potential.

I have identified my strengths as being that I am trustworthy, outgoing, empathetic, a creative thinker, with excellent organization skills, effective communication skills, that I am innovative, responsible, articulate, confident and organized. Some of these align directly with the antecedents of leadership identified by Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991), such as confidence and honesty. Arguably, the attributes of creativity/innovation are aligned well with knowledge of the business, though technically this need not be the case. But there is a case to be made that I would know the industry I am in, and be able to think creativity about finding solutions to issues. What is missing from my own trait inventory is actually the two critical dimensions of drive and motivation -- in particular with respect to being a leader.

The Strength-Based Leadership Assessment identifies my top five traits as communication, woo, harmony, input and empathy. These attributes were not identified as critical in older literature about leadership traits, such as Kirkpatrick, but they are more closely aligned with the modern shift in leadership styles, which in a diverse environment and a couple more generations in the workforce since Kirkpatrick, have shifted towards softer styles, and an emphasis on communication and emotional intelligence. Honesty is still important, and communication skills have emerged as perhaps the most important leadership trait (Salahuddin, 2010).

My strengths are defined by Gallup as follows. Communications, my strongest attribute, basically is interpreted as that I like to have conversations with people. This is not actually what communications skills are -- they are more properly understood as the ability not only to communicate my own ideas with clarity, but the ability to listen to others and understand their ideas with clarity. In the workplace, this is not about engaging others in conversations about the meaning of life, but having the ability to articulate a vision, gain buy-in from others, and to be able to understand subordinates' problems and effective deal with them, and to do this consistently so that the message is received strongly over time (Fairhurst, 2011). Woo is likened to being able to meet new people. This is a strong leadership quality that is effective in the workplace, because meeting people and being able to win them over is a key attribute that helps one to motivate others, bring them into the organizational, and to build bridges within the organization. Harmony is not necessarily a great thing for the workplace -- surface level harmony can hide deep underlying tension -- but this skill also reflects my emotional intelligence, in particular being able to work with people to bring about mutually acceptable solutions to even the most intractable problems. Input refers to my desire to take in new ideas, from a variety of sources. This is another great leadership trait because this input aids with creativity and innovation, and reflects a strong motivation for self-improvement. Empathy is another strong leadership trait, as it allows me to understand, and respond to, the needs of others.

I have learned other things in the course of this class. The emotional intelligence assessment, I scored highest on self-awareness, which makes sense as I can be quite introspective at times. I also scored well on social skills, again reflecting my listening, my openness and the input/empathy traits identified in the Strength-Based Leadership Assessment. The 360 feedback showed that people feel that I have good leadership potential. This feedback supports the idea that I communicate well, and have high emotional intelligence. The 360 showed that I am well-liked, and that I can be a persuasive influencer, because of this and my ability to interact with people on a deeper level. The 360 feedback, not surprisingly, did not reveal so much nuance about my inner workings -- what would other people know of that? So while some things, like communications and empathy came out well, some of the introspection did not, and arguably the creativity dimensions were not revealed as much as I would have thought -- I may not be perceived by others as creative as I see myself. Otherwise, I didn't receive negative feedback, just this omission, which makes sense because you aren't supposed to solicit your own 360 feedback -- you can't ask people to evaluate you and expect to get 100% honesty. Anonymity is sort of essential to the 360 feedback process, as well as consistent design and multiple raters, the 360 part (Alimo-Metcalfe, 1998)

Overall

I feel that these quizzes portrayed my strengths fairly accurately. They were fairly consistent in their evaluation of my strengths, and that consistency shows that these are traits that are fairly evident in me. It was basically a case of me being told the same thing several different ways. To me, that is pretty good. The quizzes in particular were able to capture some of the traits that others maybe don't see, but that I definitely see in myself. The initial assessment of building blocks, something where there is some literature with which to compare my results, highlighted that drive and motivation are key traits in leader, though not necessary key elements of leadership itself (Lord, de Vader and Alliger, 1986). This provides me with a sense that, going forward, one of the keys to my development as a leader will be to take the attributes that I have and specifically show more drive, so that others see me in the same light.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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