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“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
What makes an effective or even great leader? There have been many academic studies and research papers on leadership and what makes a great leader. Do certain leadership traits matter?
Dr. Warren Bennis once stated “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
Can great leaders be made even if they do not have certain innate traits that great and effective leaders should possess? So what makes a great and effective leader?
Others state that “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” – Jim Rohn. We know from previous studies and academic research that great leaders need to have a balance between managing tasks and managing people.
The research will show that there are certain traits that employees believe a great leader should have.
There is ample research comparing great leaders versus bad leaders and their impact on the workforce. The study of leader traits has had a long and controversial history. While research shows that the possession of certain traits alone does not guarantee leadership success, there is evidence that effective leaders are different from other people in certain key respects.
In the journal article from the Academy of Management Executive (Kirkpatrick & Lock, 1991), they describe key leader traits to be:
- Drive (achievement, motivation, ambition, energy, tenacity, and initiative)
- Leadership motivation (the desire to lead but not to seek power as an end in itself)
- Honesty and Integrity
- Self-confidence (which is associated with emotional stability)
- Cognitive ability
- Knowledge of the business.
Other research in the area of leadership traits disagree with the above and look at different as well as additional traits that make a great leader. The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader (Maxwell, 2000), Maxwell suggests that the following are traits of a great leader:
- Positive Attitude
- Problem Solving
- Self Discipline
For the majority of leadership cases under question or simply under analysis, at the leader-level the analysis is done in terms of leadership traits. This is the case when employee or simply those under the alder are used to quantify the leader’s leadership attributes. However, the case is most times different for example, when analysis is done from the perspective of the firm as a body or from the success stand point. These two perspectives are mainly used by third parties for example share holders whose to then, the primary concern is the profitability of the firm or the ability of the firm to achieve the set goals.
While these two perspectives are a different ways of leadership quantification, the question that arises is; are they ways of determining the leadership traits or even quantifying leadership? While this will be discussed more below from the research, it is worth stating that, to stakeholder and other interested third parties, the success of a firm is an indication that all is well within the firm. Moreover, for a firm to realize the set dreams, it has to function as a unit especially the top leadership and the employees and this can not be realized without great leadership traits.
The other issue that is of major concern in the subject of leadership traits is personal character. Personal characteristics are individualistic differences that define one through creation of a certain unique and specific impression. Research in leadership traits has shown that, there is a clear difference between leadership traits and personal characteristics. Personal characteristics are not an essential for leadership, but they play a critical support role in that they can make or break a leadership. Personal characteristics that align with leadership will boost the efficiency and the effectiveness of a leader. In either cases, where personal traits support or detriment leadership, it is almost impossible to distinguish the two for the common persons because at the end of the day, leadership is viewed by the common man from a person-perspective.
This research will focus on a group of professionals in the entertainment sector, specifically the Talent Acquisition department within the game company, Blizzard Entertainment. In the last few years there have been many changes within the Talent Acquisition group with both the recruiting manager and the director of talent acquisition departing for other opportunities. This has caused a lot of confusion and uncertainty for the talent acquisition team. In addition, both the previous director of talent acquisition and the recruiting manager were neither great leaders nor managers and since their departure, it is the desire of the talent acquisition team to have better leaders to take them to the next level.
This research specifically focused on the talent acquisition department in the entertainment sector.
In this study, I will survey the talent acquisition group on the perceived traits on what makes a great leader. From this data, we can compare the traits that academic research suggests are traits of great and effective leaders versus the traits that employees really wish that their new leader would possess or do they even know what traits that they would like to see in their leaders?
Thus, I have two different theories:
- I theorize that some employees from this group have an idea of what a great leader should be and are able to provide the traits they feel this leader should have
- I theorize that some employees from this group have an idea of what a great leader should be but do not know what trait that it should equate to.
In short, this study will show that although employees complain and about wanting a great leader, they have no concrete idea what that leader looks like.
This study will specifically focus on employees within the Talent Acquisition group of a video game company. The employees of this group are: Recruiters, Interview Schedulers, Research Associates, University Relations Specialists, Social Media Specialists, and Employee Referral/Internal Mobility Specialists.
The company, Blizzard Entertainment, in where the Talent Acquisition group being studied is part of is based in the United States and has an employee base of 1700 as well as a total of 5000 worldwide. The Talent Acquisition group consists is made up of 21 employees and the research will seek to cover all of them.
The Likert Scale was used to survey the employees on a list of leadership traits taken from several different academic books and research. The Likert scale is based on a psychometric scale commonly involved in research that employs questionnaires (Likert, 1967). This scale was used to capture data where the survey respondent chooses from a scale of 1 to 5 or from weakest to strongest. In this survey, I decided to use the scale from 1 to 5; 1 being the least desired trait and 5 being the most desired trait.
The structure of the questionnaire was to allow the interviewee to fill it by simply ticking on the corresponding option. This method as per research has been found to be the most appropriate for third party interview as it does not take most of the interviewee’s time. This structure was used so as to improve on the probability of the questionnaires being filled and returned, which is a major step towards the success of the research. The objective of the research was to have at least 75% of the sent questionnaires returned.
The survey was simple and had 2 sections:
- Section 1 – asked employees to rate their current leader on 15 different traits on a scale from 1 to 5.
- Section 2 – asked employees to choose traits that they would like to see most in a leader; traits they viewed were most important to them on a scale from 1 to 5.
To allow employees to provide additional traits that may not have been included as part of the survey, an open-ended question was included at the end allowing respondents to provide their opinions in a free form style. While the critical information for the success of the interview was in the survey questions above, the questionnaire was structured as not to constrain the interviewee and allow for any additional information anyone would consider useful to add.
A leadership traits survey was created and sent out to the talent acquisition team, comprised of 21 team members ranging from temporary to full time employees, from hourly to salaried and from entry level to senior. An online survey tool, www.surveymonkey.com was used to send out the survey and collect the data anonymously. Out of 21 surveys sent, there were 20 completed, which was above the 75% projected and response required by statistics for a representative opinion of the number sampled. This was 95.24% response rate with a response rate of 95% for each of the questions included in the questionnaire.
The analyzed data showed which traits they felt that their current manager possessed and which traits they felt a great manager needed to have. The survey used the 12 random samples of the 21 traits illustrated in the book “The 21 Indispensable Qualities in a Leader” (Maxwell, 2000).
Character – “Be a piece of the rock”
Charisma – “The first impression can seal the deal”
Communication – “Without it you travel alone”
Competence – “If you build it they will come”
Discernment – “Put an end of unsolved mysteries”
Generosity – “Your candle loses nothing until it lights another”
Initiative – “You won’t leave home without it”
Listening – “To connect with their hearts, use your ears”
Passion – “Take this life and love it”
Problem Solving – “You can’t let your problems be a problem”
Relationship – “If you get along, they will get along”
Responsibility – “If you won’t carry the ball, you won’t lead the team”
Data Analysis on the results of the survey had some interesting and notable results.
The first portion of the survey asked respondents to rank their current manager on each of the traits from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree. Here are a few notable results:
The trait “Character” focused on the leadership character trait asking whether the respondent felt that their leader had a strong character – a person that stands behind their beliefs, takes responsibility for their actions and treats people with respect. The survey revealed that 98.2% of people strongly agreed that their manager had this leadership trait.
The trait “Communication” focused on the leadership communication trait asked respondents if they felt that their leader was a good communicator, not only communicating the company’s vision but directly to them regarding feedback. The survey revealed that 89.6% of people strongly agreed that their manager had this leadership trait.
The trait “Discernment” focused on the leadership trait of solving mysteries. Discernment is a trait of a leader who can manage the rumor mill and determine fact from fiction. The survey revealed that 92.3% of people felt that their manager had this leadership trait.
The trait “Listening” focused on the leaders’ ability to be a great listener. The survey revealed that 99.6% strongly agreed that their manager had this leadership trait.
The trait “Relationship” focused on whether the employees felt that their manager was good at relationships and whether their manager had built a good relationship with them. The survey revealed that 94.6% felt that their manager was good at relationships and had built a good one with them. Interestingly enough, the entry level employees also rated their manager very high in having a good relationship with them.
The last notable trait in the survey was “Generosity”; this question surveyed whether the employees felt their leader was someone that had the leadership trait of “Generosity”. This includes giving someone a chance; giving someone the benefit of the doubt and empowering employees to make decisions. The survey resulted in 92.7% of respondents strongly agreeing that their current manager had this notable trait.
The second part of the survey focused on what specific traits that the employees wanted in a leader. In this section, they were given all 21 traits (Maxwell, 2000)to choose and rank from (1) Strongly Disagree to (5) Strongly Agree.
The following traits were ranked from most desired in a leader to least desired in a leader. Employees want a leader who provides a sense of security and has a strong character, is committed to their role and to their people, is competent in their role and industry, has the courage to fight for their employees with executives, is able to discern from right and wrong without favoritism and is interested in building a strong bond with them.
They also want a leader who is a good listener and has empathy, someone whom after listening doesn’t tell you what to do but “asks” you to provide a solution before giving advice. A leader who has a positive attitude and has a passion for what they do and their industry; charisma and focus also ranked in the middle for employees as they want a leader that is dynamic but is not all about themselves. Responsibility and Teachability
Generosity, Initiative, Passion, Self-Discipline, Servanthood and Vision came in least important as traits in a leader. Although the survey was quite interesting in that these traits ranked higher amongst the more entry level employees versus those of the more senior employees.
There were 5 surveys in which employees only chose a few traits which seemed to substantiate the theory that although employees think that they know what is a good leader is, they are unable to verbalize what actually makes a good leader.
Based on the data collected, it is evident that the current leadership at Talent Acquisition department within the game company, Blizzard Entertainment, meets the leadership-qualifying traits as per the expectations of the employees. As indicated earlier under literature review, the previous leadership for the Talent Acquisition group – the manager and the director – didn’t measure up to the qualifying factors as well as the expectations of the employees. Even though it is not expressly motioned by any of the employee, based on the responses to the questionnaire questions it is safe to say that the current leadership for the Talent Acquisition group is up to the qualifying metrics by the employees.
However, based on research and as stated by Robert & Philip (1976), most a time the measure for leadership after a bad one has been out of office could be based on mere comparison, out of the will of the interviewee. In this case, the immediate past leadership for the Talent Acquisition group was not great and based on this; the current leadership might end up being viewed as great by the employee, not because they are great, but because they are better than the previous leadership.
Nevertheless, even though the research did not seek to identity of the employee ranks the current leadership in comparison with the past, it could be concluded that this was not the case because employees filled the questionnaire based on distinct and easily observable traits that are considered attributes of a great leader.
In addition to traits of a great leadership, theory also has leadership styles. There are a number of leadership styles and the most common are; authoritarian, Laissez Faire, and democratic. For each of these traits, a leader is expected to exude a certain set of traits. Given the fact that different businesses and initiatives will attract a specific leadership style, the traits exuded by the leadership might not fit the expected leadership traits for example, these listed under the 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader (Maxwell, 2000). The majority of firms are run with a mixture of these three leadership styles, with the leadership being able to camouflage as per the situation at hand. However, if a firm runs under a specific leadership style say for example authoritarian, then such leadership traits like relationship, listening, and charisma might not be easy to indentify.
In addition, leadership can not be most often projected based on the written leadership qualifications: leadership can only be experienced and not through a single experience. Unfortunately, many especially employees form their impression on the first two experiences they have with a leader. This means, the perception from one employee to another in terms of the leadership being great or otherwise will vary from one employee to another.
Bringing in a different perspective to leadership – that of the board and other stakeholder – leadership is measured mainly on the ability to realize and firms objective hence the qualifying measure is mainly “success” of the firm; success in this case being mainly measured in terms of the return realized by the firm, especially in money terms. Even though this might not be a theoretically accepted way of quantifying leadership, there is an attached assumption that for the firm to be successful then the various units should be working in synchrony, an aspect of great leadership.
The survey found that in general, the talent acquisition team within Blizzard Entertainment knew what they wanted in a leader but when it came to traits beyond the norm of someone with strong character, someone that was caring, someone that could build strong relationships and be able to do the job that they had been hired to do, they were not as sure of the other traits that would be a strong leader. The less tangible traits were more elusive for members of the team to determine whether they strongly disagreed or strongly agreed with them.
The findings in this Talk to Giant Foods survey, the theories stated in the beginning of the paper proved the theories were correct in assumptions based on the results of the survey
- That some employees from this group have an idea of what a great leader should be and are able to provide the traits they feel this leader should have
- I theorize that some employees from this group have an idea of what a great leader should be but do not know what trait that it should equate to.
The myth stated in the introduction section of the paper “leaders are born” it should be noted that has remained persistent in the leadership discussion both in paper and in practicality. Even though the statement is misinformed and thus a myth, it is worth noting that, the genesis of the myth plays a crucial role in leadership. The myth should not be taken to mean that a new born can leader just because he/she is born a leader, but the idea behind the statement and that which makes the myth important is that, leadership traits should simply ooze out naturally.
While the position of this paper is the same to that taken by Dr. Warren Bennis and that leadership is more of an art that can be learned, it is essential to have the various aspects on leadership achieved through learning entrenched in the core of a leader as to apply them out of the subconscious. Otherwise, a leader will be taken for mechanical action which for the many and especially leadership-uninformed and leadership-conscious employee they will pass out as being inadequate in leadership. So, simply put, the myth that leaders are born is highly relevant to laymen – the reason why it has persistent all through, but holds no meaning for elite intellectuals.
Moreover, just like the player and the fan where the fan sees more opportunities than the player, it might be easy for an employee to point out the various traits that they consider as being attributes for a great leader, but when faced with a leadership-like situation they are unable to exude the well-known leadership traits. Based on this, an employee will be well aware of the various traits they consider fit for a great leader, but will be unable to identify a great leader because every leader might or will in a way or the other fall short of the leadership traits and expectations.
Leadership traits are have for the longest time been viewed from a dispositional point of view which has made them blurred to many and being understood by only intellectuals in the field leadership. From the research and generally in the leadership niche, it has become hard for many to clearly tell the difference between personal traits, leadership traits, and when which of the two is applicable. While research has identified a difference between personal skills and leadership skills, the same has not been well understood by the common man. It is from this misinformation, or simply unknowing that myths like leaders are born thrive on.
It is not well understood how a leader should look like, appear, or act in certain situations. Due to this inadequacy, the qualifying measure for an effective leader among the common members of a society has been the ability to make profits for the firm. This explains why firms have been measured in terms of market dominance and the profit, in money terms, the firm is making: a reason as to why the majority of popular firms are those that have huge profits and so are the leaders of these firms. The manner in which such profits comes to be realized remains unknown, or simply unnecessary to many. If employees for example are not satisfied and have to work just because they need to make ends meet, it does not matter for the determination of a great leader, at least in the practical measure. This point is more relevant in such markets where issues like unemployment are prevalent as this pushes employee to simply stick in and survive.
As shown in this research, many employees and in general the majority of the members in the society are highly voiced in pointing out the features of not only a great leader, but the ideal leader. However, the question on what makes a great or ideal leader is met with stunning silence or incoherency. One of the ways used to define who a great leader is, is through pointing out and example of a leader. In doing so, the example is picked based on the success of the firm, not on the leadership aspects of the leader.
In the case of employees, the question whether a leader posses the traits of a great leader will mainly be based on personal experiences. If an employee has good relations, experiences, or benefits from the leadership in place, not as an employee but at a personal level, then they will obviously consider the leadership to be great. In most a times, leadership traits are based on personal opinions or simply theoretically identified attributes. To this effect, there have been numerous research projects as to indentify or simply establish the various traits that define a great leader. The research results for these projects are published and those who come across them use the details to define their leaders.
As a result, it is very easy for an employee or any person who is informed or has gone through the publications of leadership theory to quote the traits of the defining attributes of a leader. However, such people are not sure how such attributes should be manifested, simply because the various publications on leadership have not shown the practical aspects of the leadership traits they publish. Moreover, given the case scenarios for each leadership are different, in that each leader has different cases to handle, then it makes it hard for one to concisely point or the practicability of leadership traits. Moreover, how to apply the theorized leadership traits will most a times be a challenge because interests do mostly dictate he course of action, in which case the true aspects of a leader will change according to the vested interests, interests which are mostly towards making money for the firm, or advancing stay in office by the selfish leader.
However, after completing this research paper, I would take a broader scoped topic for my dissertation so that there would be more substance and be able to provide both qualitative and quantitative research to back up my topic. Alas, the time to complete this assignment was not enough to truly provide a deeper dive into a meaningful topic.
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