Study: Past Performance No Longer Best Indicator of Leadership Potential

Leadership Forum Sept 2012

(Photo credit: mylearning)

Collapse of trust demands bolder and more personal leadership development

Executives navigating today’s complex business landscape can no longer rely on past experience to drive future success, reveals a new study of more than 800 international executives. The study found that a new leadership paradigm is emerging based less on what leaders know and more around a personal evaluation of who they are.

An overwhelming majority (87 percent) said companies need to think outside the box and be more creative, daring and innovative in their approaches to developing and retaining top executives. The findings suggest a shift in what underlying skills define a great executive. Seventy-eight percent of executives said past performance is no longer the best predictor of success in a new role and 87 percent noted that strong inter-personal traits are a key differentiator when identifying a truly exceptional leader.

Only 2 in 10 of their companies consider their organisations very successful in identifying leadership prospects early on, and just over one-fifth see their company’s leadership pipeline as very promising. Compounding the challenge, nearly one-third report it is very difficult for their organizations to attract and hire the best talent from outside.

When asked what helped executives unleash their own potential, 71 percent of respondents cited assignments which stretched their current skill set and exposed them to new and challenging contexts. Furthermore, participants added that job rotations and personal mentoring were key contributors to helping them develop as executives.


As the world transitions to different business models which demand new kinds of leaders, who you are, in the sense of personal character traits and motivation, has become more important than ever. This generation of talent is looking to follow leaders who walk the talk when it comes to values. Companies need to close the leadership gap by identifying executives who naturally align due to their personal character and values. The notion of high performance equating to high potential no longer holds true. The study underscores the importance of specific personal traits and characteristics as the strongest indicator of leadership success. Curiosity, insight, engagement and determination are vital when assessing a person’s ultimate leadership capability.

From: Egon Zehnder

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