McKinsey Study Reveals the 4 Behaviors That Account for 89% of Leadership Effectiveness

Emma Brudner
Emma Brudner



You read that right. Want to know what traits set strong leaders apart from weak leaders? New research from McKinsey shows that just four behaviors account for almost all of the distance between the effective and the inept:

  • Being supportive
  • Operating with a strong results orientation
  • Seeking different perspectives
  • Solving problems effectively

In a survey of 189,000 people in 81 organizations around the world, the firm found that these four traits were typically displayed by leaders at companies ranked within the top quartile of McKinsey's Organizational Health Index.

"We’re not saying that the centuries-old debate about what distinguishes great leaders is over or that context is unimportant. Experience shows that different business situations often require different styles of leadership," wrote research authors Claudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan. "We do believe, however, that our research points to a kind of core leadership behavior that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line."

So what do these traits entail? According to the research, supportive leaders empathize with and enable their colleagues and direct reports, and in doing so, engender an atmosphere of trust. A results orientation means that leaders not only set the vision, but they also work tirelessly to see it through. Those who seek different perspectives are more prone to shifts in the environment, and consider multiple points of view when making decisions, thus reducing bias. Lastly, leaders who solve problems effectively are comfortable analyzing data and other sources to get to the root of an issue -- which helps them make better choices.

Other leadership skills that did not correlate as strongly with successful leadership included recovering positively from failures, remaining composed and confident in uncertainty, giving praise, and developing others. It might be time to update hiring profiles for open leadership positions.

What do you think about this research? Let us know in the comments.


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