Mark Miller | VP of Marketing, Emergenetics International

Mark Miller | VP of Marketing, Emergenetics International

To gain findings for the Emergenetics Industry Insights Survey, we surveyed more than 150 professionals from all levels and industries, to gain access to the brightest minds in training and development and talent management.

Every organization faces both unique and not-so-unique challenges on a daily basis. Overcoming many of these challenges—especially in areas like Management, HR, and Learning and Development—relies on understanding.

What is the most important competency for leadership?

This question obviously cuts right to the heart of the issue and is of paramount importance for every organization. Effective leadership spells the difference between success and failure for an organization. But what is effective leadership? What does effective leadership mean on a real-world level? Does it need creativity, innovation, motivation, or tenacity? That’s what we sought to find out, and the results were fascinating–and a little surprising.

A critical element of leadership is the ability to understand and bring out the best in others; this quality, though, is sometimes lost amid the praise rained down upon the most innovative leaders in our day’s culture (think Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg). However, from the perspective of those who deal the most with people within organizations—the talent management, human resources, and learning professionals who look to build organizational capacity through the workforce—the importance of emotional connection and a people-centric leadership cannot be understated.

In our survey, shockingly, only 10% of respondents felt that the ability to create innovative ideas was the most important skill a leader needs. Innovation may garner headlines, but our findings indicate that it may not be a game-changer in terms of effective leadership.

So, if big-picture innovation was not the most highly prized competency, what about the skills to develop and demand analytical, data-driven solutions to challenges? This quality, which in today’s corporate world would seem like a no-brainer for critical leadership skills was seen as the most important factor in leadership by a mere 9% of respondents. Does this surprise you, especially given the increased focus and scrutiny placed on the HR-business partnership?

So, if not innovation or data-driven solutions, what was the most important quality for effective leadership?

The ability to connect with team members and have a high emotional intelligence quotient was seen by a full third (33%) of respondents as the most important competency a leader must possess.

This is telling—it wasn’t about ideas or performance, but rather the ability to effectively motivate their staff to create their own innovations and to help people move forward in every way they can towards the goals of the organization.

The next most popular responses indicate a similar push toward empowering employees, albeit in more specific ways. 27% of respondents said that the most important competency for effective leadership was setting forth a big-picture vision and 21% named the ability to develop organized, systematic plans that provide focus and detail to employees.

It comes back to team collaboration and the importance of developing leaders who can bring out the best in others. The results are clear: the ability to create a compelling, focused direction for the organization and provide a framework for all to implement that vision is more significant than being able either to do things yourself or to control staff through strict direction.

How, then, can a leader develop a high emotional intelligence quotient and truly be able to connect with, direct, and motivate their staff? Our work on the ground within organizations has shown that this understanding and connection is built through a conscious effort on the part of leadership to understand their team members’ thinking and behavioral preferences– and to adapt their message to teams in a way that will motivate them to innovate, motivate, create, and internalize organizational goals.

The ability to connect emotionally with team members and staff means that not only will a leader know how to motivate their team, but also that the team members themselves will understand the importance of their role and take ownership of it – the most important step on the road to employee engagement.

Check out our blog series that details our research and highlights our findings – see IntroductionPart 1, Part 2, and Part 3.