Identifying leadership talent in business

Brent Smith, an associate professor at London Business School, explains why confidence doesn't always equal effectiveness.

One of the most interesting issues that historically has always faced an organisation is the ability to identify good leadership talent. As a psychologist I’ve always been interested in this question; in fact, one of the things that I’ve noticed and some of my research focusses on is the issue of how confidence is evaluated as a leadership characteristic. Many people consider confidence or self esteem to be a proxy for effectiveness in leadership roles.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not.

Interestingly enough confidence can be one of two different things. You can call it real confidence, you know people who are fundamentally simply that self confident. You know they have a personality or disposition that’s very very not egotistical not narcissistic but very self confidence. But then there are other people, many leaders in fact, who have what appears to be extremely high self esteem, they are very confident – externally. Internally not so much, in fact, they can be a bit on the insecure side. However, because of their external self confidence and the self esteem that they exude to others, they tend to make their way into leadership roles, sometimes very high level leaderships roles.

Now for an organisation the key issue is understanding the consequences of not identifying that kind of leadership characteristic early on. The human toll associated with having leaders that are somewhat insecure but mask that with excessive self confidence can be quite high. It can make it difficult to retain people, it can make it difficult to attract good talent, it can create a reputation for leadership that’s not the one your organisation wants.

We can think of probably a number of business leaders who have this characteristic – some successful, some who’ve ended their careers because of it.

See also: Pace-setter or nurturer – what’s your leadership style?

The challenge for your organisation is to determine whether or not the procedures that you use to identify leadership talent are those that can really help you identify core leadership talent or are focussing on the surface characteristics like confidence and the confidence that people exude. You know are you identifying people who have the basic capabilities necessary to lead your organisation in the future?  Or are you paying attention to surface characteristics that may or may not you know predict effective leaders for your organisation?

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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