What is the profile of an effective senior leader?

The 6 traits of high potential future leaders...Uncertain future? Not with Thomas.

Most of us know a good leader (or a bad one!). But what makes them so? What is it about their personality that makes them so effective and inspiring in their role? As part of the launch of our new assessment for leadership potential, the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI), Ian MacRae, creator of the assessment, takes you through a real life example of strong leadership to create a picture of the ideal profile of a senior leader.


My last blog post took you through each of the 6 traits measured by HPTI, and this week I'll be looking at these personality traits in action. The HPTI uses an optimality model, meaning higher scores are not necessarily better, and that extremely high or low levels of any trait can potentially be problematic. A model of optimality means examples of individuals with proven track records of excellent performance in leadership are used to identify ideal levels of personality traits for effectiveness in a role at this level. So what does this look like in practice?

A prime example of a successful leader is Lloyd Craig, who was President and CEO of Coast Capital Savings, one of the largest credit unions in Canada. He was profiled in High Potential (MacRae & Furnham, 2014), in which I explored Lloyd's motivation and values, and their relationship to long term profitability and organisational success in the financial sector.

Lloyd Craig is the perfect example of individual success and optimal performance in a leadership position. He began a 23-year leadership tenure with a small and floundering local credit union in 1986. He joined an organisation with $500 million in assets, and left the company as a market leader with $12.9 billion in assets. Employees were engaged and happy to work there, and Great Places to Work regularly ranked the company as one of the best workplaces in Canada.

Just speaking with Lloyd demonstrates why he is such a strong leader. He is assertive, with a boisterous and almost aggressive sense of humour. He could easily be intimidating but is affable, warm and genuine. He knows what he’s talking about, but listens intently to whomever he is speaking with. He approaches everything, even a short interview, with an intensity that he clearly brings to everything he does. It’s easy to see that anyone who is good at their job, or wants to be, would work well under Lloyd’s leadership.

But what about Lloyd made him so effective as a leader? Let's go through his HPTI scores and take a further look at Lloyd's personality.

Conscientiousness, 100, Excessive

Lloyd has the highest possible conscientiousness score, which actually falls in the excessive range. He is a perfectionist and is extraordinarily self-motivated. This is a good example of the excessive being a potential warning sign, but not inherently wrong. Lloyd can manage potential obsessive tendencies by being self-aware and channel his naturally excessive conscientiousness into productive endevours. It is important that any leader be aware of any potential for derailment that their HPTI highlights, and that they implement coping strategies to prevent such derailment.

Adjustment, 80, Optimal

Lloyd's adjustment score is well above average and within the optimal range. He is good under pressure, is not negatively affected by stressors and can handle a great deal of job demand and stress in the workplace. Adjustment is important in leadership as leaders are usually required to deal with high levels of stress and pressure. Lloyd's adjustment score means he is well equipped to do so.

Curiosity, 65, Optimal

Lloyd's curiosity is within the optimal range. He is open to new approaches and is always looking for ways to improve the company, so much so that he introduced a suggestions box for examples to suggest new practices or approaches in the workplace. For any policy that was implemented, the person that had the idea received a percentage of increased earnings or costs saved as a result of that policy.

Risk Approach, 95, Excessive

Lloyd's risk approach score is almost as high as possible, falling within the excessive range. He has a constructive approach to solving problems or conflicts as soon as they arise. This is generally an asset, but others may find this approach intimidating or confrontational. Whilst this score could be a potential source of conflict, Lloyd can manage it appropriately with accompanying interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Ambiguity Approach, 57, Higher Moderate

Lloyd's ambiguity approach score is above average, but still within the moderate zone. Lloyd is good at working with ambiguity and he extolls the virtues of using various opinions, calling in experts from every side of the debate, helping him to thrive in a complex environment and role. Although he is below an optimal score, Lloyd's moderate level of ambiguity acceptance should not be seen as a problem, considered alongside his overall profile. However, it may indicate a tendency to opt for quick and decisive decisions, particularly when considered in combination with his risk approach score.

Competitiveness, 77, Excessive

Lloyd's scores on paper indicate excessive competitiveness, and this is very true of Lloyd in practice. He wants to win and he wants his company and team to be successful. Although his scores are excessively competitive, and this does indicate potential aggressively competitive behaviours, there are two important considerations. Firstly, this competitiveness was channeled into team and company success, rather than purely individual success. Secondly, the financial industry tends to be highly competitive, and in the context of this sector, Lloyd’s scores are appropriate for this industry and less likely to be a potential derailer.

Lloyd's results highlight how the optimal zones should be used as a guideline, but not as arbitrary rules. This is clearly an optimal leadership profile in practice, even though all six traits do not score exactly within the optimal zones. Using Lloyd as an example provides some important recommendations for leadership:

  • Develop talent based on core potential. Those with leadership potential need opportunities to try. Lloyd says potential leaders need experience where they are ultimately accountable.
  • Culture and values come from the top. Leaders must embody the company’s vision and associated behaviours with it.
  • Any team needs diverse skills, traits and attributes, but needs a shared vision and values.
  • Involved leadership is important, and leaders need to understand what is happening at every level of the company. Lloyd regularly arranged visits to local branches to talk with his employees working there.
  • Good, rigorous selection processes and assessment are essential for finding potential leaders. Lloyd used extensive processes, including reference checks and background checks. He assert that destructive leaders usually have many indicators in their past.
  • Leaders must ultimately be accountable for everything that happens in the company. He uses the example of the 2007-08 financial crisis, and failures in the financial sector. Many people in many financial institutions got caught up in a culture of greed without accountability. A leader needs to be accountable and aware; if profits seem ridiculously high, the leader needs to say “bring me the books, show me exactly where this money is coming from.

The optimal leadership zones in HPTI are designed based on a constructive approach to leadership. This is emphasizes how leadership is done, not just bottom line results alone. This is not a cut-throat, manipulative, Machiavellian approach to leadership. Nor it is an approach that considers personal career gain more than company success. Policies like Lloyd’s mental health advocacy, work-life balance initiatives, and honest approach have tangible benefits. His company’s huge growth during his tenure confirms this, as does the fact that his accountability and approach to the financial industry meant the financial crisis of 2007 does not even register on the company’s balance sheets at the time. Strong, high potential programmes to identify, develop and retain high potential leaders can lead to tangible results.

We will be releasing more real-life examples of individuals and companies using HPTI over the coming months - keep an eye out on our website!


MacRae, I. S. (2014). Assessing and developing value(s) in the financial sector: A case study. Assessment and Development Matters, 6(1), 15-17.

MacRae, I. S., & Furnham, A. (2014). High Potential: How to spot, manage and develop talented people at work. London: Bloomsbury.

Ian MacRae

Ian MacRae

Ian has been an organisational psychology consultant for over a decade and is the director and co-founder of High Potential Psychology Ltd. He is the co-author of High Potential: How to Spot Manage and Develop Talented People at Work and the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI), a measure of leadership potential, which is available to Thomas clients.