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Versatility: the skill of the hour

April 18, 2023

A trio of American experts reached a breakthrough after more than 20 years of research on the behavior of leaders in organizations and their impacts: versatility is now the most important component in the profile of managers.

Scholars define versatility as the ability to “read” and respond to change with a broad repertoire of behaviors. As an example, they point out that some business circumstances require leaders to take charge and make tough decisions on their own, while others ask only that they empower, support, and include talent on teams.

Rob Kaiser, president of a management consulting firm that bears his name; Ryne Sherman, a former professor at Florida Atlantic University who hosts a podcast on “personality science”; and Robert Hogan, a former professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University have together developed a tool, based on 360-degree assessments, called the “Leadership Versatility Index”, which calculates the importance of this skill in decision-making.

According to the study, over 25 years the proportion of versatility linked to leadership effectiveness in business has almost doubled:

  • 1997: 35%
  • 2008: 50% 
  • 2020: 63% 

By 2022, it lost traction and returned to the 55% level.

“It is not an overstatement to say that versatility is the most important component of leading effectively today. To cope with the rapid pace of change, leaders must develop the ability to consider opposing needs and avoid maximizing one at the expense of the other simply because their current skill set makes them more attuned to it.”, wrote Rob Kaiser.

In the article, the authors also help leaders understand how to build versatility:

1. Understanding

“Versatility requires understanding tendencies as a boss: which behaviors are natural and which will be learned. This understanding can be gained through a personality assessment or through feedback from co-workers.”

2. Evolution

“Becoming more versatile involves an evolution in terms of identity, or the story you “tell” yourself, about who you are. Leaders who lack versatility tend to define themselves in a polarized way.”

3. Balance

“No one can guess what the future will demand of leaders. But we do know that those who possess a balanced set of skills and talents, as well as the dexterity to choose which one to use in a given situation, are likely to be more effective in leading teams and organizations through turbulent years.”

Source: Harvard Business Review | Valor Econômico