Image: Panorama of Oxford

  Developing Leadership Skills.

What We Offer.

Leadership is the most critical factor in the success of any organisation. We offer leadership assessment for selection and development, as well as leadership development in the forms of coaching and more formal training.

Leadership Assessment: We assess potential new leaders, candidates for promotion or use assessment as part of leadership development. We also offer training in assessment.

Leadership Assessment.

Image of stars. One is lit up.

Image credit: masterzphotois / iStock

One of the most critical factors in the success of any organization is the quality of its leadership. We work with commercial, public sector and not-for-profit organizations to assess leadership effectiveness. We use a range of methods (questionnaires, tests and in-depth interviews), based on well-established, evidence-based models.

Assessment is important in a variety of contexts:

  • As part of the recruitment process.
  • In coaching and leadership development
  • For broader talent management: e.g. identifying leadership potential, identifying skills gaps and succession planning.

Typically we probe into:


We investigate two key aspects of motivation:

Direction of motivation There is a wide range of motivations (or drives, values, interests or priorities e.g. need for achievement, need for power, intellectual curiosity etc.). Different people place different degrees of importance on different directions, which affects how much time and energy they devote to different aspects of their work. Being asked to do work which pulls too far from one's intrinsic interests or values can be demotivating. We work with leaders to help them understand their motivational preferences and the areas they would prefer to avoid.

Extent of motivation A particularly important aspect of leadership success is having the drive and energy to enthuse others, to maintain momentum, overcome challenges and to keep going in the face of adversity.


Everyone varies in the extent of their interest in other people, energy level, ambition, intellectual curiosity, attention to detail and emotionality etc. However, there have been great leaders at opposite ends of all these dimensions with most falling somewhere in between. Nevertheless it is useful to have a good understanding of your own preferences, where you are most comfortable and where you may have to compensate in some way.

In our assessments we acknowledge that Personality overlaps with Motivation, Emotional Intelligence and Strengths.

We work with leaders to use self-insight to build on strengths and develop an authentic leadership style.

Cognitive Ability.

We administer one or more cognitive ability tests or business scenarios.

Career Progress.

We conduct an in-depth interview to track the individual's career, experience, lessons learned etc. This helps to ground the questionnaire results.

Leadership Competencies.

We offer three standard competency frameworks. Each reflects the different demands as one progresses the leadership pipeline:

  • Senior Leader (aimed at those with a wider span of control e.g. those who have their own team of leaders).
  • Leader (the standard leadership framework)
  • Future Leader (for individual contributors who are being considered for a leadership position)

Our competencies are based on well-established frameworks from the literature and have been validated in organizations with which we have worked over the years. Our competency frameworks align with our motivation and personality models. We use 360-degree feedback and interviews.

  • Strategic thinking. Setting a clear, sustainable strategy to deliver the vision.
  • Motivating. Communicating a clear mission or purpose to which everyone can align action. Engaging the indifferent and maintaining morale through difficult periods.
  • Social Intelligence / Relationship Building.
  • Teamwork / Supporting. Distributing power and responsibility, co-operating with peers.
  • Analytical thinking. Grasping the essence of an issue from complexity and a mass of conflicting, noisy data, and demonstrating good judgment. Having an eye for detail whilst seeing the big picture. Balancing abstract thinking with the practical.
  • Creative thinking.
  • Learning agility.
  • Presenting / Communication.
  • Organising. Having the organizational and influencing skills to initiate action and mobilise groups of people towards a common goal.
  • Achieving Results. Making tough decisions. Making things happen. Having a sense of urgency.
  • Emotional Intelligence / Resilience
  • Setting high standards of ethical behaviour and acting as a role model.

We seek to emphasize strengths as well as identifying potential 'derailers'. A full assessment can take from half a day to a day.

We can aggregate data to produce an enterprise talent map for an organization. We generally tailor the assessment to match the context.

Leadership Development We offer executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, general leadership training as well as courses on specific aspects of leadership.

Leadership Development.

Image of woman reflecting (about Leadership)

Image credit: PKpix / Shutterstock

We offer:

  • Executive Coaching.
  • 360-degree Feedback.
  • General Leadership Training.
  • Training on Specific Aspects of Leadership.

Executive Coaching.

Our coaching is carried out by experienced psychologists. We always begin with assessment using a range of methods. There is an overlap with Career Coaching, go here for the main section on that topic.

360-degree Feedback.

360-degree feedback (collecting anonymous feedback about a manager in the form of ratings and comments from a range of people, and collating it into an individualised report which is reviewed with a facilitator) is a very powerful technique in leadership assessment. It is now used by most large organizations. It offers a short, sharp means of diagnosing leadership behaviour, reviewing strengths and weaknesses and developing an action plan.

Our approach integrates the perspectives of others with our other assessments (personality and motivation) to produce a deeper, more psychological analysis.

We can aggregate the rating data and comments to give an enterprise view.

  • Technically, our online tool is secure. hosted in a data-centre that complies with the toughest security standards (ISO27001).
  • The web-based interface is responsive, which means it can be used from a variety of devices (i.e. desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone).
  • We can offer multi-lingual assessments.
  • We offer a choice of our standard competency frameworks (leader, future leader and senior leader), we can use your organization's specific leadership framework or design something completely bespoke.
  • We place great importance on facilitating feedback and developing a personal development plan on the basis of it i.e. helping a manager make sense of their feedback report so they obtain the maximum value from it.

General Leadership Training.

This is generally customised for clients and is based on an agreed competency framework. It is practically oriented and comprises:

  • Self-directed online content
  • Interactive lectures and workshops
  • Tutorials
  • Case studies
  • Simulation exercises
  • Action learning sets

Training on Specific Aspects of Leadership.

The training can be run as open courses or customised for your organization.

  • The Science and Practice of Influence.
  • Relationship-based Influencing.
  • Personal Impact.
  • Negotiation Skills.
  • Facilitation Skills.
  • Dealing with Difficult People.
  • The Logic Angle: Critical Thinking and Beyond.
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making.
  • How to best to facilitate 360-degree feedback reports to managers..
  • Getting the best out of feedback. How to help people to accept feedback and change, as a result of 360-degree feedback.

Our Approach.

We focus on helping the leader create a greater understanding of their personality (including strengths), motivation and values, and how to build on them. We also work to develop leadership competencies such as decision making, emotional intelligence and influencing skills.

Our Approach to Leadership.

Image of blurred business people

Image credit: xilihui1119 / Pixabay

There are thousands of opinions about leadership but surprisingly little hard evidence showing the relationship between the models and tangible business outcomes. Leadership is a complex topic, covering a wide range of factors, levels of authority, people, time-periods, organizations, domains etc. Our position is that although there are valid insights to be gleaned from many of the historical approaches, no single model is sufficiently powerful to fully understand leadership excellence in a modern organization. We therefore adopt an eclectic approach, based, where possible, on a body of empirical research. We select the most appropriate, evidence-based perspective for the particular organization and set of leaders with whom we are working.

The Trait or Essentialist Approach

A traditional and unfortunately still common idea is of the Leader as the Great Man or Woman, the Born Leader who possesess extra-special, intrinsic leadership qualities which others do not. It is therefore inevitable that, like cream, this person will rise to the top. This approach emphasises the importance of looking for deep-rooted leadership characteristics when selecting the best person for a leadership role.

People look at someone who is successful, focus on particular behaviours and infer that the person rose to the top or achieved greatness as a result of certain intrinsic characteristics which give rise to the behaviours. However, it can be the case that many other people may have exactly the same characteristics but never reached a position where they had the opportunity to exercise leadership. Others may have possessed the same characteristics and reached a leadership position but failed to operate successfully. The rise to the top or successes achieved there may, in fact, be due to a completely different set of factors than the personal characteristics identified as leadership qualities. The person may have benefited from a privileged upbringing which offered rich opportunities to gain useful experience. The person may have achieved leadership and success through chance, being in the right place at the right time.

Often the essentialist approach is accentuated by the Halo Effect in which additional aspects of the leader, which are not actually exceptional, are perceived as such, in the glow of their elevated status.

Our position is that by adulthood some important qualities are intrinsic and difficult to develop, but many more qualities are amenable to improvement through training, coaching and learned experience. Intelligence, for example, is an important factor contributing to leadership success. It has a significant genetic component. A minimum threshold level is required to handle the complexity of large roles, to analyse problems and make good decisions quickly. But beyond that threshold, it is not necessarily the case that ever more intelligence is associated with ever greater levels of leadership ability. Social, problem solving and decision making skills can all be improved through training. Complex analysis can be delegated.

Leadership Style

Researchers at Ohio State University in the 1960s came to the conclusion that leadership behaviour is more important than personal characteristics. They identified two broad dimensions to classify leadership styles: the extent to which the leader emphasises Tasks and Relationships. Successful leaders flex and adapt their style to suit the the context e.g. being directive and task focussed in a crisis or being empowering and consultative when managing a group of experts facing an open-ended problem. This approach emphasises the need for leadership development rather than intrinsic characteristics.

The idea that Leaders should adapt their style to the situation and their followers is useful. But it is a broad-brush theory and gives little detailed practical guidance for leaders in specific situations.

Leadership Competencies & Transformational Leadership

James MacGregor Burns and Bernard Bass further developed the 'behaviours' approach in the 1970s and 1980s. Burns proposed that there is a set of leadership competencies which differentiates Transactional, Transformational and Laissez-faire Leadership styles. To this day, it is one of the most influential models of leadership. Transformational Leadership entails the 4 'I's:

  • Idealized Influence. The Leader acts as a role model for the behaviours they want to see acted out by their team, demonstrating integrity and strong ethical values.
  • Inspirational Motivation. The Leader sets clear goals, communicates a vision, and combined with the above point, conveys charisma to energise followers.
  • Individualized Consideration. The Leader shows genuine interest in and concern for their team members.
  • Intellectual Stimulation. The Leader challenges, stretches, and encourages innovation and creativity.

Laissez-faire Leadership is a hands-off approach, delegating decision-making to others. It is not viewed as particularly effective. Transactional Leadership is a more traditional style, based on motivating through positive or negative reinforcement. It relies on rewards, authority and compliance. Burns suggests that Transactional Leadership is more effective in maintaining the status quo rather than creating change or innovation. There are times Transactional Leadership is necessary and beneficial but proponents of the theory assert that generally, the Transformational Leader will engender greater loyalty to and satisfaction with the leader and produce greater leadership effectiveness.

Transformational and Transactional Leadership echo the Relationship and Task styles described above.

Again, the model clearly makes sense and resonates with our personal experience of managers. However, whilst there is evidence that Transformational Leadership generates greater satisfaction among employees, there is little evidence it actually produces greater organizational performance. The model offers a sense of optimism and generosity of spirit but has little to say about dealing with conflicts in goals or access to resources.

Often there is little correlation between personal charisma and effective decision making. There can also be a dark side to charisma. Intrinsic motivation is great but not everyone works in a job where they are living the dream. Ultimately, task performance and attention to detail are important.

Transformational Leadership competencies, like all competencies, are often difficult to define and to measure accurately. Some believe a competency approach to leadership is too reductionist - collapsing the complexity and richness of someone's personality, experience and uniqueness into a few tick boxes.

The Leadership Pipeline

In The Leadership Pipeline, Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel added another perspective: that the competencies required to perform well in a role change as one ascends the management hierarchy. New skills have to be learned but others may have to be 'unlearned' or suppressed. For example, an individual contributor may be excellent in their own specific domain, focusing on their own tasks, whether in sales or chemistry. But when they are promoted to manager they are expected to pursue a different set of goals (e.g. organising and motivating people) and let go of their detailed specialist or technical responsibilities. This can be a difficult transition. The Leadership Pipeline approach delineates the capabilities required at different levels. For example, at higher levels of seniority, scope and complexity increase; it may be necessary to co-ordinate the work of conflicting functional groups and stakeholders; or to shift from managing tasks, through managing managers, to creating a culture.

The broad sweep of the pipeline idea is valuable, has stood the test of time and is an integral part of our approach. However many of the details in the book, which was written at the turn of the millennium, are less relevant in today's working environment.

The Emotionally Intelligent Leader

The journalist Daniel Goleman popularised the term 'emotional intelligence' (EI) in his 1995 book. It has since taken on a life of its own. It is often described in terms of a set of competencies concerning emotional self-awareness and self-regulation, understanding of others (e.g. empathy) and the ability to manage relationships with others.

Having awareness of and being able to regulate one's own emotions are undeniably important capabilities. However, some psychologists question whether this is a form of intelligence at all. The concept may be better understood under the broader topic of social skills and social intelligence. (In fact Goleman has written about this topic too).

Some psychologists believe that the idea of EI overlaps considerably with existing models of personality and adds little theoretically or in predictions of behaviour. As with charisma, it should be kept in mind that EI is not always benign. It is an essential skill of the manipulative. Others consider EI a partial view, a subset of social intelligence and Leadership as a whole. Leadership requires many other competencies (e.g. strategic thinking, organising skills) so EI is best considered as one component of the overall Leadership Competency Framework.

Distributed Leadership

This idea gained ground in the 2000s. The range of competencies required to lead a large organization is so wide it is probably impossible for one person to excel in them all. A team of leaders who are all-rounders - mid-range in each competency, although not poor in any area, not exceptional in any either - is unlikely to generate world-beating performance. Certain forms of leadership often don't emerge from the C-suite e.g. thought or moral leadership. Hence the argument for building a balanced team of leaders each of whom is excellent in one or just a few competencies.

Domain-specific Leadership

Not all fields are the same. Whilst there is a general, core set of competencies which are common across all sectors, in certain disciplines, certain dimensions assume greater or lesser importance. This may be due to the level of technical knowledge of workers, time-frame of delivery, uncertainty, regulation etc. e.g.:

  • Project and programme management.
  • Financial services - and there are differences between disciplines within this broad sector for example between currency trading and life assurance.
  • Sales. Similarly there are differences within this field between for example retail and enterprise level corporate sales.
  • Creative industries such as advertising.
  • Call Centres.
  • Software Development.

Top image credit: Shutterstock / Alexey Fedorenko

Please get in touch on:

+44(0)1628 674398

Oxford Business Psychology 2022