Chinese and American leaders are most likely to be effective and seen as bold, according to research from Zenger/Folkman. The study, outlined in an article for Harvard Business Review, has generated a "bold index" – a means of measuring the boldness of leaders around the world.

The research highlights the differences between both regions and countries.

While the United States and China come out on top, the authors believe cultural factors could be at play. “Although some cultures do like boldness in their leaders, and reward it when they see it, this isn’t universally true,” they point out.

 These countries have the boldest leaders
Image: HBR

How do you measure boldness?

Zenger/Folkman used their leadership development insights gathered from more than 75,000 business leaders around the globe. They identified seven behaviours that they believe indicate a leader's boldness.

1. Challenges standard approaches

2. Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement

3. Does everything possible to achieve goals

4. Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible

5. Energizes others to take on challenging goals

6. Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed

7. Has the courage to make needed changes

This "bold index" was then compared with 42 other leadership behaviours. The authors found a statistically significant correlation between those leaders who are perceived as bold, and those also perceived as extremely effective across a range of other skills.

However, boldness, effectiveness and geography don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Although there are bold leaders the world over, cultural and business norms see boldness valued differently between, say, Japan and China. The chart above highlights these trends, with the geographically close Canada and the US returning very different scores.

Is bold best?

As hinted at above, norms in your country must be considered. Equally, the authors emphasize that boldness must form part of a broader leadership package. Unless it is combined with other skills and strengths, it is highly unlikely to make someone an effective leader.

The researchers liken boldness to a powerful fuel: “When it’s ignited in an appropriate environment, such as an engine, it can be very helpful and propel the organization forward. But without the appropriate control, it can be explosive – dangerous and even disastrous.”

Ultimately boldness can be a very useful leadership trait. But only if it is mixed with other characteristics. From good judgement to innovation and collaboration, a rounded skill set is vital if you are to become an effective leaders.