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Do Lefties Make Better Leaders? How to Build a Succession Planning Strategy

July 7, 2017

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next succession of leaders.

Just 35% of HR and business leaders said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders, according to research from Bersin by Deloitte.

Did you know 50% of companies with revenue greater than $500 million don’t have a proper CEO succession plan in place? Is it that difficult to identify potential leaders?

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Are Lefties Better Leaders?

Only 10% of the population are “lefties” (aka favor their left hand). Interestingly, five of our last eight American presidents — Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — have been left-handed. Going back further, James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, & Gerald Ford were also left-handed presidents! Famous military leaders like Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Julius Caesar were lefties. Prince William, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein –  all lefties. Seeing a trend here? Could the key to identifying potentially great leaders just simply be are they left-handed? Maybe it’s not that difficult to identify leaders.

There’s actually some science behind this. While there’s no real clear-cut research, it has been reported that lefties may have an advantage over right-handers because lefties have more symmetrical brain function between hemispheres. Lafayette University and Johns Hopkins University even report that using the left hand has been associated with higher intelligence and even higher wages.

If left-handedness were somehow related to successful leadership, I would not encourage organizations to identify potential leadership by hand dominance (that would be a whole other conversation on employment laws, regulations, discrimination, etc.). So, maybe the key to identifying high potential leaders is not hand-dominance. However, there are other ways to properly identify qualified candidates for leadership positions.  


Three Steps to Building a Succession Planning Strategy

  1. Identify potential leaders based on related skills: It’s been reported that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in non-managerial roles or because of their tenure (neither of which are related to leadership skills/potential). Leadership assessments are a great tool to use to uncover proven skills for successful leaders. Our whitepaper, The Five Things Leaders Need to be Successful, reports that there are 5 top skills and abilities that differentiate leaders:
1. Ability to lead and influence others
2. Ability to relate to others
3. Ability to motivate
4. Ability to think and learn quickly
5. Ability to execute


  1. Open the opportunity for leadership development to more employees: Allowing all employees equitable opportunities for promotions and professional development helps foster a diverse and inclusive culture. This widens the pool of potentially great leaders that may have been missed. Additionally, research shows that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.


  1. Continue leadership development even AFTER leaders have been identified: After the potential leaders have been identified, it’s important to continue to develop them; it’s been reported that only 15% of managers believe that they will never be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company. A recent study found that the more a company focuses on internal leadership development, the more likely it is to meet its objectives. This means if you administer a leadership assessment, don’t let the reports sit on your desk and collect dust.


It can be easy for leaders who are already at the top to forget that, at some point, someone must take their place, and research has found that ignoring this leads to negative consequences, such as unwanted turnover. There’s no clear-cut road to identify leaders – it’s an ongoing process. It’s also important to remember to not get bogged down by unnecessary or unrelated skills that we think would make a great leader. Focus on those skills and abilities that have been proven to be effective. I probably wouldn’t add left-handedness off to a list of key skills for identifying potential leaders. Although…it is an interesting topic to discuss. Do you know any lefty leaders? Are they good leaders?

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Jessica Petor Jessica Petor is a Research Analyst located at PSI's Pittsburgh office. She holds a Master's of Science degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Northern Kentucky University.