From entertainment to insurance to healthcare, big data is having an impact.  

Think of all the medical records, test results, and other patient information now available electronically. When this vast store of data is collected and analyzed, results show patterns that can help medical teams better identify illnesses and improve their treatment. The technology is already being used to diagnose patients who need follow-up care for aortic stenosis, one of the most difficult conditions for physicians to identify.

What could a similar analysis of leader data tell us? We want to find out. That’s why we’ve launched a new project to explore how a leader’s digital footprint might be used to assess key leadership competencies such as resiliency and strategic thinking.

But first, we need to enlist about 50,000 leaders who are willing to share content from their Facebook and Twitter accounts, or they can provide text they’ve written in an email, on a website, or in a CV. We’ll then apply data analytics to get a clearer view of how leaders show up in the digital world.

But unlike others who use your online data — including retailers and politicians — CCL is asking permission first. We’ll also give you a free competency assessment in return.

Why is CCL Interested in Your Data?

Last year we wrote about big data and analytics and what this trend means for leader assessment. We discussed the sheer volume of data that leaders generate within their organizations and in the public domain. Through our work with leaders worldwide, we’ve discovered that most aren’t aware of the digital footprint they’re leaving behind.

They’re also unaware of the impact this data can have on them, the teams they lead, and their employer’s reputation and market value. We believe leaders can increase their chance of success when they have a better understanding of how they show up both online and in person.

Why Social Media?

Social media content is already being used to assess personality and predict behavior. We believe it can also be used to give leaders accurate feedback on their competency gaps.

One of our advisors in this new project is Michal Kosinski, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Stanford University. He coordinates the myPersonality project, which uses a team of more than 200 researchers to analyze the psychological and social profiles of 8 million Facebook users. Kosinski’s 2013 PNAS paper is the fourth most influential scientific paper of all time, according to Altmetrics.

While our initial research will focus on social media, a leader’s digital footprint can also include customer comments, feedback surveys, and more. By casting a wider net for data analysis in the future, we can expect to get an even more accurate assessment of leader competencies.

How Accurate Are These Assessments?

Using a digital footprint to assess personality can be just as accurate — if not more so — than standard tools. And it’s easy to see why. People who lack self-awareness may not rate themselves accurately on personality factors. Bosses and co-workers may be reluctant to provide honest answers, and they can’t be expected to know how an employee acts in all situations.

But a machine isn’t incentivized to tell “white lies.” Machines don’t have feelings — at least for now. And for some leaders, a machine may be the only one willing to give them the tough feedback they need to hear. A machine is also able to capture all or most of your social media activity on the cloud, allowing it to make a more comprehensive assessment about who you are and how you tend to behave across situations.

What Are the Benefits?

In addition to being potentially more accurate, here are 3 benefits:

  • After you agree to share your data, the results are available in seconds. The faster you get the feedback, the sooner you can create a development plan.
  • Increased time for development. Since you won’t need to complete a self-assessment, you can spend more of your development time with a coach or in other skill-building activities.
  • Less costly. Digital tools are less expensive than traditional assessments, which is an important selling point for organizations interested in developing a large group of leaders.

What Do We Expect to Learn?

We want to find out how different leaders choose to express themselves on social media. For example, do more influential leaders tend to tweet thoughtful posts, whereas those with less influence in the organization tweet whatever they’re thinking — even if it’s offensive to others? If differences do exist, our goal is to find out if they affect a leader’s chance for success. The research could also help us understand what a digital footprint looks like for a successful leader compared to one who is derailing.

Overall, we hope to uncover and offer insights to help leaders have a more consistent presence online and on the job.

Who Handles the Analytics?

We’re using The IBM Watson™ Personality Insights service, which can analyze content from social media, company intranets, or other digital communications such as email. The tool also uses linguistic analytics to determine personality characteristics based on what and how a person writes.

Do We Have Evidence It’s Helping?

Yes. In the field of medical science, the company 23andme is using data analytics to help people understand and benefit from the human genome. The company has collected millions of data points voluntarily from people around the world to improve our understanding of genetically inherited diseases. As new research comes to light, we can learn more about how our genes affect us.

How Can I Participate?

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Access our new web-based leadership development app, Digital Leader, and create an account.
  2. Give CCL permission to save your Facebook “likes” and posts and your tweets.


  1. Provide a 600-word writing sample (anonymously, if you prefer).

You have the option to complete a self-assessment on the 3 competencies that separate the best leaders from the worst:

  • Career Management: Makes time to develop skills and competencies.
  • Building Collaborative Relationships: Develops productive relationships with employees at all levels and with customers, suppliers, and others.
  • Strategic Perspective: Manages complex issues from an organizational lens.

We discovered these Superchargers competencies, as we call them, after analyzing 10,000 leader assessments over 5 years.

How Do I Know My Data Will be Safe?

CCL will only use your data for research purposes, and we’ll never sell it to others. You will not get any ads from us based on the data you share. We’ve been collecting leadership data since our nonprofit was founded in 1970, and we have more than a million individual leader assessments. If you decide to cancel your account, you can delete your data at that time. 

What Do I Get in Return?

In addition to the Superchargers assessment, you’ll also receive a free assessment from The IBM Watson Personality Insights service of your Big 5 personality characteristics (agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, emotional range, and openness) and needs and values (excitement, harmony, structure, self-expression, and more).

Both the Superchargers and the Big 5 tools offer suggestions for sharpening your leadership skills. After all, competency assessments are only useful if they help you figure out how to become a better leader.


We hope you’ll be part of our research and share the opportunity with your network of leaders.


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