Is there a pattern in the skills of successful leaders share?
Over the last twenty years we have worked with thousands of leaders at all levels of diverse organisations and across many sectors. In that time we have observed dozens of skills used by successful leaders – and every successful leader is a unique package.
However, we have also observed that there are certain ‘core skills’ that the best of the best usually have.
The skills that really count
In selecting these core leadership skills, I have used a couple of rules
- They must be skills that a leader uses to get tangible and sustainable outcomes with their people, their teams and on the bottom line
- They can’t be big sweeping statements like ‘communication skills’ – the skills we include on this list need to be more specific so they can be practically applied
- Every skill on the list must have a ‘how to’ attached to it – again, so leaders not only know what is important but how to apply it.
Leadership skills are critical because they can be learned quickly
We published another article on leadership qualities which has generated plenty of feedback – but we wanted this article to have a different focus. The leadership qualities outlined in that article can all be learned – but qualities are fairly ingrained and therefore take more time to learn and adapt.
The focus of this article is on skills or behavioural habits that can quickly be learned – of course, we shouldn’t confuse quickly with easily!
Core leadership skill 1: Emotional Intelligence
While these skills aren’t listed in order of importance, if they were this one would still be first. Research indicates that emotional intelligence, unlike traditional IQ, is only partly genetic and is largely learned.
Now we promised to be more specific than just giving large sweeping statements. The most effective leaders have broad emotional intelligence but specifically they:
- Understand the impact they have on other people
- Manage their emotional reactions well (things like frustration, impatience and stress)
- Pick up on how are others are feeling
- Consciously and deliberately influence the way others are feeling
- React in ways that are likely to get the desired outcome
Action: read this article on the 4 critical questions for developing emotional intelligence in the workplace – and then practice using them
Core leadership skill 2: Observation
In a study done by the Ken Blanchard Companies 43% of managers rated communication/ listening as the number one skill for leadership. Our experience is that the managers skill in being attuned to what is happening around them – for example, how a team member is feeling during a feedback discussion – is critical. We define this as ‘listening with all their senses’.
Action: Talk less. Talk last (not first). In discussions with your people apply the principle ‘first seek to understand and then to be understood’.
Core leadership skill 3: Inquiry
Fortunately, the six core leadership skills overlap – by working on one, you will improve a number of them. Inquiry is about asking questions – but also about not settling for superficial answers. The more you inquire, the less you talk – which helps with observation and also with rapport building (the next skill)
A great habit for leaders is to replace statements with questions – instead of telling people what to do, ask questions that help them reach the conclusions for themselves.
When you get answer designed to understand situations and people, think about whether you have got the real answers or the easy ones. People often give ‘surface level’ responses and real meaning can only be discovered by digging deeper.
Action: Whenever you could tell, ask instead. When you get an answer, don’t be in a hurry to move on – stop and ask some follow up questions.
Core leadership skill 4: Rapport building
Let’s be clear on this one – great leaders don’t have a need to be liked. Given the choice between being respected and liked, they will pick respected every time. However, they are also skilful at building some connection with their people. It can be as simple as a shared interest or being prepared to have some humour in the workplace.
Most importantly, they don’t lead their people as a collective but as a group of individuals. They adapt their leadership style to the needs of each person and this is reflected in the way they communicate, the way they acknowledge performance - in fact, in their overall leadership style with each individual.
Action: Lead each of your people as they need to be led rather than imposing one default leadership style on everyone.
Core leadership skill 5: Confidence
Leaders often need to make difficult decisions. They have to do what it necessary rather than what is easy – and they need to take some calculated risks. Management is about stability, leadership is about change – and change takes you into the unknown.
To take risks and deal with the resistance that comes with changing ‘the way we do things around here’ leaders need to have courage and confidence.
Confidence is not arrogance and it doesn’t mean a leader will always get things right – in fact, that’s why confidence is so important!
Action: Don’t ask whether a decision will be popular or perfect – ask whether it is the best decision you ca make with the information available to you. Then make the decision and stick with it.
Core leadership skill 6: Resilience
There is a myth that leaders have a limitless energy and drive and that they are immune to the sorts of fears and insecurities that other people experience.
Add to this, the isolation leaders can feel – they are part of the team but apart from the team at the same time. While team members can often rely upon each other for encouragement and support, the leader needs to find these things from within themselves or from other networks.
Finally, the leader is likely to get criticised more often, and more severely, than other team members. They are the one making the tough decisions, balancing the needs of a diverse group of people with broader organisational goals and delivering unwelcome news. A leader won’t make all of the people happy all of the time.
Action: Recognise that a lot of criticism is because you didn’t do what someone wanted rather than because you did the wrong thing or because you have poor character.
Good habits are just good actions repeated consistently. To help you keep good habits top of mind, we have created six free and inspirational wall posters that you can print and display prominently.Chris Smith/Out of Chicago via photopin photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc