The one key skill every leader needs

The one key skill every leader needs

Jane came in to my office looking troubled. ‘I think I’m OK as a manager but how do I become a leader?’ she asked. ‘I’ve just had my appraisal and I’ve been told I need to work on my leadership skills’. I’ll cover dodgy appraisals in a later blog, this one is all about which leadership skill I think you need to start developing now.

Although many of my clients worry about their leadership skills (see here for the differences between leadership and management  they sometimes struggle to describe a good leader to me.  I don’t think that’s because there’s a lack of good leaders, rather it’s because leadership is nebulous – it’s hard to describe and get hold of but you definitely know good (and bad) leadership when you see or experience it.  So I often start by getting clients to think about leaders they admire at work, in sport, politics or life.  What do they say and do, how do they act? Why are they good leaders?  It’s an unscientific approach, sure, but the answers my clients give are pretty consistent, in fact Zenger and Folkman’s list in this inc.com article by Peter Economy contains just about all of the attributes of great leaders my clients have identified over the last 5 years: http://www.inc.com/peter-economy/top-10-skills-every-great-leader-needs-to-succeed.html

So where do you start?  Well the good news is that most people are on track already – they are honest and have integrity (#2 on the list).  Most people also display professional and technical expertise, if they didn’t they would not be on the leadership track (#7).  Communication skills (#5 ) and relationship building ability (#6) are vital, that goes without saying and have been the subject of many of my previous blogs, like the last one.

There is one skill I wished I had developed earlier and worked hard on though. Now I see so many business owners, managers and executives struggling with the same problem: displaying a strategic perspective (#8). According to Economy ‘Great leaders have a long-term vision of the future, and they avoid getting bogged down in the here and now. While they can be tactical when necessary, they maintain the strategic outlook necessary to guide their businesses to the best future possible.’

I think this nails it.  Managers tend to focus on the here and now, ‘they do the doing’ as one of my clients calls it; leaders focus more on the future.  Letting go of the day to day, delegating, spending time on activities with a longer-term benefit and thinking ahead are all vital skills for any leader but ones that we seldom develop organically.  We’re all too busy doing the doing.

Executive_thinking_strategicallyMoving on in your career can change what we define as doing however.  I was really bored when I was first made MD, all the stuff I used to do was getting done by my highly competent team.  What happened?  Yes, I refused to let go, micromanaged and generally interfered in whatever the team was doing.  I mentioned this to a former boss who’s still a mentor of mine. He shook his head, appalled, and said ‘But that’s not your job any more, your job is to think now’. That comment completely changed my outlook. Getting paid to think? Wow! That’s what leaders do. So if you want to develop your leadership skills try cuttingdown on the doing and start thinking.

Source: Peter Economy, ‘Top Ten Skills Every Great Leader Needs to Succeed’ ,http://www.inc.com/, 29 December 2014

Book Alchemy Coaching Session