What is the mark of a great leader? Ask 10 different people and you might get 10 different answers. Each person has his or her own opinions about what type of leader deserves respect, trust and loyalty, and it’s often tied to personality traits or characteristics. For example, some want their leaders to be outspoken and strong willed. Others prefer a quiet confidence.
However, while people are often deemed “natural leaders” because of their personality, I think personality plays a lesser role than most might think when it comes to effective leadership. Think about it. You’ve got highly charismatic leaders, who everyone just loves, fail horribly when it comes to making decisions, especially the hard ones. At the same time, shy leaders, who struggle with the social stuff, step in and successfully navigate a crisis seemingly without breaking a sweat. Personality isn’t always an indicator of a great leader.
Not that I’m saying personality doesn’t matter. Personality can certainly impact how employees view and interact with their supervisors, and that can impact the leader’s overall effectiveness. However, I believe that what sets the great leaders apart from the mediocre ones centers around skills, not personality. That is actually really good news because while changing one’s personality can be hard, if not impossible, for some people, we all can develop new skills if our heart is in it. That’s why I spend so much time working with leaders to develop leadership skills.
So, what are the most important skills for leaders to possess? Here are three I rank at the top of the list:
Resilience is the ability to quickly recover from a setback. It requires being able to mentally and emotionally accept what has happened and then immediately begin planning a proper course of action. It means not melting down, blowing up or retreating the moment things get hard.
No organization is immune to failures, losses and change. Because resilient leaders are emotionally strong, they can guide their employees through the rough patches and motivate everyone to work together.
Become more resilient:
- Keep learning. With every new skill you develop and every bit of knowledge you gain, you become better equipped to respond to upheaval and act fast.
- Develop a positive attitude. You must believe that you can recover. Otherwise you will never convince employees that success is possible, and without their buy in, you can’t succeed. Always look for the opportunities in any situation, and focus on solutions, not problems.
- Build a network of support. The most resilient people have strong relationships with employees, mentors, colleagues and others they can rely on to help navigate the challenges.
- Manage your stress. Doing so is different for everyone but find what works for you. Whether that is a healthy diet, exercise, therapy, work/life balance or a combination of those things, make sure you are taking care of yourself.
- Be flexible. Accept that things won’t always go according to plan and that sometimes you must change the rules. Always be in the present and look for solutions, ideas or processes that work right now, given your circumstances, rather than relying on what’s worked in the past.
Self-awareness is the ability to accurately judge your performance and behavior. It means that you see yourself the way others see you and that you have a grasp of how you impact people.
It requires that you take an honest look at your shortcomings and then adjust your behavior so that you can inspire, motivate and gain buy in from your employees.
Become more self-aware:
- Request feedback. I think we all should be collecting 360-degree feedback from the people we work with and those who know us best. Have an honest conversation with your friends or loved ones about your behavior. Ask your boss to offer candid feedback about your performance. Provide employees and coworkers a way to critique your abilities anonymously. Then accept it and learn from it. It’s easy to write off valid criticism by saying “They’re just jealous” or “They’re just out to get me.” Look for truth in what they say.
- Take some assessments. I’ve shared before that I encourage clients to complete assessments, such as The Birkman Method, to gain some insight about themselves and how they work.
- Conduct postmortems. Particularly after failures, mistakes, conflicts and other negative circumstances, analyze what happened. What role did you play? How were you responsible for the outcome? What could you have done differently? The goal is to stop pointing fingers and start recognizing how you can have a more positive impact on situations and the people around you.
I don’t think there is another skill more critical to effective leadership. However, when I talk about communication, I’m not just talking about a strong speaker who can command an audience. That’s public speaking, and while it is a useful skill, to us communication is more about being able to connect with people, educate and inspire them, and get them to follow through.
Become a stronger communicator:
- Be direct and crystal clear—but respectful. You should tell people in no uncertain terms what you expect from them and what you want them to do. That means being super specific, but it doesn’t mean being impolite.
- Listen more than you talk. Ask many questions, pay close attention to what is being said and confirm you understand the answers. Aim to learn something during every conversation.
- Know when to be quiet. The most aggressive or outgoing person in the room is often looked at as the leader, but as we all know, the loudest voice often isn’t the one we should be listening to. Speak only when you have something valuable to add and people will be more apt to listen.
- Acknowledge people’s feelings. People have a deep desire to be both heard and understood. While you don’t have to agree with everything people say, you need to confirm that you understand their point of view. Validate their emotions. Then work together on a resolution.
All those skills relate to another critical leadership attribute: coachability. You must search for your weaknesses and then actively work to improve them. The greatest leaders keep learning, growing and adapting. If you are ready to reach your true leadership potential, contact us today to schedule a consultation.