5 Vital Skills Every Leader Needs
August 25, 2015
Growing up it always fascinated me how, in history books, people with devilish agendas were able to get masses of good people to support their cause. Why don’t people follow the person with the best idea? Or doing the best thing? Or the one most likely to succeed?
I found example after example – not only in history but also in politics, sport and business – where people followed those who were able to be good leaders. These leaders were able to inspire, influence and create a certain type of contagious energy. This was the main reason I became interested in psychology and leadership from a relatively young age.
While professionally I concentrated on marketing, starting my own consultancy in 2007, I also worked with several international Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes addressing the psychological issues they faced using mind coaching techniques. This gave me a unique look at how the mind works and I’ve found the two fields very much complement each other.
While reading about great leaders is one thing, understanding how to become a good yet influential leader using these principles is another matter. It was so frustrating, but over several years I built up a methodology – a structure that could help me become a better leader.
There are many attributes that combine to make a great leader, the importance of each depending on factors including your personality, context and culture. These include:
- Ability to inspire
- Time management
But in the field of digital marketing I found certain skills are more important and produce the greatest results. When I applied the 80/20 law, whereby we focus on the 20% of leadership skills that are likely to produce 80% of the results, I was left with positivity, accountability, communication, courage and authenticity.
A positive mindset is vital for many reasons with the most important being it sets a positive tone/spirit within the team. It’s easy to be positive when things go well but as we all know, things don’t always go well. When we’re facing challenging times, a positive attitude helps the team see the light at the end of the tunnel and helps people dissociate from the challenge (e.g. we’re not the problem).
We can face a challenging situation either negatively or positively. Neither approach changes the facts, but the latter helps you feel more proactive – leaving you in a better position to solve the problem. If the leader is negative, the possible outcomes are:
- The leader won’t be able to lead
- The rest of the team will feel negative
So be positive in all circumstances, especially when around your team.
When things don’t go well, either with clients, superiors or colleagues, inevitably the leader will feel pressure on their shoulders. There are three ways people generally cope with that type of pressure:
- They don’t cope – and eventually leave
- They pass it to down-line colleagues or whoever is responsible (or not) for the issue – eventually weakening the team until some, including the leader, will leave
- They take the pressure on their own shoulders and, with the help of the other four skills listed here, find a solution as part of their team and move on
The successful use of option three often results in the rest of the team not even being aware of the issues that caused the extra pressure.
This is an obvious one, I know, but communication is not only what you may initially think it to be. Communication is made of listening skills, the ability to communicate emphatically, body language, and other subtle communication techniques as well.
While it’s certainly worth investing in a good communication skills book, I can tell you with great confidence that the most important communication skill I have been taught, that I can absolutely confirm to be miraculous, is listening and questioning. Ask questions, get people to talk about them and the affairs and listen carefully when they answer. This way what you say later is more likely to resonate and make more sense.
A surprising number of managers fail to do this and instead speak endlessly, even when the recipient displays clear signs of disconnection. Master this skill and people will follow and like you – and you’ll learn more about your team.
Courage is important: not recklessness, of course, but the courage of standing up for what you believe and following through with a relatively risky but potentially rewarding strategy. Of course, if it doesn’t work out, you can use your accountability skills to take the pressure off! And combined these two skills really go a long way in terms of becoming a good leader.
People respect courage because it makes them feel inspired, impressed and excited about their work and projects. It also helps you strengthen your decision-making muscles. With my kids, for example, I try not to teach them what’s right or wrong if I can avoid it. Instead, I try to teach them how to tell the difference and how to make that decision themselves. Making good decisions is an important skill. But before we can hone this skill we need to develop the courage it takes to make those decisions.
Be yourself. We hear it all the time, yet this isn’t always as easy as 1-2-3. At times, perhaps in an attempt to fit in, to please, or just because of our own ‘impostor syndrome’ style insecurities, we change ourselves.
I recently attended a leadership lecture at Cambridge University. We were invited to look at an extensive study in which managers who were authentic, showing vulnerability and their true personalities, had consistently out-performed those who tried to appear charismatic, confident and inspirational when in fact these were not their strongest skills. The study concluded that showing our weaknesses and vulnerabilities can actually contribute to improved leadership skills.
I personally believe the key-message here isn’t to show your weaknesses forcefully to appear vulnerable, as that would be perceived as manufactured, not authentic. The key message for me is to be authentic. Be who you are at any given moment and, coupled with the other four skills mentioned here, you will be able to use authenticity as a vital step towards being a master leader.
In conclusion, during the many years of analysing good leaders and trying to become one myself (which is still very much work in progress), I found that the 20% of leadership skills one needs to develop in order to get 80% results are:
Then once you feel you’ve mastered these, you may decide to pursue mastery and further expand your leadership skills arsenal.
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