To build exceptional leaders, focus on these seven skills

The skills required for leadership don’t change through your career

Exceptional leaders image

We do a lot of work with Cognology clients in identifying the competencies that leaders require to succeed. It’s fascinating work. And through this process, I also get to hear a lot of assumptions about what people think it takes to succeed as a leader.

One of the most common assumptions is that as leaders progress through their career they need to develop a dramatically different set of leadership skills. After all, they’ll be taking on bigger and more varied projects. And they’ll be responsible for more and more people.

But this just isn’t the case. Whether you’re leading one person, or 100,000, the skills required are remarkably similar. Recent research into key competencies for leadership published by Harvard Business Review shows this. The study surveyed thousands of HR and business professionals on the skills leaders needed at each stage of their career. And the results were surprisingly consistent, regardless of the level of leadership.

The seven skills you’ll need with you at all times.

From the 332,860 people surveyed in the study, seven skills were picked almost twice as often as the remaining nine. So I don’t take up too much of your time (I could talk about these things all day!) I’ll give you some of my thoughts on the top seven skills:

  • Inspires and motivates others: this one’s a no brainer. How could you lead without being inspiring and motivational? If people look up to you and believe in you then they’re more likely to follow you.
  • Displays high integrity and honesty: again, fairly intuitive. If you work hard and apply yourself then the truth is all you need. How can you be a leader without being honest?
  • Solves problems and analyzes issues: how well can you think on your feet and solve problems on the spot? Are you able to analyze issues and stop them from becoming problems?
  • Drives for results: you want your results to be able to speak for themselves. Are you able to bring a project home and get the results required?
  • Communicates powerfully and prolifically: some argue that you can make anything happen if you just communicate the right way. How well can you articulate your ideas so people understand what your big goals are?
  • Collaborates and promotes teamwork: You’re the one bringing everyone together and making sure delivery works smoothly. How well can you can you work with others and get a team to work for you?
  • Builds relationships: your ability to build rapport with others. Can you find a way to connect and engage with other people?

You’ll find that these skills are complimentary to each other. Develop one and you’ll typically improve in other areas too. Think about how well you can solve problems when you drive for results. Your ability to inspire others is dependent on how well you can communicate.

Why you need to introduce all new and potential leaders to these skills.

Do you have an employee on the cusp of becoming an effective leader? Review these key competencies and see where they need improvement.

Break the requirements for the position down to its simple elements. Treat these key competencies as if they were the desired outputs for a project. They may already have these skills, but are they at the level they need to be?

In our own article on the importance of competencies, we use the example of the difference between the ability to craft a pitch for a Public Relations Assistant and a Public Relations Manager.

An assistant must be able to craft a pitch, in that they understand what is required to craft one, but a manager must be able to craft one that is engaging and compelling. The same skill is required, but at a higher level.

Use these skills for ongoing development, feedback, and coaching.

Recognition of these skills is essential for development. It becomes easier to assess the skills that employees need when you can put them into objective terms.

Using these skills you can almost predict which employees will advance, based on the leadership skills they possess at the moment.

This removes the guesswork out of training employees in areas they need improvement. Once you can articulate the areas an employee is lacking in, you can help plan, manage and coach for the development required.

Do you agree with this list of key competencies? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the competencies required for leadership in your organisation. Jump into the comments below and let’s get the conversation going.

Photo Credit: Sara&Joachim&Mebe Used under license CC BY-SA 2.0

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  1. […] a study that surveyed more than 300,000 people, 7 leadership skills emerged that took precedent over any others. In this post, we’ll highlight […]

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