Not all great leaders are straight out of central casting. Some of them surprise us with their effectiveness, while others from whom we expect great things disappoint us. Ultimately, a person doesn’t become a great leader by playing it safe. Leadership is an adventure, and leaders who see it as such and are prepared are likelier to excel and inspire. But leadership is not a passive off the couch skill, it needs it’s own development and training regimen; think of it as Leadership Strength Training. Here are some recent findings on the advantages of pursuing leadership as an adventure rather than a chore or a birthright.
What Are the Most Essential Leadership Skills?
A Wharton School study of 20,000 leaders from a few years ago identified six skills, Leadership Strength Training skills, that, when together as a comprehensive toolkit, maximize leadership effectiveness. They are as follows:
• Anticipation Ability – which is not about predicting the future, but about taking stock of what customers want, understanding where they’re coming from, and learning to make informed projections
• Willingness to Challenge the Status Quo – whether that means challenging someone else’s assumptions or (perhaps more importantly) challenging their own
• Skill at Interpreting Data and its Context – in a world where information is abundant, conflicting, and complex. Exceptional leaders don’t cherry pick data, but take it all, synthesize it, recognize patterns, and form insights based on the facts.
• Decisiveness – which is a careful balance between considering multiple options and having the courage of one’s convictions
• Ability to Align Goals and Objectives – so everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction, and so departmental goals and objectives align with overall organizational goals and objectives
• Willingness to Learn from Every Project – whether it succeeds or fails. Organizations that punish rather than learn from mistakes squash innovation and lead people to waste effort covering up mistakes that could offer valuable lessons.
All are necessary, and only a full suite of these capabilities is sufficient for outstanding leadership. A leader will naturally excel at some more than others, but none can be neglected.
Developing Strengths and Knowing What Complements Them
The best leaders surround themselves with talented people whose skills complement their own.
While leaders should be well-rounded, they can’t be proficient at everything. Just as the pitcher and the first baseman sharpen different skills, one leader will be stronger in some leadership areas and less strong in others. Excellent leaders work on improving and maintaining strengths, doing their best in all areas of leadership, but also surrounding themselves with complementary skills. Just as you wouldn’t put together a baseball team of only third basemen, neither would you assemble a leadership team where everyone has the same strengths.
The Importance of Leaders Surrounding Themselves with Excellence
When leaders surround themselves with “yes-men,” they do everyone a disservice. Genuine, capable leaders know they must surround themselves with people of excellence whom they can trust to be honest and call things as they see them. The leader whose team members are committed to the truth, even when the truth is painful, is the leader whose team moves forward and doesn’t become mired in politics. If nobody on the team is willing to say that the Emperor has no clothes, the results can be ridiculous to disastrous.
Strong Leaders Care About Their Followers
Finally, strong leaders care about team members. People willingly follow leaders who offer trust, stability, hope, and compassion. A 2006 Gallup survey found that when asked about the leaders in their lives, people often described a family member, teacher, friend, or immediate supervisor – in other words, someone whose impact was direct and close. This indicates that leaders perceived as remote or aloof aren’t as effective as leaders who take time to understand their teams, know what makes team members tick, and lead and interact accordingly.
Effective leaders aren’t effective if they think of leadership as a chore. Nor are they effective if their primary justification for their leadership position is that it was “their turn.” The best leaders see leadership as an adventure, and they prepare well for it. They know and sharpen their strengths, surround themselves with talent, sometimes question the status quo, and genuinely care about the people they lead. When these qualities come together in someone who is committed, energetic, positive, and hard-working, results can far surpass expectations. Focus in on your Leadership Strength Training and you’ll start to see the results rapidly.