It’s called “Human Resources” for a reason.
The numbers oriented leader sometimes refers to it as human capital.
No matter what you call them, always remember what employees really are: Assets. And, as with any asset, the goal is to develop your human capital, to expand its utility, and increase its value.
Countless business books and other resources have been devoted to getting the most out of employees in order to maximize the bottom line. Yet, at the end of the day, the common theme essentially boils down to: Managers have to be equipped with leadership skills.
What is Leadership?
How is leadership developed? What leadership skills are most responsible for generating the greatest amount of productivity from your human resources, a prerequisite for making a good company great? In short, in order to be a leading company, what leadership skills should you be seeking in the people you entrust to manage others?
By definition, managers manage. Of course, if managing was easy, everyone would be doing it. Experience tells us, however, that managing is anything but easy. Most successful managers spend years in a cycle of trial, error, and learning from their mistakes. Again and again.
Management and Leadership
These two simple words are often used interchangeably. For our purposes, we’ll use them like this: It takes a good leader to be able to manage well. Today’s business climate in which profits are razor-thin and companies cut costs whenever and wherever possible, business success, if not actual survival, demands managers to be strong leaders.
Strong leadership requires the management team to commit to developing, practicing, and measuring key leadership skills.
What are Leadership Skills?
Generally speaking, the term describes a set of characteristics, personality traits, competencies, knowledge, and abilities that determine if one is able to engage in a specific activity, carry out a specific task or perform a particular job. Leadership skills also include the ability to lead organizational change, communicate a vision for the future, and lead others to make that vision a reality.
Hiring a good leader takes more than simply hiring based on a resume. Education and work experience do not necessarily make a good leader. After all, couldn’t you be a lousy leader with education and experience?
The workforce isn’t always in one place. Telecommuters, freelance workers, temporary employees are all now part of the personnel mix of many enterprises. Feedback about your organization comes from within and without and, if transmitted via the internet, is disseminated far and wide, often before an organization even realizes it’s out there. Effectively managing mission critical tasks is perhaps more important than ever, if for no other reason than the cost of failure is not only high, it is often immediate.
Critical Leadership Skills
What then, are these critical, leadership skills that make a whole package? There are many, but here are perhaps the most important:
- Vision. Without this, nothing else matters. The ability to envision the best course of action, whether in response to a current challenge or when planning for the future, is the threshold across which any leader must cross in order to lead successfully.
- Communication. The ability to communicate a vision and turn it into a shared mission. The ability to competently and confidently convey a message in a way that everyone understands it, buys into it, and commits to it in order to make the vision a reality.
- Ego in Check. No matter how successful or competent a leader is, they must keep their ego in check. A leader seeks input and surrounds herself with smart people. Among the leadership skills that require the most patience is the confidence to hire or coach someone good enough to become your replacement.
- Trust. Leadership skills sometimes include the ability not to do something. Like micromanaging, for example. Trust others to do their jobs as you would want to be trusted. Empower them to be able to carry on as if you weren’t there.
- Confidence. Nothing undermines respect more than tentative decision making or judgment. Effective empowerment of others requires confidence. Lack of confidence is usually perceived as weakness and will likely be the death knell of belief in the vision/mission.
- Accept Change. Ability to accept change and champion its implementation easily and with minimal push back. This also includes the capacity to recognize opportunities that may require a complete change in direction to successfully pursue the vision.
- Energy and Enthusiasm. Even if you don’t feel like it. Remember, this is all about the fact that those you lead take their lead from you.
- Plan and Organize. Lack of either skill makes it difficult to credibly demand them of others.
- Integrity. This means honesty. Complete honesty. Full, fair and plain disclosure at all times. None of this has any meaning, of course, if one is unable to be honest with self (See 3. above).
- Listening. Seek input. Ask for opinions. Listen for better ideas.
- Respect. Your colleagues. Your superiors. Your internal and external customers. Your suppliers. Put another way, when presented with new information or an opposing point of view, remain open to the possibility that you may not know all that you need to or that you may even be (dare we say it?) wrong. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
This is not an exhaustive list. As we’ve mentioned, there are multiple resources that address additional leadership skills leading companies have in common. The bottom line is that an effective leader manages in a way that enables an enterprise to succeed. Be a great example!
I’d Love to Hear from You
If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!
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Great background material for a 5-7 minute Toastmaster’s speech.
Ron, all of what you indicated is right on but I would add two things: The first is, “Experience,” and the second one is “discipline.” What I mean by this is that you could have everything you indicated, but if you have never done what you are asking people to do it is very hard to get buy-in. It’s like a person with the title of “Sales Manager,” but they’ve never really been earned their stripes as a salesperson. Can they tell me what they read in a book? Sure. But that is very different than having DONE it and you must surely know these are two very different worlds. So let’s say this “Sales Manager,” who might really be confident, visionary, organized, and enthusiastic, tells me that to be successful in my role, I have to make 50 cold calls a week and have a minimum of 5 face-to-face meetings a month. I would respond very differently if I knew they had done this themselves to achieve success but if they’ve never had to do it themselves, I’m not inclined to believe they know what it takes to be successful selling services in my industry. Theory does not always translate into reality and I want to follow a leader who has been in the trenches, doing the real work they are asking of me. I also want to follow the lead of one who is disciplined. I can’t tell you how many enthusiastic, visionary listeners with great oration skills there are out there who don’t have the steadfast discipline, day in and day out to GET IT DONE. No one wants to follow someone who is all talk and no action. Leaders need to walk their talk and they need to do the work required to achieve the goal. Or I, for one, am not following.