Everywhere you look, various leadership skills are constantly being prioritized and re-prioritized as we try to keep up with the emerging theories on people and team leadership. This can all get confusing if you’re not sure which framework you want to follow. Nevertheless, leadership and management skills can all be simplified into knowing and leading yourself.
Leading yourself starts with emotional intelligence which then drives strong people skills and an adept communication style. This is the start of a series of blogs on how to build those leadership skills into your business. After this introduction, we’ll deep dive into what those skills look like and how to train them. We’ll also review the fundamentals for driving performance and powerful thought processes that enable an optimal culture.
Leadership skills impact culture
“Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself”. As a former chairman and CEO of IBM in the 50s, Thomas Watson Senior was ahead of his time. Essentially, he saw that great leadership starts with leading yourself.
The concept of good leadership skills has gone through three waves according to the Journal of Applied Psychology. Essentially, leadership skills first focused on behavioral approaches around the 40s. As the workforce became more diverse, including more women, situational leadership emerged. Today, of course, all this still holds. Nevertheless, important leadership skills now also involve transformational leadership as well as the relationship between leaders and their followers.
Traditionally, leadership skills were just about charisma and intelligence to sway your followers. Today, top leadership qualities also involve behaviors and mindsets so that your followers see you as the role model that they want to stand behind. This is in contrast to being coerced through various punishments or external rewards. That’s where the challenge begins.
There is no magic answer or set of rules for the perfect blend of leadership skills because it depends on the group you’re trying to lead. Nevertheless, there is a core foundation when it comes to developing leadership skills that enable leaders to appreciate how they impact alignment and commitment. People want to reach consensus by being inspired and believing in something for the greater good through a strong sense of social identity. This sets the culture for how things are done and how people relate to each other.
There are 3 key leadership styles that create culture:
- Dependent – this approach focuses on people management skills that promote confidence and compliance with authority. Leaders tend to be hierarchical and transactional and will be good at driving results through accountability and clear direction.
- Independent – empathetic leadership starts to emerge in the independent workforce where people can discuss and agree on a direction. At play is mutual influence conducted by self-driven people who are motivated by the needs of the wider group.
- Interdependent – important leadership skills are needed for this approach where individual success is replaced by collaboration. Co-creation and co-learning are the fundamentals promoted by effective leadership that prioritize curiosity, empathy, and purpose.
Everything starts with emotional intelligence
The good news is that you can develop people management skills that enable an interdependent culture. As suggested, top leadership qualities come from strong emotional intelligence. The psychologist Daniel Goleman has done extensive research and published several books stating that what makes good leadership skills stand out is emotional intelligence.
Goleman’s research doesn’t mean that we should ignore technical skills and intelligence. Instead, he’s saying that they are not the primary force for great leadership skills. As Goleman discusses in his book, The Emotionally Intelligent Leader, if you want to make a difference and develop truly outstanding leadership skills, you need to focus on the learning that goes on in the limbic system. That’s where all our feelings and impulses are and that’s how you impact emotional intelligence. Not, as do most training programs, by focusing on the analytical and technical which sits in the neocortex area of the brain.
There’s no better way than working with a leadership coach to explore your feelings and impulses. A coach enables leaders to observe and, with practice, change their habits. They’ll have a mirror held up to them to show them how others see them and how they impact how people are motivated.
Developing leadership skills that stand out needs a tailored approach where each person can work with their own specific habits of the mind. With time and personal effort, they’ll then discover their own leadership style that capitalizes on their innate strengths.
What leadership skills can you expect with high emotional intelligence?
- Building relationships and coaching people. Effective leadership skills come from being able to find common ground with people and build rapport such that they believe in you and your vision.
- Effective and mindful communication. With empathetic leadership, people are sensitive to differences and are experts at being inclusive. They retain talent through leadership communication skills that talk to emotions and values.
- Thinking critically. Manager qualities are more than just tactical when leaders can see paradoxes and polarities. Leveraging these to drive performance means applying systems thinking such that all possibilities are explored and tensions are balanced. Through self-regulation, emotionally intelligent leaders are comfortable exploring such ambiguities whilst encouraging others to see change as a positive.
What drives the bottom line?
Naturally, we need driver KPIs to achieve results. Nevertheless, those driver KPIs only happen because people choose to implement them. We all instinctively know that there’s a big difference between simply being motivated by a paycheck or because of some inner passion and belief in what you’re doing. Generating that passion is what drives, not just the bottom line results, but also the top line to go beyond expectations.
Leadership and management skills are a set of habits that promote certain behaviors and motivations. Emotional intelligence is how leaders observe their habits and define new ones to create a culture that aligns their followers together. That’s why effective leadership qualities often list such traits as empathy or compassion, communication and listening as well as influence and curiosity. Nevertheless, if you have emotional intelligence, you’ll have the social skills, empathy, self-regulation, and self-awareness to know which trait to tap into at any given moment.
Let’s not forget motivation. What drives people to make it to the top? Many do it for their own purposes and to feed the ego. We’ve all met those leaders who seem addicted to power and enjoy asserting it. In contrast, the mindful leader who is both selfless and wise will more naturally align people to their vision. Such a leader would create an interdependent culture. They do this by role-modeling a passionate, curious and empathic system where everyone has a place to challenge and innovate.
Of course, leadership skills training should include other aspects such as communication, influencing, and cultivating innovation. In fact, the top 5 leadership skills are as follows, to be further defined and examined in the next set of blogs:
- Emotional intelligence
- Performance by focusing on execution, among other things
- Managing and understanding thought processes
Nevertheless, the building blocks are emotional intelligence and all of those skills will leverage some aspect of emotional intelligence.
What other related skills do you need to drive performance?
- Communication to align a committed community. Creating engaged and committed followers means forming a clear vision. That’s when effective leadership skills such as communication and influencing are vital. Then again, you also need the social skills to understand your followers’ mindsets and aspirations.
- Shared exploration that focuses on execution. Innovative companies don’t see team leadership as a pyramid but as clusters of working groups. We’ve all heard of agile teams. Regardless, the skill lies in enabling curiosity such that the right people want to and do get together to execute rather than just trying to follow a defined formula. Moreover, encouraging shared exploration starts with exploring ourselves.
- Agility to adapt. Manager qualities need to include taking initiative and ensuring accountability otherwise nothing would move forwards. The secret ingredient that mindful leaders bring is the ability to listen and to hold ambiguity whilst being open to changing their thoughts and behaviors.
Enabling great leadership in your organization
To develop effective leadership qualities that go beyond the transactional, and deliver a cohesive culture, you need tailored leadership skills training. You’ll need to focus on emotional intelligence, communication, people skills, and managing thought processes. Don’t forget the more tactical skills to drive performance such as focusing on execution of course. As mentioned, we’ll explore all of these in more detail in a series of blogs moving forwards.
Of course, it’s helpful to learn some leadership frameworks but the real difference lies in emotional intelligence. From there people don’t just enhance their leadership communication skills. They also tap into something much deeper and align people to something greater than any of us. Only then can we hope to provide mutually fulfilling and passionate work environments while making this world a slightly better place.