“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” —Warren G. Bennis, American scholar, organizational consultant, and author
Leadership is about inspiring others to work together toward a common goal. While it is true that some people have natural tendencies toward leadership traits, in my experience, great leaders hone and develop their skills over a lifetime. A true leader is never done learning.
Leadership development expands the capacity of an individual to effectively fill critical roles within any organization. Successful leadership development helps execute your agency’s mission by growing the capabilities of your people and aligning them with your organization’s strategy. I believe that a successful leadership development program encompasses these five areas of leader development: cultivating an understanding of the business, proactively dealing with change, growing strong technical skills, focusing on emotional intelligence, and unifying people through a consistent vision.
Below I describe why each of these areas is a critical stop on your leadership development program’s roadmap.
Know the business
If the purpose of leadership is influencing others to achieve a common goal, leaders must understand—inside and out—what that goal is. This includes having an intimate knowledge of the business. Strategic thinking, organizational performance, and financial acumen are pillars of strong business sense. Also, understanding the unique context in which your business operates is critical, including the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats your company faces.
Change is part of our new normal, and managing ongoing change is an important skill for any successful leader. Effective leaders learn how to read and navigate politics in the organization, as unpleasant as these dynamics can be. They understand the innate design of the organization from a systems perspective and how to pull different levers, as needed, to restructure that design. Finally, leaders must know the organization’s culture. Leaders who know the culture can help to influence attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors through change.
Be technically sound
For leaders who grew into their roles, functional capabilities may come easily to them. Others may prefer to outsource technical skills to others, thinking their role doesn’t require such specialized expertise. All leaders, however, must be sound executors, and the path toward execution requires technical savvy. Effective leaders understand diagnostic and support tools, project management practices, and analytical techniques. Although they may not be able to implement these tools and processes, good leaders know enough to guide their organization through execution and instill confidence.
Develop strong interpersonal attributes
Also known as “soft skills,” interpersonal skills can make or break a leader’s ability to get things done. These capabilities are the bread and butter of influence. Active listening, emotional intelligence, empathy, and effective communication are necessary for leaders to smartly convey important messages and develop healthy relationships throughout the organization. Building resilience is also key to reducing burnout and protecting mental health and well-being, both for leaders and their people.
Effective leaders help their people keep an eye on the prize. Inspiring vision is all about motivating people and creating an environment where collaboration, creative problem solving, and risk-taking are celebrated and rewarded. Additionally, good leaders know how to build high-performing teams that move the organization more efficiently toward a collective vision.
These five stops on the leadership development roadmap are critical for the development of any successful leader. On March 16, join me at Tidewater Community College to learn more about how to create a development program that helps leaders to cultivate business skills, manage change, become technically savvy, build strong interpersonal abilities, and present a unifying vision. Learn more about the program and other Brighter Strategies presentations here.