The Skills Employers are Looking For Today
What are the top leadership skills sort after by employers? To make this assessment I need to reflect. In 2013, I wrote a chapter in the book “Emerging Trends in Leadership Strategy” entitled The Challenge of the Leadership Gap.
Why the ‘Leadership Gap’?
The reality is that strategy, the execution of strategy and the decisions associated with both functions have become much closer operationally than they were under a more traditional model of management. As strategy has become integral to a leadership / management role, two other things have happened:
1. The context in which strategy is developed has taken on a different shape and is far more complex than in previous times.
2. The responsibility for the execution of strategy has shifted.
Strategy is no longer simply about gathering data on products, customers and competitors. The wider context of the operating environment is now critical to strategic thinking. As well as thinking about industries, markets, competitors and customers, more global and less tangible considerations have become critical to organisational success and profitability. Considerations of the physical environment, political implications and impacts on communities and society more broadly are now just some of the essential elements of the context in which strategy is formulated today.
Furthermore, as middle management has disappeared and employees have begun to look for meaning in their work, the role of alignment between strategy formulation and the execution of strategy has become a shared responsibility of the senior management team (including the executive) and the rest of the employees in the organisation. As hierarchy has devolved, communication between organisational members – at all levels – has taken on far more complexity and far greater importance. This has led to what I called the ‘leadership gap’ (see figure below).
The (New) Top 10 Leadership Skills Employers Want and Need
Based on the ‘Leadership Gap’ and conversations with dozens of organisations across multiple industries, here is my assessment of the top 10 leadership skills needed (from the ‘outside-‘in’):
1. Eyes ‘Up & Out’
Good leaders have the ability to look outside their own organisation to understand trends in their industry and more broadly, society. They are then able to create a vision (a picture of the future) and mission (purpose) that best serves customers and supports building a strong organisation. Both vision and mission are important. As one of my clients put it (a Catholic-based not-for-profit)…
If there’s no money then there’s no mission!
2. Change Leadership
Leading change is complex because it encompasses virtually everything in our top 10. If leaders aren’t leading change in some shape or form, then they’re probably doing an excellent job managing the status quo. While managing ‘what-is’ is important in terms of producing high quality, reproducible results (think customer service), it is not the main game. True leadership involves mobilising people who are closest to the problem or opportunity and then supporting them to make the necessary changes.
3. ‘Network’ Savvy – Seeing the Whole
Many tasked with leadership are too focussed on what’s in front of them rather than being able to think in a ‘joined up’ way. Leaders need to be able to ‘see’ the whole system and understand how it operates in unison. Being savvy means being able to see how the human and mechanical systems (i.e. policies, processes, systems, and structure) work together to create a state of homeostasis – or no change. Being ‘network’ wise will become even more important. As someone once said….
Organisations are perfectly aligned to get the results they get.
4. Politically Savvy
Note that I said ‘politically savvy’, not ‘political’. There is a difference. Building on Leadership Skill 1 (Eyes Up and Out), being politically savvy means understanding the direction and depth of relationships, understanding people’s loyalties (e.g. people, history, ways of doing things, etc.) and finally, understanding the losses we’re asking people and teams to sustain as a result of our change or initiative (e.g. status, resources, money, stability, autonomy, being part of a tribe, etc.).
5. Leading Teams
In the future, teams will become even more important. Leaders will need to be able to quickly form a team, separate and re-form faster than ever before to work on discreet parcels of work. Leaders will need the know-how to create a climate of performance and health quickly. In a previous post, I talked about our Team Charter Canvass (below) as a guiding document to do this effectively.
6. Developing People
Developing people could be the most important skill needed for the future. Today, the bias is for action and task completion, rather than growing and developing people. Learning and people’s everyday role functions are still too separated. Leaders will need to think differently by providing learning opportunities at the same time as getting the job done. What would it look like if a minimum of 50% of everything employees did provided a genuine development opportunity? What would be the benefits over time?
7. Building Relationships
It might sound obvious, but the ability to build relationships across functions, silos and diverse interests and agendas can be tricky business. The best build a platform of credibility that comes from being able to achieve results while fostering positive relations. The qualities and skills needed to do this successfully include genuine care for others, empathy and warmth.
Trust is as old as time, but remains fundamental in shaping how we work, live and love. Effective leaders are able to build trust and be trustworthy. Nothing facilitates the speed of business like trust. Good leaders strike a balance between company and personal objectives by being open and transparent, but in the right amounts. It must make sense for the prevailing culture, mood and operating rhythm (e.g. sharing too much information that unnecessarily burden’s people for example).
Effective leaders have the capacity to bounce back from set-backs and challenges. While they’re not robots by any stretch of the imagination, they have developed personal strategies that move beyond mere survival. In a world where more people are prone to a sense of overwhelm, developing the skills of resilience, particularly a balanced approach to life is vital.
Self-mastery is a term that may not be commonly used in business, but it really separates average leaders from the best leaders. While we are tribal in nature as a species, this doesn’t mean we always get along with each other. Unfortunately, we all have egos – and it is our ego that gets in the way of effective leadership. Brenee Brown’s research and commentary on vulnerability is insightful. Brown suggests that in a culture of scarcity (that is, feeling we’re not smart enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, etc.), we constantly feel the need to prove to ourselves and others that we are in fact smart, competent, have it all together, etc.
So there you have it – my assessment of the Top 10 Leadership Skills that will best serve organisations now and in to the future. While each of these leader skills requires continuous attention, investment and support, the results for organisations and the communities they serve justifies the effort.
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