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Daily Leadership Thought #172 – Leadership Is A Learned Skill

July 13, 2011

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Leadership may come naturally for a small few, but for most of us it takes hard work.

We often read books and articles about natural born leaders.  They come across as people who easily fit into the role of leader and have the inherent traits and characteristics necessary to get the job done well.  It makes you think that some people are just born to be leaders.  While this may be true, my experience is that even people who are naturally gifted must work at being an effective leader.   In fact, some of the best leaders I’ve met didn’t have their role come easily to them.  Instead, there were some formative learning experiences along the way that taught them tough lessons and pushed them to grow beyond their comfort zone.

Leadership is a skill, and it must be learned and honed accordingly.  You cannot just fall back on your instincts, good looks, or charm.   Yesterday’s knowledge often won’t solve tomorrow’s problems.  You don’t need to be an expert in all areas, but you must have a decent level of competency in those that are most important.   Leaders are usually generalists not subject matter experts.  The following skill sets are critical if you want to be an effective leader:

  • Industry Knowledge – This is self-explanatory and should be a no brainer.
  • Communication – You don’t need the talent and range of an actor, but you must be able to communicate clearly and modulate your style and approach to reach different audiences.  You also must know how to truly listen to what the other person is saying.
  • Conflict Management – Good leaders understand the importance of constructive conflict. They foster a culture that allows for disagreement but are skilled enough to know how to rein it in and keep it professional.
  • Time ManagementYou either use your time well or you don’t and never forget that time is your most precious commodity.
  • Coaching/Mentoring – You are only ever as good as the performance of your direct reports, and they need your advice and counsel to be successful
  • Team BuildingAll great companies are built on the backs of great teams.  Individuals are much more effective and powerful when they are coordinated with one another and are operating in an environment that fosters mutual support and collaboration.
  • Financial Acumen – In business, your model works, and you get the numbers right or you don’t – it’s that simple.
  • Strategic Thinking – Leaders steer the ship in the right direction and have an informed sense of the future.
  • Business DevelopmentYou must know how to position and sell your products/services well to thrive in a competitive marketplace.
  • Operational Efficiency and Effectiveness – Systems and processes need to work properly for the organization to deliver on its customer promises.
  • Strategic Partnering and Collaboration – The whole nature of business is changing in terms of how you view competition and market dynamics. It’s all about leverage and you need to know how to structure and align your competencies and advantages with other companies, sometimes even competitors

I advise my clients to think of themselves as always being in pursuit of an Executive MBA where the teaching never ends, and they never fully achieve the degree.   The history of business is littered with the failures of innately gifted and talented leaders who never realized their full potential because they were slow to change, didn’t work hard enough at getting smarter, couldn’t think their way out of a problem, or thought they had all the answers.