Vast amounts of information are available pertaining to the definition and components of leadership. It is a complex topic, based on the challenges of human behavior; that varying, uncontrollable and often mysterious element that makes leading far more than following guidelines.
Great leaders know that there are crucial skillsets to be mastered early in their career, and others that take time and experience to enhance. Knowing just the theory isn’t enough to be successful. Leadership success relies on a blend of perspectives and skills, all aimed at bringing out the best in everyone.
Leaders benefit by first acquiring a high-level understanding of what effective leadership is, and what it isn’t. There are many ideas on leading that need to be “un-learned” and replaced.
The Meaning of Leadership
Many people embark on the leadership path with an unfortunate mindset about leadership. Historic self-serving mindsets have contributed to the high degree of employee dissatisfaction and disengagement today. Some experts argue that this trend hasn’t changed much in several generations.
A majority of leaders don’t receive leadership training, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey. Many years of data reveal the flaws in traditional leadership thinking. Employees have long indicated what leader character traits engage or compel, and which alienate and cause them to leave.
Contrary to old-school thinking, leadership does not succeed when leaders focus on “what’s in it for me”. Leadership prospers only when it aims to benefit the organization; the people they lead. This bashes the notion that leadership is about the four Ps: Power, Prestige, Perks and Privileges.
True leadership is not about titles, seniority, authority or compensation packages. It’s not about promotions, accolades or being admired. These self-centered behaviors alienate employees and cause multiple dysfunctions throughout the organization.
Leadership author and speaker Kevin Kruse defines leadership as, “a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a goal.” To put it simply, leadership is the ability to compel people to follow a vision. Leaders employ skills to unify people and guide them along a plan that offers a prosperous future.
Most experts regard leading as the ability to deal with people, visions and ideas, while managing is the ability to coordinate things or tasks. It is widely accepted that effective leadership requires a blend of the following skills:
- Leadership skills
- Management skills
- People skills
Fundamental leadership skills are necessary to direct an organization and ensure its future. Leaders are the vision setters. They assess the business climate, see opportunities and chart the course. Leaders analyze trends, capabilities, resources, competition and markets. Making sense of all this input and fashioning it into an achievable plan is at the heart of leadership skills.
Skillful leaders create a diverse, yet cohesive leadership group of individuals who can collaborate and synergistically refine the vision. Once a vision is agreed upon, the leader engages the entire organization. Part of the skills of leadership is selling the vision to the staff.
A leader who sells a vision understands the needs of all stakeholders, from employees to board members. Ideally, the vision points the way to security and offers direction, affirmation and prosperity.
Selling a vision requires corporate communication skills that stir passion and inspiration in others. Skillful leaders tap imaginations, trigger feelings and link to benefits. It takes skill to properly deliver a message that conveys this.
A vision released for implementation requires significant planning and coordinating. These management skills are used by leaders to take the vision to the next phase: action. During implementation, leaders continue to employ their leadership skills of inspiration and selling, but they now share the stage with management skills.
Managing a vision project gets into the finer details, where action plans, schedules and goals are needed. Specific skills are required to coordinate the many facets of a vision project. Delegation is required to cover all the bases. Many things need monitoring including deadlines, budgets, manpower and the problems that spring up.
Problem-solving is a valuable management skill and can keep a project on track. Issues continue throughout a vision-implementing journey, requiring a leader skillful with mitigation. This includes the wisdom to bring in the appropriate resources.
Another management skill that makes vision implementation successful is the ability to assess progress. This requires perspective, strong analysis skills and insight. Leaders with great management skills know how to make adjustments and keep their staff at peak performance, without losing interest or motivation.
Undergoing significant change while implementing a vision can sidetrack an organization from its everyday course of business. Leaders with strong management skills recognize this and account for it. They keep their hands on both steering wheels to ensure normal tasks are completed and customers are happy.
The most important set of skills successful leaders balance with their leadership and management skills are people skills, or soft skills. “Soft” in this context doesn’t mean weak or vulnerable, but simply refers to a departure from the quantifiable, formulaic or repeatable nature of the facts and figures in leadership or management issues.
People skills deal with the variable, emotional and uncertain aspects of human nature. They require caring about people with a personable approach. A leader’s character and personality play an important role in the effectiveness of their people skills. Those who have great people skills have a loyal following with employees who perform at their best.
Prominent speaker and author Tony Robbins professes that the current difficulties with employee dissatisfaction are heavily impacted by the lack of people skills at the leadership level. Leaders who regard people skills as unnecessary or unimportant handicap their careers and the performance of their organizations.
Leaders with good soft skills have a personable way of engaging people. This begins with a focus on helping others, getting to know them and attempting to meet their needs. In response, people are drawn in and extend trust and loyalty. People skills include respectfulness, positivity and fairness. Traits that overlap this leadership-skill category are integrity and setting the example of morality in the organization. A leader’s behavior and mindset establish a culture that drives the personality of the company.
Personal communication skills help a leader connect with people as they actively listen, follow through on commitments and offer encouragement. A leader who is transparent, accountable and open to feedback earns significant trust. This is the kind of leader most people dream of having.
Leaders who balance the three primary skillsets have the most well-rounded and successful leadership careers. They lead people who pull together, go above and beyond and prosper, both individually and corporately.