Leadership Skills: 6 Competencies You Can’t Lead Without
Don’t Lead A Team Until You’ve Learned These 6 Vital Leadership Skills
These leadership skills matter in every industry. Every culture. And, yep, at every level. That’s why they’re foundational to every one of our leadership development programs.
And you know what’s really interesting? They’re not standard in MBA programs.
In fact, we were recently brought in to teach these skills in an MBA orientation because (to quote the dean):
“It would take too long to get approval to incorporate these foundational leadership skills into our curriculum. And yet, we find that our students aren’t succeeding in their internships or first jobs because they’re missing these basic leadership competencies.”
We believe it.
It’s not uncommon for very experienced managers to leave our programs and say,
“It’s so simple and practical. And, I just wish I had learned this 20 years ago. I could have made a bigger impact and saved myself (and my team) a lot of frustration.”
What are the Most Important Leadership Skills to Master?
It’s impossible to learn every leadership skill you might need in any situation. But if you master these foundational leadership competencies, you’ll be off to an impressive start for whatever challenges come your way.
#1 Show Up with Confidence and Humility
To be a good leader at any level requires the delicate balance of showing up with both confidence and humility in every situation.
We call this “land in the AND.“
Confident, successful leaders have a powerful vision of what’s possible. They own their strengths and leverage them well. They’re also able to stand up for what matters and speak the truth.
Leaders with humility have an accurate self-image. They’re willing to be vulnerable. They invite people to challenge them. And, admit their mistakes.
Why it matters:
When you can show up with both confidence and humility, you build deeper trust and connection. Your team sees you as an influential leader worth following. People want to follow a confident leader who helps them stretch to accomplish more than they ever thought possible. But, they also want to work for a human being who has the humility to know they don’t have all the answers and are open to suggestions and learning more.
#2 Focus on Results and Relationships
Most of us have a natural bent toward results or relationships. But, great leaders know how to “land in the and” in this arena too.
Results-focused leaders set clear expectations. Have a solid plan to accomplish those expectations and hold people accountable for achieving them.
Relationship-focused leaders connect at a deep human level. Invest in developing their people, build on their strengths and recognize contributions, and foster collaboration up, down, and sideways.
Why it matters:
Focusing on results alone may improve outcomes for a time while, but also burn out employees, increase apathy, and kill morale. We’ve seen too many managers end up isolated, frustrated, and working harder just to keep results from getting worse because they’re caught in this vicious circle. With just a little more focus on relationships, though, you can inspire people to commit more deeply to their goals.
You might also know managers who focus exclusively on relationships, showing up with a positive attitude, creating caring and supportive environments but with little to no accountability for results. The A-players inevitably flee because the best talent want to work on a winning team, and if you don’t care enough to build one, they’ll find one somewhere else.
When you focus on results and relationships, you’ll achieve breakthrough results that last and boost your leadership skills.
#3 Mind the M.I.T. Most Important Thing
We’ve never met a manager who said, “you know, I just have too much time on my hands.” We call this dilemma, “infinite need, finite me.” The answer to the dilemma is to “Mind the MIT.”
Time management is a real challenge, even for the most successful leaders.
Great leaders who “Mind the MIT” focus their team on what matters most and paint a successful picture of what success looks like. And, equally importantly, translate this vision into tactical behaviors.
Why it matters:
When you can align your entire team around the most important strategic priorities with a shared vision of success, you lay the foundation for breakthrough results. And, by focusing on what’s most important you reduce that stressful feeling of overwhelm.
#4 Communicate Consistently (5 x 5 Communication)
When it comes to communication, great leaders work like the drummer of a band. You would never see a drummer kick off the cadence, set down the sticks, then sit back and watch the team play. They’re constantly keeping the beat for the team.
Good communication means consistently communicating what matters most and why. A cornerstone of our communication approach is 5 x 5 communication. Anything that is truly important should be communicated five times, five different ways.
Why it matters:
People have a lot going on, and it’s easy to get distracted. When you prioritize communication about what matters most, you cut through the noise and help your team accomplish their MIT.
#5 Check for Understanding
Of course, setting clear expectations about what matters most and communicating what’s important five times, five different ways is not enough. You need to check to ensure your team gets it.
A check for understanding is a simple check to see if your team is picking up what you’re putting down.
You want to check for understanding in two areas: actions and emotions.
Check for Understanding #1: Actions
The action-focused check for understanding ensures a mutually shared understanding of the activity. It looks like this:
“Let’s do a quick check for understanding—what’s the first thing we’re going to do as we leave this meeting?”
The idea is to have your team tell you what they think they’ve heard so everyone is confident that they understand what happens next.
Check for Understanding #2: Emotions
The emotion-focused check for understanding gives your team a chance to process what’s happening and surface any issues that might arise. It looks like this:
Leader: “Great meeting. I’m super excited about this strategy. Before we end, I’d like to ask, ‘How are you feeling?’”
Team member 1: “Well, I’m excited about it too, but I’m also worried about how we will do this considering our other priorities.”
Team member 2: “I’m feeling overwhelmed. These are wonderful ideas and I really want to do them, but I don’t know where to begin.”
If people have concerns like this, it’s better to know before they leave the meeting so you can help your team move through them, adjust expectations, or remove roadblocks.
#6 Schedule the Finish
Life is crazy and your team has more to do than time to do it. Their interruptions will get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen.
Successful leaders don’t leave the finish to chance or a heroic act of willpower.
That’s where “scheduling the finish” comes in. Scheduling the finish means you and your team don’t leave the completion of critical items to chance, good intentions, or willpower.
Rather, you schedule a mutual moment in time where you will follow up, follow through, and finish the task. This isn’t a vague intention—it’s an appointment on the calendars of everyone involved.
Why it matters:
Good intentions and talented people aren’t enough to make sure the most important priorities happen. Especially when your people have a thousand things hitting their windshield plus the challenges of home and social concerns.
Six Essential Leadership Skills Every Leader Must Master
Show up with confidence AND humility
Focus on results AND relationships
Mind the MIT
Communicate consistently (five times, five different ways)
Check for understanding
Schedule the finish
Remember, you can’t always choose what you show up to, but you can always choose how you show up.
An Example of these Leadership Skills in Use:
These essential leadership competencies work across any leadership situation you may encounter.
For example, if you have a tough conversation with an employee coming up? Ask yourself:
How do I show up with both confidence and humility? Confidence: Own your strengths that you can handle this conversation with poise. Stand up for what matters and speaking the truth. AND Humility: Invite dialogue.
Ask questions to understand their point of view. And really listen.
How can I reinforce the MIT? Communicate clearly (and follow-up in a different way) and Check for Understanding to ensure we’re all on the same page.
And of course, Schedule the Finish with a time to revisit the conversation again.
Looking for more ways to take your team’s leadership skills to the next level?
We can help.
Download a free chapter of our award-winning leadership book: Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul.