Senior leaders share the most important leadership skills to master now.
As we work with senior leaders to build their leadership development programs, the conversation always turns to the most important leadership skills their frontline and middle-level leaders need.
Inevitably, these veteran leaders bring up similar abilities – the skills that differentiate top leaders from their peers. Master these important leadership skills and you’ll build a foundation for success throughout your career.
If you’re responsible for training or building leaders in your organization, how can you ensure that they learn and practice these skills?
The 3 Most Important Leaders Skills
1. Time management
We’ve never met a leader with too much time on their hands. In fact, this is isn’t just a skill that senior leaders identify—every leader we’ve ever met talks about the challenge of prioritizing their overwhelming flood of responsibilities, meetings, and day-to-day crises.
You can’t lead when you’re exhausted or reactively flipping back and forth from one crisis to the next. So how do you master time management?
The first step is to reframe your goal. Most people think of time management as “How can I squeeze more activity into my day?” But more isn’t always the answer. Rather, focus on how you can do what matters most and make the most difference with the time you have.
My mantra is: Infinite need. Finite me. Mind the MIT.
“Infinite need” means that there will always be one more activity you could do. That never ends. You’ll never finish the list. Let go of that desire.
“Finite me” recognizes your limits—limited time, energy, and money.
“Mind the MIT” calls you to focus on what matters most. MIT stands for Most Important Thing. What matters most for your business, your team, and the results you need to achieve? What are the two or three critical activities that will consistently produce those results?
Once you know your MITs, time management is about making room for what matters most. Some of your schedule is outside of your control (though you can have more influence if you can show the RoI), but as a leader, you have several ways to free up time to do the work only you can do.
- Check for understanding to avoid wasted time.
- Schedule the finish to eliminate redundancy.
- Delegate so nothing falls through the cracks.
- Equip your team to solve problems on their own.
- Own the UGLY and find ‘what’s gotta go’ to eliminate less valuable activities.
- Practice direct and quick accountability.
2. Practice Accountability & Tough Conversations
Recently we spoke with a high performing leader about the best leaders in her life. She was unequivocal: “The best leaders I’ve ever had were the ones who cared about me enough to tell me what I was doing that wasn’t working and then showed me how I could be more effective.”
Your ability to achieve breakthrough results depends on your skill at tough conversations. Most leaders live in the twilight zone of vague conversations that don’t directly address struggling performers because they don’t want to hurt the relationship or lose the person.
If you struggle to have direct conversations, start by recognizing that if you really care about someone and their career, a direct conversation honors them and is compassionate. Then, equip yourself with the tools to do it well.
The I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method will help you prepare for and hold a performance conversation that builds your relationship and achieves results.
3. Work from the Why
In another recent conversation, an executive described her most effective managers: “They understand what matters most to our clients and how our KPIs relate to serving the customer. They get that the KPIs are there to serve the customer.”
This leadership skill has increased in prominence over the past decade. Work from the why starts with a clear grasp of your business, how it serves its customers, and how it operates financially.
Working from the why is about helping your team to understand why you do what you do, connecting everything you ask of your team to a meaningful reason you’re asking it, and then helping team members understand the specific behaviors that lead to successful outcomes.
Working from the why transforms “busy” into game-changing results. The connection to meaning and purpose energizes team members and inspires performance.
What are Your Most Important Leadership Skills?
Leaders consistently list these three as some of the most important leadership skills you can have—but they’re not the only ones we hear. Also, high on the list are communication, connection with your team, and motivating your team.
Leave us a comment and add your thoughts: What is one of the most important leadership skills you hope every leader brings to their team?