It’s easy to get complacent once you’ve reached the top. You’ve worked hard to get there and now you’re ready to guide others as they work toward achieving team and organizational goals. But here’s the thing. Change is constant – challenges, the work environment, people, goals, business needs – and unless you keep learning you will not be prepared to effectively respond to those changes.
So, what are the skills that are important to continue to develop?
If you look at the myriad lists of “top” skills and competencies for leaders (and there are many of them!) there are several skills that consistently bubble to the top: strategic thinking, effective communication, interpersonal skills, a desire to develop others. These are some of the traditional skills that make an effective leader. But there are some additional skills that have become increasingly important over the past few years as we look at a new way of working in the 21st century. Skills like emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and collaboration.
There was a time when “emotions” did not enter into workplace conversations, at least not in a positive way. Leaders managed actions, not emotions. Today, however, emotional intelligence, or EQ – the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions as well as those of others – is seen as perhaps the most essential skill to succeed as a leader.
One of the elements of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Leaders who are self-aware, who know their strengths and are willing to admit the areas where they need development, tend to have stronger, more trusting relationships with their teams and colleagues. Self-awareness means understanding your strengths, and also recognizing behaviors that may be working against you. In a previous blog, Your Personal Best Starts with Self-Awareness, I talked about how certain “triggers” in our environment may prevent us from performing at our best. Learning to identify and manage our response to those triggers helps us grow as leaders.
Another element of emotional intelligence is empathy. Although we’re not seeing it demonstrated much on the national stage, empathy has been called THE skill for the 21st Century.
Empathy is described as “the ability to understand, recognize and appreciate the way others are feeling, even if it is different from what you are feeling.” A more visual description is from the book To Kill A Mockingbird, when Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Learning to understand someone else’s point of view – to figure out “where they’re coming from” – has myriad benefits in the workplace and in life in general. It improves interpersonal relationships, teamwork, negotiations, collaboration, sales, customer service, even parenting! And the good news is, as I discussed in a previous blog, Empathy: An Essential Skill for Leaders, empathy can be learned!
Often when we talk about leadership and communication, the focus is on the leader as a provider of information – vision, goals, feedback, updates, solutions – and how frequently and forthrightly that information is provided. But communicating effectively as a leader is more than just giving information. It’s about listening to your employees and conveying that you heard and understood. It’s about ensuring that your tone and body language are in sync with your words.
Leaders who demonstrate to their employees and their teams that they listen – really listen – build trust, promote engagement and inspire loyalty. In a previous blog, Are You Listening? Really Listening? I gave some tips on how to be a better listener.
As I work with leaders in the executive coaching side of my business, my goal is to help them become the best leader they can be. And that always starts from a place of helping them develop self-awareness and promoting continuous learning.
Are you, or is someone in your organization looking to improve their effectiveness as a leader? Contact me for a free consultation to learn about the benefits of coaching.