1. Strategist—Leaders shape the future.
2. Executor—Leaders make things happen.
3. Talent manager—Leaders engage today’s talent.
4. Human-capital developer—Leaders build the next generation.
5. Personal proficiency—Leaders invest in their own development.
Having a framework for the most essential leadership skills will help you avoid quick fixes and business-book fads. While the scope of leadership may seem overwhelming, these five golden rules provide much-needed focus.
Rule 1: Shape the future. Answer the question “Where are we going?” for the people you lead. You not only envision the future, but help create it. You need to figure out where the organization must go to succeed, while pragmatically testing ideas against current resources.
Rule 2: Make things happen. Leaders focus on the question, “How can we ensure we’ll reach our goals?” You must translate strategy into action. You’ll need to transform plans for change into measurable results by assigning accountability, knowing which decisions to manage and which to delegate, and ensuring that teams work together effectively.
This means keeping promises to multiple stakeholders. It also means ensuring that systems are in place for others to perform with the support they need.
Rule 3: Engage today’s talent. You’re in charge of optimizing teams’ performance. You must answer the question, “Who goes with us on our business journey?” You need to know how to identify, build and engage talent for immediate results.
How can you bring out the best in people? Do you know which skills are required and where to find talent in your organization? How can you best develop and engage people?
Rule 4: Build the next generation. You must answer the question, “Who stays and sustains the organization for the next generation?” Just as talent managers ensure shorter-term results through people, human-capital developers make sure the organization has the longer-term competencies and people required for future strategic success.
Rule 5: Invest in yourself. Leaders must model what they want others to master. Leading others ultimately begins with yourself. You cannot expect to influence followers unless you invest time and energy on your personal proficiency, individual strengths, self-awareness, and emotional and social intelligence.
A Review of Leadership Theories
Leadership has evolved from the military models of centuries ago to contemporary theories of scientific management, situational leadership, servant leadership and other widely discussed styles.
Here’s a look at some traditional leadership theories, based on the key questions journalists ask to uncover a story: who, what, when, where, why and how.
1. Who is a leader? The image of a tall man in a dark suit, impeccably groomed, comes to mind. He is authoritative, with a firm handshake, warm smile and steady gaze. For a long time, leaders were sought for their physical traits: height, gender, heritage, education and speaking style. This approach proved to be based on false assumptions, but such prejudices still exist in the C-suites. Today, it’s called executive presence. The criteria have changed (somewhat), but people are still influenced by looks.
2. How do leaders act? There are six distinct leadership styles, according to Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence:
- • Directive: Immediate compliance. Giving orders, or telling someone what to do.
- • Visionary: Providing long-term direction and vision for employees. Inspiring action through personal and professional vision.
- • Affiliative: Creating harmony among employees and between the manager and employees. Fostering a harmonious environment.
- • Participative: Building commitment among employees and generating new ideas. Collaborating to achieve a goal.
- • Pace-setting: Accomplishing tasks to high standards of excellence. Setting high standards that challenge the team to keep up.
- • Coaching: Long-term professional development of employees. Determining how to help people address their strengths and challenges. Creating a development plan to help them achieve their potential.
In general, these styles define a leader by how he or she behaves. Do you “take charge” or “take care”? Leaders exhibit a preferred style, but the effective ones can be both soft and hard; they’re flexible in switching between managing tasks and caring about people.
3. When and where do leaders focus on the person or task? This question relates to situational leadership. The appropriate leadership style depends on understanding situational context and specifics.
4. What do leaders know and do? What are the key leadership competencies? What core body of knowledge, skills and values define successful leaders? In this leadership model, the focus is on both the situation and the business strategy.
5. Why does leadership matter? Some leadership theorists have shifted away from competencies to focus on results. Leadership is about getting the right results in the right way. Leaders need to achieve a balanced scorecard of employee, customer, investor and organizational results to provide sustainable results.
Leaders are learners, and their classroom is everywhere. We learn from our mistakes, successes, books, coworkers, bosses, friends and life itself.
Leaders know what matters to them. They inspire loyalty and goodwill in others because they act with integrity and trust. They can be bold and courageous, while tolerating ambiguity, uncertainty and crises.
You are not solely defined by what you do or know. In fact, there’s a lot you don’t know about yourself because everyone has limited vision and blind spots. We err in thinking. We jump to conclusions. We have poor communication habits that could definitely improve.
Personal proficiency takes time, vigilance and help from others. If you’re not working with a mentor or executive coach, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to build proficiency.