Most of us will have a variety of job positions during our career—at least we hope so. We don’t want to come in at an entry level and stay there our entire work life. We hope we learn enough and become valuable enough to get promoted and advance to new responsibilities.
No matter where you are now or wherever you will be in your company, there are basic core skills that everyone needs to be productive. They will help you get the job done where you are now and will get you noticed and considered for your promotion.
Admittedly, leaders at different levels of the organization face different challenges, and the way you address, emphasize, or what you need to learn about them will vary at each position. But these core skills must be mastered to lead well at any level.
The Center for Creative Leadership defines the core skills as Self-Awareness, Communication,
Influence, and Learning Agility. My leadership experience bears these out.
1. Self-Awareness. This is simply understanding your strengths and weaknesses, but getting there is NOT simple. Self-awareness is a critical leadership skill for ongoing and long-term effectiveness as a leader. You can’t lead others if you don’t really know and understand yourself. This can be the most challenging of the skills to develop, but it can also serve as a foundation for strengthening all your other leadership skills. Leader effectiveness is hindered or amplified based on how well leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they handle the interactions between them and others. Reading and studying around your emotional intelligence will help you.
2. Communication. Communication is one of the most basic, across-the-board leadership skills all of us need to continually develop and refine during our careers. Consistently, this ability to effectively relay information and ideas is rated vitally important for leadership success. Communication ability or inability bleeds into a number of other leadership skills and competencies, and affects various areas for success or failure, and cannot be overlooked.
Communication is not just verbally speaking with clarity and engagement. A leader must also write effectively and use active listening skills. The further you go in leadership, the more vital elements are added to your communication needs. Effective leaders encourage discussion, build trust, convey vision and strategic intent, and pull people along with them. That’s why communication is so important for leaders.
3. Influence. Developing your influencing skills helps communicate your vision or goals, align the efforts of others with those visions and goals, and build commitment from people at all levels to see the work be accomplished. Ultimately, influence is what positions you to get things done and produce the desired outcomes.
Influence varies across the levels in the organization. Who do you need to influence? Certainly, you must be able to influence your stakeholders. Each one has a special concern or issue, so you will want to be able to influence each in a way that matters to them. Do you need to influence your boss? Your peers? Direct reports? Customers? Various groups and individuals require different approaches for influencing. You either influence a person through a logical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a cooperative appeal. Each one of these is most effective at particular times and in particular ways. You will want to carefully consider your influence each time, and don’t try the “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Sometimes effective influence comes down to needing to work effectively with people over whom you have no authority. It requires being able to present logical and compelling arguments and engaging in give-and-take. The more senior-level or executive roles will need to focus on steering long-range objectives and providing inspiration and motivation.
4. Learning Agility. If you want to be a leader for the long haul, you must develop the skill of constantly being in learning mode, valuing and seeking out the lessons of experience from others. We need to be active learners, recognizing when new behaviors, leadership skills, or attitudes are needed, and accepting responsibility for developing them.
Learning agility means I learn from mistakes, ask insightful questions, and am open to feedback, even criticism. It includes learning a new skill quickly, taking advantage of opportunities to learn, and responding well to new situations. If you are a senior leader, learning agility is inspiring others to learn, and creating a culture of learning across the organization.
Each of these skills are ones to be continuously improved upon during your learning career.
If you skip any of the core leadership skills, you won’t be as effective or fully develop your leadership potential.
If you are willing and able to identify gaps or weaknesses in your leadership currently, you have the potential to learn, grow, and change. With self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility as the core of who you are, you can be confident that you’re building for new opportunities and more responsibility. That equals an effective leader who will always be relevant.