Let’s look at some of the common skills and attributes a leader should have. First of all, leaders should have the ability to impart information. This doesn’t seem very hard, but imagine how many leaders prefer to “sit” on information instead of disseminating it to the organization. A leader must have a natural ability to share, teach, and coach while imparting information. Leaders must have an innate understanding of “big picture” needs – he or she must be able to decide what is good for the organization as a whole and move forward. The way to ensure that people see the big picture is by imparting information as we’ve already discussed.
As a leader, you should also have the ability to set an example, either by word or deed – or both. Have you ever heard a leader use the phrase, “do as I say, not as I do”? This should never be in the vocabulary of a true leader. Leaders should be adept at problem solving.
This is a trait that tends to scare people, but remember that you don’t have to be a problem solver in all areas. Also, remember that problem solving could be the elaboration of a vision that solves a current problem. Leaders should be able to evaluate and analyze organizations, problems, solutions, and other people. Often this comes simply from experience – and from watching another leader do the same thing. These skills are not out of the ordinary skills – and we all have the potential to sharpen them.
In addition to skills, what actions should leaders take? First, leaders should establish a vision. Most of us have the ability to daydream, to think about the “what if’s” in every situation. Why not use this skill at the organizational level? Brainstorming a vision doesn’t have to yield a hit each time – you can start with highly imaginative visions and work your way down.
The point is, we all have the ability to envision the future – and we should use this ability every day. Leaders must motivate the organization and those around them. Motivation comes from encouragement, the toleration of failure, and the acknowledgment of jobs well done. Motivation is not a rare skill, either. You must practice it and create an environment that thrives on it. With motivation comes inspiration. When we think of someone who is inspirational, we may think about those super-great leaders like Churchill, but inspiration can come about through non-charismatic means. For example, if you are leading by example, let’s say as a technical innovator, then people will be inspired when they see your work. Simply by acknowledging others, you can create inspiration. Again, these are not difficult skills.
We’ve already talked about sharing knowledge as a leadership skill, but let’s look at it in another way. When you impart knowledge, you can take on the stance of a wise leader, someone who is willing to give advice and stand out of the way to watch things happen. Finally, leaders must champion their own vision. This means that you must believe in your vision, believe in the organization’s ability to achieve the vision, and constantly encourage people to keep going. All of these leadership actions are not extraordinary – but they do take a high level of self-awareness.
Self-awareness is one of the “hows” in leadership. But being self-aware is also not an extraordinary or unusual skill. To become self-aware, you should always focus on how others perceive you – and not on how you perceive yourself. You must be willing to accept criticism and work with it in order to turn it into something positive. What are some other ways to develop the skills and actions of a leader?
Open communication is a key factor. As a leader, you must communicate honestly with all levels of the organization – that’s usually the easy part of communication. But on the other hand, you must encourage open communication with you, which can be difficult. In fact, if you’re not willing to hear from others about the organization’s issues, your leadership will fail. It’s that simple.
Visibility is another way to develop your leadership potential. Be visible to your organization – some leaders seem to thrive in an ivory tower, having other members of the leadership team take care of the good and bad issues. To lead by example, to encourage communication, and to motivate, you must maintain your own visibility. Finally, you must create an environment that brings out the potential of others – through development. Always be willing to provide functional, supervisory, and leadership development to all levels of your organization. Development also lies in holding open forums or “town hall” meetings to be visible, answer questions, and ask questions of the organization.
So is leadership a rare skill? Absolutely not. We all have the potential to be leaders and some of us have the potential to be among the great leaders. The difference in being a leader and not being a leader is the amount of dedication we put into developing ourselves – and developing others. When you create a motivational, inspirational, and visionary environment, you are sharpening your own leadership skills. The best part is that you are also enabling the development of the skills and potential of others.
By John Vaughan