I’ve been trying to learn to lead for decades (I still am) – and I’ve been trying to help other leaders grow for almost as long. One of my mistakes early in my career was a myopic focus on the skills of leadership to the exclusion of my character as a leader. Today, I understand the importance of both.
As I wrote in The Heart of Leadership, few leaders fail for lack of skills; when they struggle, it is most often due to issues of the heart. However, don’t underestimate the importance of skills. Both skills and character are required for leaders to excel. I have three suggestions for every leader regarding skills…
1. Ensure clarity on the skills you must possess –You must be crystal clear on the skills you need to do your job with excellence. Some of these will be generic leadership competencies. Ken Blanchard and I wrote about these in The Secret. Beyond foundational leadership skills, virtually every role has some subject matter expertise required for success. You must know what is required before you can develop in those areas. If this is a mystery to you, your influence will always be in jeopardy.
2. Pursue candid and on-going feedback – Once you know the skills required, you must have an honest assessment of your current reality. This can come in many forms: A supervisor, peers, a spouse (although he or she will rarely be objective), a 360 survey, coaches, mentors, accountability partners, customer surveys, etc. Get feedback any way you can. The best answer is probably a combination of formal and informal feedback. We’ve just instituted a formal feedback system in our organization – that’s progress. However, it will not replace my efforts to collect on-going feedback. A problem well-defined is half solved.
3. Create focused development plans – After you know where you stand on the skills you need to succeed, the ball is in your court – the rest is execution. My advice is two-fold: First, close any critical gaps. If you are struggling to cast vision or build your team, don’t focus your plans on items you excel at already. I’ve done this! It’s much more fun and fulfilling, short-term, to lean into our strengths. That’s a lousy strategy for your development. Close critical gaps first! Then, work diligently to develop your strengths.