When it comes to leadership, there are two big myths holding back many executives from bringing out the best of their own and their team’s capabilities.
The first myth is: “Leaders are born, not made.” But nothing could be further from the truth.
Leadership skills are not exclusive to certain personality traits.
The second myth is: “The more experience you have in leadership roles, the better your leadership skills will be.”
This is also just not true.
The truth about leadership is simple: Exemplary leaders are neither born nor made.
Exemplary leaders simply acquire and build upon three key leadership skills - each of which can be consciously learned with the right mindset.
In this article, I’ll share these skills and how you can continuously and systematically cultivate them, so you can lead a team that pushes forward with more more confidence, capability, and commitment.
Exemplary Leaders Are Exceptional Communicators
Effective leaders have the ability to take the wildest ideas and express them in a way that everyone can get on board with. And this isn't a superpower.
It's good, old-fashioned communication skills.
How can you improve your communication skills to be a more effective leader? The first thing to understand is that communication skills are not so much about how you can communicate information in a logical manner, but rather on how you connect and create an understanding with others.
There are four areas you want to be focusing if you want to cultivate these effective communication skills.
1) Emotional Intelligence: An Essential Leadership Soft Skill
When your company hits a crisis or finds itself in rapid growth scenarios, your team will turn to you — the leader. And they won't just look to you for direction, but stability and assurance too.
And of course they will. That's your job!
That’s why emotional intelligence is becoming an increasingly valuable skill for executive leaders to exercise in their companies.
Sharpening your emotional intelligence is key to becoming more emotionally awaren of other people’s feelings so you communicate better with them.
According to Christine Comaford, a world-leading leadership and culture coach, an emotionally intelligent or emotionally resilient leader is better equipped to communicate with their team, discover the root issues, and help them get unstuck and quickly adopt solutions.
John Wilson, CEO and Founder of CEO Global Network, even states that emotional intelligence is twice as important as IQ when it comes to leadership and finding solutions with clarity.
You can learn how to develop high emotional intelligence with patience, reflection, and EQ self-assessments to guide and track your progress.
2) Improve Listening Skills as A Leader & Deliver Feedback with Compassion
Truly effective leaders are able to deliver feedback without coming off as being uncaring or like they’re trying to micro-manage.
A few key attributes to giving effective feedback are listening empathetically and responding with compassion — both of which are linked to emotional intelligence. You can focus on improving your listening skills by practising the art of staying in the present, not interrupting others, and keeping an open mind before jumping to conclusions.
3) Handle High-Stakes Negotiation with Clarity & Grace
As a leader, you are likely to find yourself in high-stakes negotiation situations with investors, potential partners, key decision-makers, and more. To negotiate a win-win situation that leaves all parties feeling understood and satisfied, you’ll need to understand the theory and process of negotiation as well as your power in a negotiation. One of the best ways to do this and master the art and science of negotiations is through guided experiential learning.
4) Use Technology to Establish Communication Rhythms
One of the key components of the Scaling Up Methodology by Verne Harnish is establishing communication rhythms. Once you’ve set up your meeting rhythm, there are many digital tools you can use to schedule the meetings into your team’s calendars. This will make time-planning more effective and boost productivity.
Exemplary Leaders Need to Motivate & Inspire Their Teams
A leader who can sell the vision, build a culture of accountability with clear expectations, and boost team engagement is a leader who knows how to keep employees motivated and engaged.
Let’s dive into each area of this skill with a bit more detail.
1) Sell Your Own Employees On The Vision
When it comes to scaling up your company, it is critical to make sure everyone is aligned with an overall vision that motivates them. A team aligned to a vision creates numerous benefits including:
- Improved productivity
- Improved performance
- Improved communication
- Higher motivation and morale
- Lower rates of staff turnover
- Increased efficiency to achieve goals
- Ability to make key decisions faster
- Agility to adapt to a changing market
How do you align every employee in your team? This is where the BHAG — your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal — comes in.
Your BHAG is the long-term, 10 to 25-year goal, guided by your company’s core values and purpose and connected to your company’s underlying strategy. When all your employees know what the BHAG is, they will have more clarity of the company direction and the role they play to achieve the collective goal and impact. This is the primary fuel that keeps everyone in the team aligned, motivated, and engaged.
2) Create a Culture of Accountability with a Simple One-Pager
Imagine if your employees were not just aligned with your company’s BHAG, but they were also self-driven and self-motivated to create results and achieve the goals set. That’s exactly what your organization will be like when you create a culture of accountability.
A great tool to help you start creating a culture of accountability is the One-Page Vision Summary (OPVS). This tool ensures that everyone in your company knows exactly what their KPIs, priorities and focus are for the next 90 days.
Each team member can then post their personal Vision Summary up where they can see it easily, on a daily basis as a visual reminder of your strategic plan and their part in making it a reality. This is a very effective way to keep them self-motivated.
3) Boost Team Engagement
Employee engagement doesn’t happen by chance; it happens by design. A powerful recipe I recommend to boost team engagement is from Greg Lederman, who states that leaders simply need to know how to give people what they crave.
According to Lederman, what employees crave the most are respect, purpose, and relationship. No amount of incentives or bonuses will motivate and engage your employees if these three cravings are not met in the first place.
If you want to take this a step further, engage your team with learning and development opportunities. We're not living in a world where business can be conducted entirely online and employers have more and more access to competitive talent. Today's employees want to be given the tools and opportunities to stay competitive in their fields.
If you provide the talent development roadmap, you'll engage your people with exciting opportunities for growth and advancement.
Exemplary Leaders Are Good at Getting Things done
A motivated team that is aligned to a great strategy is still going to be limited if you haven’t nailed down execution.
Execution can actually be the biggest roadblock for leaders. Humans in general have a tendency to become distracted by the here and now. This makes it harder to focus on long-term strategy. If this tendency gets out of control, the team can plummet into an unhealthy firefighting mode that is driven more by reaction than vision.
Like a ship’s captain, exemplary leaders rely on specific systems and tools to continually course-correct and keep the company sailing towards its north star. Here are a few tools that have helped many leaders foster the traits which support effective execution.
1) Cut Out Distractions to Nurture Focus and Discipline
In the age of distraction, having focus and discipline is key to stay on track. How can you support your employees to stay focused on their priorities when they have so many projects on their plates?
I recommend turning to “Crazy Busy” by Ned Hallowell and “Indistractable” by Nir Eyal. Both resources are packed with practical solutions to fix distraction when it has become a symptom of sick company culture, prioritize what matters, and create a rhythm and pattern-planning to regain control over a hectic schedule.
In particular, Dr. Hallowell shows you how to strengthen our brakes and reduce having to live in what he calls the “F State:” Frantic, frenzied, frenetic, fearful, forgetful, frustrated and furious. Interestingly, many of the Rockefeller Habits will also naturally improve your “F State” brakes.
2) Ensure Consistent Quality of Execution From Your Talent
You can lead your team to achieve a consistent quality of execution by helping them get into the magic of “flow”. For this, I recommend the strategies outlined in “2 Second Lean” by Paul Akers and “Implementation Hacks” by Noah St. John.
The former shows you a fundamentally new way to rapidly adopt lean thinking to create a productive culture, while the latter gives you a framework to squash the productivity killers that are causing negative consequences in your organization.
3) Facilitate Effective Meetings
Earlier, we touched upon the importance of establishing communication rhythms. Once those rhythms are set, how can you execute these meetings effectively without wasting people’s time?
Verne Harnish has written a guideline on how to run the different types of meetings recommended in his Rockefeller Habits checklist:
- How to masterfully execute the daily huddle >>
- How to execute your weekly meetings like a pro >>
- What you must (and NEVER) do during strategy meetings >>
4) Delegate Effectively
Earlier, I touched upon how to use the OPVS to create a culture of accountability. Next, I recommend using two other tools that follow from the OPVS foundation, namely the Function Accountability Chart (FACe) and the Process Accountability Chart (PACe).
These tools, which are part of the Rockefeller Habits, help you to delegate effectively by giving you an overall snapshot of who is focused on which priority, and who is accountable for each part of the process. This doesn’t just ensure that you have the right people working on the right tasks but also minimizes drama which can arise from misunderstanding or miscommunication.
5) Manage Cash Flow
Exemplary leaders know how to understand their company's health through its cash flow cycle. Let’s face it, when it comes to running a business, cash is king. You can’t really execute effectively if you don’t know how to manage the funds behind the execution.
When you have the foundational understanding of the cash flow cycle, you are better equipped to generate and manage your cash flow for scaling up. This is where the Cash Acceleration Strategies (CASh) tool comes in.
This tool helps you break down your Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC) into four components, and then brainstorm ways to increase cash flow.
We’ve had many clients double their operating cash flow immediately after working through this tool. It’s also a great exercise to do with middle managers, to strengthen their understanding of how cash flows through the organization and to illustrate how everyone can make a positive contribution to improving the CCC.
A Growth Mindset Builds a Great Leader
In summary, the three essential skills every team leader needs to develop enable them to communicate effectively, motivate and inspire their people, and execute on deliverables to the best of their ability.
If you want to sharpen these skills you must first adopt a growth mindset that drives you to continuously get better and better, as well as lead you team to do the same.
With consistent effort and a mind that’s open to learning, anyone can develop these skills to become an exemplary leader in the modern world.
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