Leadership as a key skill for the future

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We have all had experiences of good and bad leaders, and know how important their role is.  The fact that leadership skills are important or that one’s line manager is the leader we usually trust the most is nothing new.  But we now have statistics linking effective managers with high performing organisations. 

80% of managers in high-performing organisations are rated effective compared with only 39% of managers being rated effective in low-performing organisations

If the above statistics aren’t enough to convince you, then consider the added challenge over 2 million new leaders will be needed in the UK by 2017 (Evening Standard, 28th February).  Five years is not a long time to skill up new managers while also improving the skills of the current management population – research by Penna and CMI revealed that currently 43 percent of managers rate their own manager as ineffective.

So where are leaders falling short? The four main reasons mentioned in the above article were:

  1. Not setting clear direction
  2. Failing to manage conflict well
  3. Not providing development opportunities
  4. Not asking for feedback on own performance

The various skills needed are quite different from one another.  The expectation is that leaders need to link what their departments and teams are doing to the overall business strategy and set clear direction, so that everyone knows what they should be focusing on at the departmental or team level.  This is quite a different skill from conflict resolution, listening and identifying development opportunities.  However, unless you can deliver the experience employees are looking for, they are likely to be less committed to the organisation and leave which can be very disruptive and expensive to the business.

No one is naturally good at everything, but many of these skills can be learnt. Certain leaders are of course more charismatic than others, but even if leadership isn’t your natural strength you can learn to be better at it…and even the naturally brilliant leaders can always become even better.

So where do you start if you want to improve your leadership skills? The first thing is to understand your personal style and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.  For example, an extrovert leader is probably fantastic at working the room in an all-employee meeting but introvert leaders have been shown to be better at engaging the independent minds in the business. Once we understand what our style is, we can then learn how to adapt it to different situations. 

Another one is to listen to the people who work for you and try to understand what is important to them. Four areas were identified above as sources of poor leadership but different individuals have different motivators –  the only way to find out is to ask and listen.

Learning about different aspects of leadership and getting help in areas that aren’t one’s strength is also smart. Identifying systems and processes that make your work easier is valuable in supporting you as a leader, e.g. finding an approach that helps to set clear direction, identifying how to communicate that direction and how to engage people around it so that everyone is doing the right things.

Three simple steps to improving your leadership skills:

  1. Know your style
  2. Listen
  3. Identify helpful people, tools and processes

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