The Ultimate Guide to Leadership Skills: 5 Skills That Strengthen the Bottom Line
Leadership has taken some bad hits in the last few years. High profiles leaders are here today, gone tomorrow. Initially, holding promise, they disappoint and disappear.
Fiscal havoc, caused by self-serving executives with tunnel vision affects us all. Economics, like sex, covers a broad range of behaviors and is basic to human desires. Often the two get mixed and muddied and now there is a movement to stand for a new type of ethics in the economics of the workplace. Every day we see the emotions of economics being played out in boardrooms, courtrooms and bedrooms.
According to a study done by LinkedIn, 27 percent of North American businesses are going to spend more on internal learning programs in 2017. Specifically, the research showed that the subjects both small and large companies most want to focus on are 1) management and leadership skills, 2) technical skills and 3) career development. – The Leadership Development Trends in 2018 by Melissa Lamson
Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s devils. Business leaders and political leaders — we don’t really believe them when we read their lips. The question of ours is “where have all the leaders gone?” Today we get the promise, tomorrow the breach.
Take a moment. Consider leaders who have made a difference in your own life. Take a broad look — history, celebrity, family, community. Can you count a dozen, nine, four? When I have asked this question around the world, most people hold up the fingers of one hand, often with a few fingers left to spare.
I’ve observed the same few well-known names, constantly recycled with a sprinkling of personal heroes from family or beloved teachers. So, I decided to spend time looking at commonalities, themes of impact, long-term patterns, longevity.
I asked questions. What traits connect these leaders? What strategies are their most important? What makes them stand out in a crowd? How is power used? How is conflict resolved? How do the ends justify the means? How would they behave together on a desert island? What behaviors are the ones for you and I to model?
Leadership at the crossroad.
Leadership is at a crossroad. The old military model doesn’t work anymore and the new methods are just starting to come into focus. We are the generation of the in-between. The good in this is that we can help invent and reinvent what is needed for leadership skills moving forward.
Gallup data reveal an unsettling pattern in the U.S. workplace. Employees have little belief in their company’s leadership. We have found that just:
- 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.
- 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.
• 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.(Gallup)
One thing I know, charisma is not enough. Often yesterday’s easy answers become today’s platitudes. Leadership styles are clashing. Polarization and hierarchy are in a facedown with globalization and consensus.
Do you yearn for clarity? Do you wish there were simple and direct answers on who would be the right ones to follow? What are the new rules? Who can you trust?
The past decades of excess are now being scrutinized. The rich and famous in all walks of life are being toppled. The icons of the past few decades are now on the ‘corrupt list’ for how they used power, money, and sex to get their way. The #metoo movement is forcing an adjustment to the system. Change is in the air.
The bottom line world of red ink and black is (always was) cloudy. Accounting and statistics can lie. We know, as more information about neuropsychology becomes available, that emotions and behavior patterns determine the perceptions through which spreadsheets, statistics and stock values are analyzed. Guess we’re finally realizing, you can’t think without feeling. No matter how hard we want to compartmentalize, emotions push their way to couple with logic.
Three of the best books that fuse emotions and economics are:
- Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
- Judgment in Managerial Decision Making by Max Bazerman.
- Added bonus, please read, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
It’s time to reevaluate the rational and emotional aspects of the leadership convergence. There is now more bandwidth, a broader perspective, to talk about the leadership skills that will sustain and help leaders develop more effective strategies. It’s time to have long lasting strategies that go beyond the quarterly report for impact that is positive and sustainable.
Today’s important leadership questions.
- How much leadership capacity is inborn?
- How much is learned?
- What role does family background play in developing leaders?
- How important is the prevailing philosophy of a given culture?
- What impact do personal crises have on a leader’s ability to make decisions?
- When should leadership training begin and what should be taught?
I began a series of challenging dialogues, spoke with hundreds of leaders and emerging leaders, about the key leadership skills that need to be addressed at this time in history.
I considered how leaders who are revered and those who are reviled make bottom line decisions. I looked at how personal values impact economic choices. I had discussions with individuals from the United States, South America, Canada, Europe, and Asia. I took cultural as well as individual differences into consideration.
Then I had an idea.
I decided to separate the specific skills of remarkable leaders and set them against those used by leaders who crash and burn. I wanted to see if I could come up with a cluster of behaviors and skills that can be taught, practiced, and mastered.
My core idea focused on the construct that while people’s minds cannot be changed easily, they can be awakened. In my work I found 5 interlocking skills that remarkable leaders have in common.
I chose these as a foundation for all leaders to use, be they in the public or private sector, entrepreneur or corporate executive.The skills I came up with address communication, which includes character and confidence that I discuss in detail in my upcoming leadership webinar. I also consider the four other vital areas: orchestration, conflict resolution, diversity engagement, and motivation.
These skills are essential for all life areas, they work as well in families as in business. If used properly, they have the capacity to help you make wiser economic decisions. These 5 skills impact health, wealth, and the legacy you leave for the future.
Leadership Skills: 5 Roles That Strengthen the Bottom Line
The 5 skills to follow are linked together to create a total leader. In my lexicon, a total leader is one who has the ability to focus on wholeness, on creating connections and seek sustainable results. Total leaders base their economic principles on fiscal thinking that includes the triple bottom line of people, planet, profits.
These 5 leadership skills are game changers.
They cannot merely be practiced as you would a golf swing. They are mindset changes you practice by observing yourself differently, especially your reaction patterns and the way you have ordered your world. You spend time addressing what triggers you to upset, what makes you soar to new heights of creativity, what really makes a difference. These skills take time and dedication to master. They’re worth the investment for the underlying transformation that will make your life more complete.
The 5 leadership skills are complementary.
Some will come easily to you — others will require more attention. Together they create a platform from which your leadership abilities can impact and transform, not just you personally, also those with whom you share the journey of work and those with whom you share the journey of home.
Skill #1: The orchestrator
The 5 skills of remarkable leaders begin with The Orchestrator. This is the leader who strategizes to achieve a desired overall effect. This is one of the most commonly discussed, more misunderstood, most vital action components of leadership.
The Orchestrator considers the purpose, the form and the flow of what needs to be done. Like any first-class conductor, all parts are considered and it is the context rather than just content that is key to successful long-term strategies.
The Orchestrator is a searcher for those patterns that connect. Much like Sherlock Holmes, The Orchestrator is a detective probing for deeper meaning, looking beneath the obvious. If the Captain of the Titanic, upon seeing the tip of the iceberg had only asked “What, if anything is underneath the surface of the ocean,” the consequences could have been incredibly different.
Freud asked, Jung asked. They opened us to a world of mystery and curiosity, a world of inner space as vast and important as the world of outer space, a world that exists under the glass floor of the obvious.
Today there are business conductors like Mary Barra of General Motors, Elon Musk of Tesla, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Ginni Rometty of IBM, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, leading us to new possibilities for our collective future.
A key skill for leaders as Orchestrators is to help others learn to think for themselves, to point the way, to be an educator. A manager tells, a leader asks.
Orchestra leaders go beyond political correctness and point to the future even if it’s controversial or uncomfortable. The more difficult questions are often the ones that open the floodgates to innovation and smarter strategies. They are not, however, meant to divide and conquer, those days are wasteful and cause useless disruption. Rather the conductor of positive strategy helps people see more effective ways of collaborating and creating for the long-term good of generations into the future.
Remember the fairy tale about King Midas?
He was the big honcho, the orchestrator. However, he was flawed, like so many who are being called upon to look at the consequences of their actions in present time.
Midas wanted riches. He got his wishes. Everything he touched turned to gold. Initially, he was plenty happy — strong investment portfolio, feared by other kingdoms. He was large and in charge. Yet, when the beautiful little princess ran toward him calling out “Daddy, Daddy” and touched him before he could stop her, a loving relationship became frozen into gold.
The desire for the unlimited King Midas style of wealth at the expense of relationships is often called lawsuits, divorce, prison, or alienation. This type of greed has an economic effect felt for years.
How many present day King Midas’ can you count? What destruction have they caused to family, employees, stockholders or others they never even met?
The hardest part of being an Orchestrator is thinking through how the system you are leading is connected at so many points. Understanding systems thinking is critical to increase your organization’s chance to survive and thrive in these times of constant change.
Peter Drucker, one of the deans of business thinkers, states that “the post industrial society is based upon knowledge, information, and ideas. The visionary (orchestrator) plays a key role, for it is in the wondering of “what if” that the new is synthesized from the old.”
Skill #2: The Communicator
The next leadership skill that is vital for strong leaders is the Communicator.
The ability to express humor, compassion and commitment are core to the skill of communicating effectively. Skilled communicators uplift, encourage and hold the space for outmoded patterns of conversing to die, giving room for more useful ways of interacting to be born.
Often the skilled communicator works by indirection, talking about someone else or using a story from ages past that is directly pertinent to you in the present moment. Often, the quality of the presentation is so sublime, you don’t even realize you are being asked to rethink what is happening in your work setting. The skilled communicator will use a personal story or something from literature or film to make a point.
Lin Manuel Miranda is a great example of the communicator.
In his Broadway success, Hamilton: An American Musical, he lights up the stage with the history of how the United States was born into a modern day rap story. Using hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop music, soul music, and traditional style show tunes he tackles all 5 skills needed for leadership: Orchestration, communication, conflict resolution, diversity, and the ability to motivate.
High-level communication skills require time to be spent to craft sentences that will encourage and enhance relationships. Here, the big question comes into focus: Who do you want to persuade and what do you want as an outcome from your communication?
“To be an effective coach, most managers need to adjust the content of their conversations, as well as their approach to employee communication. Gone are the days in which most managers tell employees what to do and how to do it without much of a response. Instead, great managers rely on two-way conversations and collaboration to set expectations and goals.”(Gallup)
A skilled communicator takes people to places they would not ordinarily go by themselves.
They use language and presence to help others catch the dream. What separates this skill from just great presenters, just great jokesters, just great storytellers is the intention and the capacity, to tell the truth.
There is an important aspect of communication that is aligned with discipline. Truth-telling is a disciplined art form. Please remember, telling the truth is NOT the same a spilling your guts!
Did you ever hear one of Hitler’s speeches? You don’t have to understand German to get the feeling tone of the power of persuasion, the power to hate. Martin Luther King, on the other hand, could move huge gatherings to think about and take action toward a world free from racism. Two sides of the same persuasion coin.
On the world stage, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, among others were clear and powerful communicators. Their common themes addressed the ‘better angels of our nature,’ the human desire for freedom and equality.
Compare this to the communicators whose dark visions caused devastation. Stalin, Sadam Hussein and now, Bashar al-Assad who built empires of wealth and fame only to be extinguished in bursts of pain and shame.
What can happen in a world of work if more leaders spend their time crafting their communication to uplift people rather than tear them down or cause the rifts that lead to the fear and violence that makes humans constrict and hide behind walls?
Skill #3: The Conflict Resolver
When you think of someone with the skill to resolve conflict think electrician, think architect, think weaver. Those who can find the “pearls in the manure pile” are those able to see the patterns that connect people to each other, people to ideas, people to places.
Conflict resolvers can see, hear, and feel how today’s adversities grew out of yesterday’s disappointments and how tomorrow’s successes will come from today’s conflict resolution.
This skill requires the ability to live with complexities, in a multi-layered world past simplicities and supericialties. This requires you to become a cross-pollinator, You learn to take from the worlds of business, art, psychology, spiritual traditions and explore the trends — the threads of how the old fits into what is developing and is new.
“Most employment matters don’t end up in court, but for those that do, the damages can be substantial. The median judgment is approximately $200,000, which is in addition to the cost of defense. About 25% of cases result in a judgment of $500,000 or more. (Hiscox)”
The skill of being a conflict resolver will, in the future, be called a synthesizer.
Chris Anderson, Chairman of the TED conferences who hosts a myriad of divergent thinkers, put it wisely, “True innovators and strategic value are going to be found more and more in the synthesizers — the people who draw together stuff from multiple fields and use that to create an understanding of what a company should do.”
Pavarotti, an icon of the opera world helped develop a series of concerts called “War Child” to raise money for kids suffering from the abuses of living in war-torn countries. This is a synergistic blend of talents that show the healing force of music.
It would have been so easy for Pavarotti, with his classical skills and years of experience, to see himself way above a recently anointed pop star. Yet, there he was singing rock or country western with a plethora of multi-generational, multi-cultured individuals, as he wove together a tapestry of goodwill. Conflict resolvers are known to be inclusive, not exclusive.
The conflict resolver requires a shift in mindset that is often radical in nature.
Often, to resolve conflict you must give up long held beliefs and leave the prescribed path to begin an unexpected journey in a new way.
Frequently, I work with people who stay strong in their desire to win any discussion. Everything is a debate. Somehow, I have to help them see they are stuck. Stuck with the proposition that it’s better to be right than happy.
Joseph Campbell, in his book Hero of a Thousand Faces, explains the role of the Conflict Resolver. Usually, life goes on in a relatively comfortable way and then suddenly, someone says something that gets your goat. ( Just a point of interest, the expression ‘got your goat’ means to anger or upset someone — throwing someone off his game. The phrase originated at a time when goats were used as companions to calm high-strung racehorses).
These circumstances require a strong, even heroic intervention. It’s a time to speak out and not choose sides. It’s a time to see what can be done to offer a salve for the slings and arrows being flung around.
That’s what Ken did. He was already a highly successful entrepreneur. He sold his company for a large profit and was ready for fun in the sun. And then someone said something and ‘got his goat.’
He was no longer willing to let the community he lived in fight about gay rights with all the ugly and nasty comments and signs everywhere he looked.
Knowing since childhood he was gay, yet coming from a strict family in a community that has little appreciation for difference, he had remained silent. When he finally, after selling his business, said the truth he entered a world of alienation.
Now, divorced with two teenage daughters he decided that he would not shy away from conflict, he would engage. Using the skills he had honed from his days as a leader in a powerful company, he took on the naysayers on both sides of the equation.
He developed a program to help people learn new ways of coping with the anger and the fear of compromise, of being seen as weak or wrong. He developed study guides to look at the triggers of conflict that come early in life when youngsters learn to become bullies or avoiders or deniers.
He shared his story at a community meeting and talked about his first hand knowledge of how the waste of energy often is translated into economic waste. While there are still those who want to beat others down, there has been a shift in the community and more people are joining his group to look at alternative ways to handle the triggers of anger. This is a great step to a better community future.
Skill #4: The Diversity Engager
What comes to your mind when you think about diversity in the workplace?
Most of us consider, gender, race, cultural background, age, and disabilities. Yet, there is so much more to think about, and it starts with you.
There are different learning styles that can cause conflict. Some people need to steep themselves in details while other just grab what comes along to make decisions. Concrete learners often clash with abstract learners. And yet, this is rarely considered when discussing diversity.
And there is unconscious bias.
This considers automatic patterns of thinking and feeling as the brain makes quick judgements based on past experience or cultural prejudices. These thought patterns keep us fearful of others who are from different backgrounds. Decisions are then made about the stereotype rather than the person in front of you. This creates economic difficulties over time and can cause class action suits and poor quality of production at work.
What research indicates is that hiring people with different personality traits and at various stages of their careers helps to foster creativity and new ways of thinking through old problems. It has been shown to increase the bottom line by getting people out of their comfort zones and being asked to look at the discomfort of unconscious bias.
Most important, leaders who become diversity engagers take a deep look inside their own lives to see how family, culture, and crises have impacted the way they respond to others.
Here is an example of the power of looking at diversity from the “inside out.”
Charles, the head of a business unit of a global company, knew he needed to communicate more effectively with his 30 member team. He knew there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with his style of leadership, yet not sure what was the core of the issue.
With several coaching sessions he became aware of what was holding him, and the rest of his team back. He tapped at the glass ceiling of cultural bias, of being proper and polite at the annual sales off-site. First, he tapped lightly, then with more courage, he broke through to a new level of being authentic and open.
Come with me to the offsite where diversity engagement made a world of difference.
Charles started by talking about his learning style. Acknowledging that his concrete method of checking off each box, of looking at his colleagues’ reports with a red pen in hand, like a teacher grading a paper was driving many of his talented colleagues nuts.
He said he knew that his style made him seem like a cold, uncaring person. And yes, that was true. He did care, yet had difficulty showing it.
Then he took a deep dive into his own personal story. He talked about growing up in China and Taiwan and coming to America when he was twelve years old He shared that he learned English by watching television, and took his English name after Chuck Norris, the martial artist and actor. He decided Chuck was too informal so he became Charles.
He told the group that during coaching sessions when I, his coach, asked him how he felt, he would get nervous, not knowing how to respond.
“For you see,” he said, “in the Chinese culture feelings are rarely discussed, and in my biological family, never.”
His business unit sat in rapt attention, He asked them to help him with the “F” word, stating that he wanted to be more in touch with and express his “feelings.” He smiled, surprisingly relieved that he had told his diversity story. Until so recently, he had put up a shield and protected his Chinese heritage, not realizing it did make a difference in how he led his team.
Then, back at work, something happened. There was more openness, more sharing of cultural histories, more safety to express what it felt like to be black or asian or older or gay.
The results of this openness was underlined at the end of the fiscal year when the unit Charles led was the top producer in sales. Economic advantage came through the power of engaged diversity.
Skill #5: The Motivator
The Motivator is the skill that interfaces with all the others at the deepest conscious level.
A motivator is an individual who has moved beyond the ego needs for recognition, power, or a drive to acquire excessive material possessions. While you can certainly lead from a place of fulfilling ego needs, the difference is that the true motivator leads from maturity and long-range perspective.
A motivator is an individual who wants to be sure that people’s highest priorities are being met, who considers the welfare of those around him or her when making all decisions. This is someone who is able to praise employees and give recognition for a job well done.
The motivator understands that the world of work is essential for psychological and spiritual growth, and to that end offers employees opportunities to participate in internal and external learning seminars.
Motivators are not pie in the sky idealists. They can say ‘no’ when necessary and be brutally frank if need be. Their essential mandate is to help those in their employ grow and develop high-level skills of their own so there is a stronger chance in both the short and long terms for greater business success.
Motivators know that “Work is not a rehab facility.” They do not coddle, they assist.
“Showing up and staying. Engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and do more work — highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.
Engaged workers also are more likely to stay with their employers. In high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24% lower turnover. In low-turnover organizations, the gains are even more dramatic: Highly engaged business units achieve 59% lower turnover.
High-turnover organizations are those with more than 40% annualized turnover, and low-turnover organizations are those with 40% or lower annualized turnover.”(Gallup)
Motivators have learned to look at situations both from their perspectives and also step out of their personal space and look from the eyes of the others. They ask great questions and help those in their charge develop into orchestrators and create clear visions that can be implemented.
They are not in competition for being the best. They encourage the best in everyone around them.
Here is an example of a high-level motivator that saved his company from a costly and wasteful hostile workplace lawsuit.
Shirley, a disgruntled employee, claimed her situation at work was causing her emotional stress and physical distress. Her new boss, Kevin, was handed the task of cleaning up the legal mess.
Kevin met with Shirley and listened to the emotional content as well as the facts she presented. He was looking for a way to create a new reality for her at work, one that would be a more helpful strategy to keep her filled with creative energy rather than constant stress.
He listened. In the course of minutes, Shirley used the word ‘isolated’ four times. Here is how his leadership skill learning about communication paid dividends. He had learned to listen for context, not just content. He learned to think about the whole system, not just the presenting problem. The word ‘isolated,’as he told me later, seems curious, since she worked in an open setting with nine other individuals and he always saw her go to the cafeteria for lunch with several of her teammates.
Kevin simply acknowledged her concerns. He wanted to help resolve the conflict and asked her if she could tell him about another time when she felt ‘isolated.’ He gave her an ‘out’ saying, if she could think of a time, it might help him know what to do to help her, and if she did not come up with another situation, that would be just fine also.
Her answer was the clue to averting a lawsuit.
Initially, she hesitated and sat looking at Kevin as if to decide how safe it was to talk openly. Finally, she said, “Kevin, I don’t know why I’m going to tell you this, however, you truly seem interested in helping me, so I will give it a go.”
Shirley continues,” You see, I grew up in foster care and I always felt very alone, as if no one really cared.”
Kevin didn’t probe into her personal life, instead, he asked, “What in your present job caused you to have similar feelings now?” Shirley responded, “It was John, your predecessor. He treated us like objects, pawns on a chess table. We were simply computers that could walk and talk, like being robots who would still bleed if we were cut.”
Kevin listened. He was motivating her to find her own solution and was willing to help her grow past her stress. She continued, “I swore after the awfulness of foster care I would always stand up for myself when I felt ignored or, well, isolated. I could never go to him for help, he just brushed me off saying he was busy and to figure it out myself.”
Kevin continued to encourage, to motivate Shirley to come to a new and more productive solution than going the legal route. Of course, her sense of isolation was emotional, not physical and had started long before this job.
He helped to develop a strategy where Shirley could come to talk with him when she felt overwhelmed or sidelined. At first, he worried that she would take up too much bandwidth and yet, decided to give this open door policy an opportunity. He motivated her to learn more about old, ingrained behavior patterns and she was able to go to some workshops for emerging leaders to get her ready for next level success.
Within a month, the lawsuit was dropped and no, Shirley did not need constant council from Kevin. Her work flourished and he was recognized by senior management for his ability to tackle the ugly world of a harassment lawsuit with poise and grace.
The idea that we can actually practice becoming more like the leaders we admire and want to emulate is powerful.
This is beyond imitation; you practice the skills and make them yours, in your own personal unique way. The idea that there are mindsets, not just concepts that we can change to develop leadership mastery, is a whole new ball game. You are not parroting others, you are implementing core behaviors to enhance your ways of relating to others.
I believe, learning these 5 leadership skills strengthen your ability to lead and impacts the bottom line in powerful, positive ways.
I believe that leaders who are able to look at the whole system, how all aspects of the organization, of the community, connect can have long-term impact.
I believe businesses are searching for the type of leaders who exemplify the 5 skills discussed here, individuals who want to leave a legacy of health, hope, and creative possibilities. This is an exemplary route to fiscal success and relationship fulfilment.
“The rulebook is being rewritten. Leaders must decide what role they want to play in their organization — now in the midst of change and in the future. They can be passive bystanders or active participants in creating and guiding an exceptional workplace.”(Gallup)
I respectfully dedicate this blog to those who will be the role models for the future, the total leaders our world deeply requires.