If you Google “what is leadership?” you will get 2.28 billion results. Amazing!
Most definitions focus on leading others towards a common purpose. Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever defined it as: “Leadership is helping people succeed, inspiring and uniting people behind a common purpose and then being accountable.”
Focusing on contemporary definitions, many agree that leadership has two key components. The first is about what you are leading (a business for example) and it refers to strategy and execution. Strategy will deal with vision, innovation, adaptability, direction, etc. Execution is about focus, pragmatism, and order. The second is about whom you are leading, or the interpersonal side of leadership and how you lead. A leader needs to develop his/her team, build relationships, support and empower others and also be confident, driven, and decisive.
The core of most Business School programs focuses on execution and strategy, teaching students hard skills about finance, marketing, operations, strategy, innovation, organizational behavior, and others. They also teach you about the complexities of the modern world, competition, and multi-cultural issues among others.
So, what is lacking? The so-called “soft skills” which for many are considered nice to have and not essential. Here are a few:
Communication skills. The ability to truly listen without judgment, to be focused when listening, and to be empathetic.
Vulnerability and humility. To learn, a leader needs to be humble and vulnerable admitting he/she does not know everything.
Resiliency. The confidence and strength necessary to face difficult situations head-on.
Delegation. How to let go of “control” instincts and trust the team to get the work done.
This is not intended to be a complete list, but to create awareness of certain skills that are essential to leadership and yet are not commonly taught. Some will argue that many of these skills are learned through experience, which is true, but what if we could speed up the learning process?
In my opinion, a good first step is self-awareness. To grow as a leader, and as a person, it’s important for us to understand our strengths, behaviors, limitations, and areas for development. Self-awareness can also help you build trust and credibility with your team. How do you become more self-aware? Personality assessments, honest 360º reviews, and asking and allowing for candid feedback from friends and colleagues can be a good starting point.
Some of the other so-called “soft skills” can be learned and need practice to master. These skills are no longer “nice to have”, they are essential skills for true leadership.
Steve Hevesi – September 2022