The Highlands Company Blog

Effective Leadership Skills

Leadership, at its purest form, is simply the ability to obtain followers. Effective leaders have a very strong sense of self; they understand the qualities that make other people want to follow them, and they know how to adjust those qualities when circumstances require. The most effective leaders are those who:

• know their own strengths and limitations;
• create and effectively communicate a positive, realistic vision;
• motivate and inspire followers to reach their potential;
• look beyond their own self-interest and encourage others to do the same;
• anticipate and manage conflicts fairly and objectively;
• exhibit self-confidence;
• instill trust;
• respect and maintain personal and organizational values;
• are fair, reasonable and compassionate;
• behave consistently.

This collection of leadership skills and attributes, some of which are intangible, can be learned and developed throughout the course of your career. They are developed daily, not in a single day, and must be nurtured over time.

Most people equate leadership with a specific position or job title. But you need more than a title on the door to have followers.

Positional Leaders and Relational Leaders

People follow “Positional Leaders” only because they must; authority comes with the title. But people will not follow a positional leader beyond the stated authority; they will do just what they need to do to meet expectations and no more. Leadership is not about being the most powerful or smartest person in the room; it has to do with your ability to cast a vision and motivate people. Clearly, the effectiveness of your work depends on your ability to lead and influence others beyond what the title “partner” demands.

Your goal is to become the type of leader people follow because they want to, not because they must. When you treat people fairly and consistently and demonstrate that you care about them and are committed to making them more successful, they will follow. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of “Relational Leadership.” That is when people follow you only because they like you. A leader who sacrifices productivity to preserve relationships will ultimately have limited effectiveness.

Successful leaders learn how to use their “position” and their “relationships” to influence associates and staff to focus on and achieve common objectives. These leaders develop and articulate goals and hold people (including themselves!) accountable for achieving those goals. They are prepared to make difficult decisions and balance the sensitivity of individual needs with organizational needs. Employees not only recognize their power and authority but they accept it and follow these trusted leaders willingly.

Simply stated, leadership is the ability to INFLUENCE people and processes to achieve a better result for the organization and the people involved.

How to Persuade

There are two ways to get people to do what you want; compel them (with your title and power) or persuade them (because you have developed a relationship). Persuading requires an understanding of what makes people tick and what motivates them. So the trick is to figure out how to INFLUENCE and MOTIVATE others through the effective use of both the carrot AND the stick.

What assumptions do you have about your staff? An assumption is simply an opinion that something is true and will determine the filters through which you view their behaviors. Do you believe you must control and threaten people to get the best work out of them? Do you scoff at the notion of “employee self-actualization?” Or, do you believe your team will seek out and accept responsibility when their personal goals are aligned with the organizations goals?

The primary leadership ASSET is to know yourself; the primary leadership SKILL is to neutralize the assumptions you make about the people around you, and the primary leadership TOOL is to know how to motivate and manage those you hope to lead in a variety of situations. To improve your leadership skills you must focus on three areas: SELF AWARENESS, SOCIAL AWARENESS, AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.

Leadership Asset: Self Awareness

Think about the bosses you enjoyed working with throughout your career and what kind of leadership style they displayed. Most people agree that good leaders respect employees’ time, provide challenging assignments, give detailed instructions and offer meaningful feedback. They demonstrate a commitment to client service, lead by example, and generously share the glory of a job well done. An honest assessment of your leadership qualities will enable you to capitalize on your natural strengths and work to improve those you find more challenging. The Highlands Ability Battery offers a Leadership Report to assist you in this self-assessment.

Different situations require a different type of leadership to get the work done and preserve the relationships. Positional leaders rarely see the need to flex their style to accommodate the needs of others. That is why their sphere of influence is limited. Relational leaders flex their styles to such an extent that oftentimes they are perceived as chameleons. Such a lack of consistency limits their sphere of influence. The key is to remain consistent in your behavior by incorporating the strengths of the various style into your leadership persona and learn to manage the challenges of your dominate style.

Leadership Skill: Social Awareness

We make assumptions all the time based on our experiences and observations. These assumptions are not inherently right or wrong but they can color our reality. It is important to be aware of the assumptions you make when you speak with people you do know as well as those you do not know.

Do you assume that a certain look or speech pattern represents a certain quality of thinking-good or bad? Do you assume people with specific characteristics (physical or otherwise) will behave in certain ways?

For example, if a junior employee produced a mediocre work product for you, do you assume the work of all junior employees will be mediocre too? Do you expect employees with a specific pedigree to behave a particular way? If your last secretary was unhelpful, do you assume all secretaries are useless? These assumptions can serve a useful purpose if you use them as hypothesis to be tested and challenged before becoming established filters through which you view everyone. Your goal is to acknowledge your assumption and then question whether it is true in this specific instance BEFORE reacting.

Horse racing is based on the assumption that past performance is significant…and it is, but the amount of money lost at the track will tell you that an assumption – even one based on facts – is not a guarantee.

Leadership Tool: Situational Awareness

Not all managers are leaders, but every leader is a manager. Therefore, it is critical to develop the strong management skills of delegation and providing feedback. Differences in employee abilities, skills, and style are inevitable and must be managed in order to meet workplace demands. Leaders who learn to recognize these differences and flex their leadership style to meet those needs will be more successful at managing and motivating their employees to achieve organizational objectives. The goal is not simply to make everyone happy but to understand how to capture individual talents to get the best out of each contributor to the project.

Whether you are striving to better understand your own leadership style or the abilities of those who work with you, the Highlands Company is in a position to assist you. Are you ready to recognize your leadership strengths and find strategies to develop the skills necessary to enhance your effectiveness?