7 Critical Leadership Skills that EVERYONE Should Develop

I’ve been privileged and fortunate to work over the years with a large number of people who are either in positions of leadership, who aspire to leadership, or who have had leadership ‘thrust upon them’ and want to develop their skills.

Through observing and working with them, I’ve recognised that there are certain leadership skills that the good ones simply can’t do without.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing them with you…so here we go with the first one!

LEADERSHIP SKILL #1: LISTENING

Just a quick thing, friends: I’m focussing here specifically on Listening and Leadership – if you’d like to develop your personal listening skills (identifying the mistakes that EVERYBODY makes, and learning how you can avoid them! ) then please have a look at the free download which will be at the Yara website at http://www.yaraconsulting.com within the next few days.

At the risk of stating the obvious, listening is a CRUCIAL skill for leaders to develop. Why? Well, first of all, why not? You don’t seriously think you have all the answers without input from others do you?!

More to the point, listening to people does two important things: it makes the speaker(s) feel valued and understood, both of which contribute to motivation, and indeed to further contribution from that individual or group. Nothing shuts down ideas, input and motivation quicker that people feeling ignored.

Listening also provides you with an insight and perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise have…and for leaders, I can’t overstate how vital this is.

Good leaders listen, and listen to the right people. Learning to do it and learning to do it well is a valuable skill which cannot be neglected.

Listening strategically

By listening strategically, I mean considering carefully to whom or what leaders are listening. Listening in the right direction can potentially have a profound impact on decision making and organisational direction.

There will of course be the usual things that leaders listen to: market factors, shareholders, regulators customers etc etc. However, there are a few other directions in which leaders should turn in order to listen strategically – and some issue of which they must beware.

Beware ‘Groupthink’: listening to the same circle of opinions and the same peer group is limiting. It just is.

If everyone’s in a similar position or has a similar mindset, is listening to each other, where is the challenge coming from exactly? Where’s the raw, external perspective? Where’s the often needed boot up the backside?

Take the blinkers off and get out more, and listen in different directions. Fresh perspective is vital for innovation and growth.

Beware forgetting where you came from: I love those fly-on-the-wall documentaries where the Chief Executive goes back to the factory floor, the call centre, the supermarket checkout or wherever.

They invariably learn a massive amount about their people by observing what they do, listening to them, and living their day to day experiences. Perhaps more to the point in terms of STRATEGIC listening, they gather ideas and customer insight that frequently translates into policy and/or new business.

Don’t just listen up and listen out….listen down as well.

Beware the ticking clock: the world is probably moving faster than many companies can keep up with it. Fads can become trends which become major market forces with frightening speed (take Facebook and social networking as a clear case in point.)

Times are changing so fast, it’s an absolutely necessity to keep an ear to the ground, and I’d venture to suggest that using both formal and informal channels is the only way to maintain a true grasp of what’s going on.

Market research yes. Internal reports, yes. But don’t underestimate the value of taking a few minutes to listen and observe what customers are saying to your front line staff. Listen to what’s going on in other areas of your customers lives. Listen out for apparently random connections in other sectors that could give you a commercial edge.

If you don’t have time for that sort of thing, MAKE time…and then honestly evaluate the return on investment of that time spent vs the information it yielded.

The mistake of thinking you don’t have to listen

For whatever reason, many leaders often appear to feel that they don’t have to listen.

Some undoubtedly feel the pressure of senior management to provide the answers. And some, frankly, seem to think that they have it figured out, have made it, and don’t have to listen any more.

If you’ve ever heard yourself say:

‘People expect us to give them the answers because we’re their leaders’.

‘I’m better informed than most’

‘I don’t have time to gather everyone’s opinions – it would just muddy the waters’

‘I know what I need to do: listening to other people could just derail me’

‘We asked them last year – there’s no point going back to them now…’

‘I’m the leader, it’s my prerogative’ …then watch out.

Leaders can rest assured that the QUICKEST WAY to destroy innovation and ideas, de-motivate people, create cynicism amongst staff and customers alike and undermine corporate and brand values is by either NOT listening to people (both internally and externally)…or by pretending to listen to them and then ignoring what they’ve said.

The bottom line is that genuinely listening – and in more directions than you currently are – will earn you respect, motivate your people (and therefore increase productivity and morale) increase customer understanding and therefore retention, and can lead to profitable ideas and innovations being recognised, captured and implemented.

Establishing forums for listening

There’s no point paying lip service to this sort of ‘strategic listening’: you have to DO something to make it happen.

At a broad brush level, it’s about creating a culture where listening is part of leadership, and where staff feel like active contributors whose ideas and opinions are valued, and this HAS to be role modelled from the very top, otherwise it’s just not going to happen. It’s also about creating and encouraging opportunities to listen in different directions, gathering best practice and ideas from other sectors and areas, ACTUALLY listening to customers, and trying something different…as opposed to just analysing statistics.

Mix it up. Get a fresh perspective. Do something different. Learn from it. Develop yourself. And grow your organisation.

Watch out next week for Critical Leadership Skill #2 – Self Awareness.

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