As the business world has altered significantly from the start of 2020 to now, employees are looking to their leaders to chart the path forward. No one is exempt from the changes taking place beneath our feet. Every day walking into work (or logging into work) we carry with us the burdens of the outside world and attempt to adapt to a new way of working. For this reason, leadership has never been more important than it is right now.
This has put pressure on leaders to rise to the occasion. Requiring new skills, knowledge, and tools to manage complexity and the velocity of change. To sustain a healthy team culture and to foster success for your organization’s future, look to develop these 10 essential leadership skills to help you navigate 2020 and beyond.
In a position of leadership, the leader is held accountable for the actions and results produced by their direct reports. This means they take full accountability for team outcomes; both the good and the bad. As such, leaders must not only be accountable to their own commitments but be able to set and require accountability from their direct reports, so that everyone succeeds. Creating a culture of accountability, with support, is critical especially when everyone is working in a virtual state.
2. Change Leadership
An organization is not a static entity that can be frozen in time at its peak. Changes in the marketplace, employee turnover, company growth, and countless other factors contribute to ongoing change in an organization. Whether the change feels like a ripple or a tidal wave, leaders must be prepared to shepherd the organization through it. So although leaders may not be able to predict all transitions, they can make them go smoothly by adopting a change-ready mindset and learning skills and competencies that will make them a better change leader.
3. Interpersonal Communication and Leading Remotely
The ability to clearly convey information to the right people at the right time is only the foundation of professional communication. To ensure all interpersonal communication is effective, leaders at every level will need to make an impact (whether in person or virtually), know when to speak versus when to listen, keep communication simple and concise, exhibit patience when communicating with others, and use analogies and stories to provide greater clarity. In addition to interpersonal skills, the events of 2020 have challenged leaders to retool their leadership toolkit because leading remotely requires a different mindset, approach, and application of skills than leading in person. Leaders now need to know how to establish points of connection virtually to build relationships and ensure employees feel engaged and connected to their team and the organization.
4. Organizational Communication
Beyond interpersonal communication, leaders must also be effective communicators at an organizational level, which is an incredibly important skill during turbulent times. A leader’s ability to communicate during times of change can be the difference between success and failure. They’re the ones who will need to communicate the organization’s vision forward, provide clarity on the direction, and take on difficult questions with poise and grace.
Strong leaders recognize the value that every individual in the organization contributes and must strive to help each of them realize their potential, regardless of experience or position. By delivering timely, relevant, and practical feedback and encouragement, leaders can help direct reports improve their performance and achieve long-term goals.
Empowerment is not only key to the employee experience, but it dramatically influences the organization as doing so successfully can improve the quality and value of the results of the organization. For example, in a study conducted by Gallup, employees who use their strengths, skills, and abilities every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive, and 15% less likely to leave their jobs.
Coaching is one of the best methods leaders can employ to strengthen others, close gaps, develop abilities, and build trust. Typically coaches, whether in sports or on the job, allow the players to do what they do best; to do what they were hired to do. Coaches assume the position of calm in a storm. They are collaborative in developing strategies, eager to tackle a challenge as a team, and supportive when things do not go as planned. All of which is essential to making it out of challenging times with a team intact and engaged.
8. Strategy and Execution
Chinese military general Sun Tzu proclaimed “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” His leadership principle still applies today. A strategy is only as good as its execution, and execution is only as effective as the thinking behind it. A leader’s ability to think and operate strategically and their ability to execute at the tactical level is critical. Strategic skills are those which are crucial to formulate policy, establish direction, and determine how resources should be allocated to achieve a larger vision. Tactical skills, on the other hand, are those skills which “put feet to the plan.” The importance of clear vision and thinking cannot be underestimated (the strategic skills), but without good tactical skills, the benefits of thinking will never be realized, and will slowly dissipate.
Clearly, if you’re strong in both areas, then there is a huge benefit: the strategic thinking takes into consideration the tactical realities, and the tactical realities are driven by the importance of the strategic plan. This is what a maximally effective leader is truly capable of for their organization.
Effective leaders don’t command. They lead by encouraging, persuading, and inspiring. In today’s world, as authority becomes more diffused in an organization, and decision making becomes more complex, positive influence becomes an essential leadership skill. By creating mutual understanding, aligning priorities, and negotiating appropriately, leaders can influence others to make their vision a reality.
10. Managing Team Performance
The value of a high-performing team has long been recognized. So much so, Google set out on a multi-year mission to determine what makes a perfect team. They concluded that emotional connection and psychological safety are what produced high-performing teams. Leaders must be equipped with the skills to foster a safe and connected environment to drive team collaboration, communicating, and ownerships on a common goal.
Next Steps: Mastering All 10 Leadership Skills
As a leader, your success in turbulent times can be dramatically influenced by how proactively you manage your own improvement and development. If you are committed to being the best leader you can be regardless of your level in the organization, consistently conduct self-assessments where you: identify your areas of improvement, rank their relative importance, determine their impact, and chart a course forward. By taking your personal development into your own hands, combined with the work done in organizationally provided leadership training and development, you will be well on your way to succeeding in a position of leadership.