What are good (business) leaders made of? ·
There is a reason why good business leaders are relatively rare, sought after and well-paid. Being a truly competent, confident, credible, and strong leader goes much deeper and wider than learning a few leadership and management skills. It requires a complete package of identity, traits, character, mindset, knowledge, and several different skill sets. In this article I will give you one comprehensive way to look at the whole palette of leadership development. Hopefully this will help you to understand where to start and what to pick up on your journey to become a great leader (or an influencer).
So, what are the most important leadership skills?
People often ask what are the most important leadership or management skills they should learn to become good leaders and managers. My answer is that knowing some leadership or management skills won’t make anyone a good leader. Foundation of good leadership is much deeper, and it is inseparably tied to your identity and character. Leading is a projection of your inner state, and if that is not in good order, your leadership won’t be either.
To be able to communicate this ensemble of all the building blocks of a good leader, I designed a pyramid you can see below. I am a fan of big picture thinking, and the pyramid is my visual way of explaining the whole big picture of becoming and being a leader.
Most people who see this for a first time are quite surprised just because of the sheer number of things inside the pyramid (even without any individual management or leadership skills mentioned). I know that looking at this image for a first time can be a scary moment, especially if you are just considering starting your leadership journey and you begin to think about everything you should learn and be.
Luckily, you don’t have to master all these aspects to start your management career and begin leading successfully. However, it is good to have an overview of everything there is to the challenge, so you can set your goals, plan and then steadily build yourself up as a great leader as you go. Having the overall picture is also very beneficial for recognising all the gaps or problems that you might encounter and should address.
I hope that seeing this pyramid is also encouraging, as it shows that the whole process can be clearly broken down to several development areas, and all of them can be intentionally trained or otherwise addressed once they are recognised. As with any challenging project, knowing the required building blocks and in which order to build them will make all the difference for the end result.
Pyramid of (business) leadership development:
The foundations are based on your identity, personal values, and goals, and are further enhanced by your traits and character. Your mindset and attitude build on this foundation and guide everything else you are and do.
Next come your skill sets and abilities, starting from general productivity and high-performance basics to industry-related skills and knowledge. Your social skills and career management skills will play a significant role, as will your ability to understand and work with the big picture of your company and industry. These basics will then finally lead up to the management and leadership areas.
And even this is not enough, as good leaders must also have a clear vision of what things should look like when their organisation is successful and working perfectly. This vision is what, in the end, guides the leader and gives direction to where they lead their people and organisations.
The bottom and middle parts of the triangle represent the identity, personal attributes, traits and skills of a leader and the top of the triangle represents the actual strength and effectiveness of a leader: Competence, confidence, credibility, and strength. In other words, the very top of the pyramid is the result of everything that is happening on the lower parts (starting down from the “vision):
Competence: The end result of your personal foundation, character, traits, mindset, knowledge, experience, skills, and vision.
Confidence: How much you trust yourself and your competence.
Credibility: How much others trust you and your competence.
Strength: How much influence and power all the above wield in getting people to follow you, getting things done, and realising your vision.
Note about skill hierarchy and categorization
While many upper echelons of the pyramid build on top of the lower ones, there is no strict hierarchical order in which you can learn and utilise the skills on different levels. The order is flexible, and so is the categorization: Many skills could belong to several different categories (for example social & team work skills are very closely related to leadership skills).
There is also no clear universal definition what skills belong to leadership, management and (higher-level) business skills, so this is often debated subject. My short example about the difference is:
Business skill is to create a business strategy for a company.
Leadership skill is to communicate this strategy to the employees and get them engaged and enthusiastic to follow the strategy.
Management skill is to plan and execute the strategy in every-day work with your team.
Why is it so hard to become a good leader or manager?
Most leadership & management education and literature doesn’t recognise and address this whole entity, and this creates a huge additional challenge to start and grow as a leader. While traditional leadership & management education and literature does good job on teaching leadership, management and business skills, it mostly forgets the bottom of the pyramid and thus fails to build a solid personal foundation to support the skills.
For example, teaching management and leadership skills to someone who doesn’t have solid personal foundation won’t make him a strong leader. The fact is that if the person doesn’t know who he is, and what he truly wants, and subsequently can’t lead himself first, it is impossible for him to effectively lead others with any real confidence, consistency and authenticity.
Also, another example of incomplete education is the fact that potential leaders aren’t usually taught anything about career management as a part of their leadership and management studies. This results in a situation where someone with good leadership potential and skills might never get a chance to become a leader in their work, as they don’t know how to efficiently acquire promotions that would advance their careers and place them in positions where they can lead.
Coming up: Important Leadership, management and business skills and how to learn them
In the next blog articles, I will discuss the essential leadership, management and business skills, and also talk a bit about building solid personal foundations and cultivating mindset and skills for excellence, high-performance and productivity.
Also, my upcoming book, 7 Principles of Becoming a Leader is designed to be a comprehensive approach to starting your leadership journey and becoming a leader. It will give you a clear step-by-step program how to work on developing yourself and your skills on every level of the pyramid and ensuring an effective start for your leadership & management career.
Summary: What are good leaders made of.
Top of the pyramid: your strength as a leader
- Overall strength as a leader
What are the good leaders made of:
- Leadership skills
- Management skills
- Business skills
- Higher level company and industry understanding: “The big picture”
- Social & teamwork skills
- Career management skills
- Basic industry skills: industry knowledge & related subject matter skills (normal work skills)
- General high-performance skills, strengths & habits: personal productivity, excellence, resourcefulness, focus, constant improvement & learning
- Mindset and attitudes: ownership, responsibility, service, growth, intention, dedication, “I” or “we” mindset. etc.
- Traits and basic character: grit (discipline), courage, integrity, charisma, creativity, caring, (confidence) etc.
- Foundation – Identity as a person and a leader: core values, beliefs, motivation, purpose, personal dreams, visions and goals
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