New Leadership Skills for the New Year

With the New Year upon us, lists of resolutions pop up, including, maybe, how learning programs can be improved. How about your leadership curriculum? When you nurture budding leaders at your company, what qualities and skills do you hope they will acquire or make stronger?

A piece published in the last week of 2017 in Forbes, “16 Essential Leadership Skills for the Workplace of Tomorrow,” examines what some believe to be the top leadership qualities.

“Fearless agility” is an important trait, according to Forbes: “Leaders who can quickly yet effectively think, decide, and inspire will be critical to keep up with these fast-changing competitive demands,” Bonnie Davis, of Destination Up, is quoted as saying. I’ve seen in my own corporate experience the difference an agile leader makes. A common refrain I hear in answer to questions and suggestions is “Let’s discuss.” Knowing that’s code for “Let’s do nothing, and just debate this forever or forget about it altogether,” I get frustrated, and say to myself, “No, let’s just do it.” You have to be careful of jumping with two feet into unwise investments that cost more than you can afford or that may adversely impact customers or employees, but there are compromises that allow for action.

For instance, you sometimes can test a new technology or product on a small subset of your customer base. There are often ways to pilot a new program, to test the waters and see what happens. For times when testing a new program or product won’t work, you could examine how nearly the same program or product has fared at a similar company—maybe even a competitor—and make a decision to take the plunge based on that. But sitting and batting around an idea for too long is a recipe for never having that idea take off or having it be forgotten. In the time it takes to forget one of your employees’ ideas, one of your competitors may have been bolder and taken the idea and run with it, increasing its profitability and market share.

“Earning respect” is another ability Forbes recommends leaders acquire: “Leaders must hold themselves responsible and accountable for the effect their influence has on their employees and the organization as a whole. Leadership should be earned anew each day,” Sheri Nasim, of Center for Executive Excellence, is quoted as saying. There’s an older woman at my company who has a surprisingly abrasive way of managing employees. I’ve been told she sometimes doesn’t bother to look at her employees when addressing them. And she raises her voice to them, speaking in a belligerent, accusatory tone. She’s been with the company for many years, and seems to feel she’s untouchable. It’s almost like she has the corporate version of university tenure, and feels she can’t be fired and doesn’t have to earn anyone’s respect. Do you have a class of employees like that at your own company? How do you train long-standing leaders who, as valued and respected as they are, should continuously earn that high regard? I heard once an expression about a classic bad manager personality: “Kisses up and kicks down.” It’s important to make sure the executives and managers you find so charming are just as charming to those working under them. Are 360-degree assessments a way to do this, or has your company come up with other ways of making sure employees treat both those above and below them with respect?

“Empathy” also appears on the Forbes list of valued leadership characteristics, which gives me hope. For years, it seemed only the numbers mattered. If you had leaders who could push sales and revenues up, it didn’t matter if they were reviled by employees because of their insensitivity and cruelty. They got their high numbers through fear and ruthlessness. But the high numbers those types of leaders generate can be a short-term gain. In the long term, a company dominated by cutthroat personalities will find it hard to retain employees, and will earn the kind of workplace culture reputation that dissuades talented people from applying. “The future of leadership will revolve around our capacities to build emotional intelligence within ourselves as leaders, and those whose lives we touch,” Dave Ursillo, DaveUrsillo.com, is quoted as saying. Emotionally intelligent leaders know both how to press employees enough to deliver results, and when to rein in those impulses to give a talented employee breathing space to regroup, or time and peace to come up with new, innovative ideas.

Those are just the three top leadership qualities from the list of 16 Forbes came up with. What’s your own company’s list of top leadership qualities? How has that list of most-valued leadership skills evolved over the last decade? Are there new leadership qualities you would like to see added to the list this year?

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