Do the leaders within your organization have the skills they need to be successful in the future? This is the basic question that the Center for Creative Leadership asked 2,200 leaders from 15 organizations, in three countries between 2006 and 2008.
The findings from this research project identified the following seven leadership skills as most critical for success, now and in the future:
- Leading people: directing and motivating people.
- Strategic planning: translating vision into realistic business strategies, including long-term objectives.
- Managing change: using effective strategies to facilitate organizational change.
- Inspiring commitment: recognizing and rewarding employees’ achievements.
- Resourcefulness: working effectively with top management.
- Doing whatever it takes: persevering under adverse conditions.
- Being a quick learner: quickly learning new technical or business knowledge.
However, what I found interesting in the report was the following comment:
“These data show that many leaders’ strengths are not in areas that are most important for success. Organizations report greater bench strength in areas of
- building and mending relationships,
- compassion and sensitivity,
- cultural adaptability,
- respecting individual differences,
- and self-awareness.
In organizations where this is the case, sufficient skill-level has been established in these areas and further large-scale efforts to boost these areas are unnecessary.” [Emphasis mine.]
The above listed five skills were categorized as over-investments or competencies that are strengths but not considered important. (Additionally, confronting people, putting people at ease, managing one’s career were considered to be competencies that are not strengths and not considered important.)
This finding struck me as rather odd for two reasons. First, these competencies are areas where we find people continually getting themselves into trouble and secondly, most of the nine competencies listed have a direct and even causal effect on the seven competencies that the participants found to be insufficient to meet future leadership requirements.
Respecting individual differences and lack of self-awareness are two popular weapons of self-destruction. That fact that we think we have these skills sufficiently mastered to render them unimportant suggests that we have blind spots that have not been fully explored.
Consultant Wally Bock rightly observed, “The ‘important’ list includes ‘leading people’ and ‘inspiring commitment.’ Those two are among the competencies that the respondents thought they were not good at. Maybe there wouldn’t be a gap on those competencies if they thought things like ‘building and maintaining relationships’ were important.” Absolutely correct.
If leadership is about anything, it is about relationships. All our hopes, dreams, goals, metrics, sales, market share and aspirations are going to be accomplished through people. The “important” skills are founded on the “unimportant” skills. Learning how the nine “unimportant” competencies impact and drive the seven “important” competencies will help to fill the leadership gap now and for decades to come.