Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Leader?

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Authors and academics have written about leadership since time immemorial. First, we were told that great leaders are focused and strong-willed. They lead by example. Then, we were told that great leaders are brilliant and quick studies on relevant subject matter. Then, the pendulum swung again, and the experts began to tout the so-called soft skills, including emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Author Emily Heaslip, writing for Vervoe, synthesizes these ideas in her article “Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills”.  She quotes several studies and experts, which seem to make it pretty clear that soft skills are the critical element in leadership. But she takes the position that soft skills can be learned in much the same manner as the technical subject matter. Heaslip states, “The best leaders can learn soft skills over time, but they start as experts in something.”  Meaning, the best leaders are already great at one side of this coin, and it’s much easier to master one side when you are already a star at the other.

Heaslip is certainly correct that the best leaders can learn soft skills over time. But, for every Bill Gates, there are hundreds of so-called leaders who can’t—or don’t—learn soft skills, no matter how long they are in leadership roles. In assessing whether you have the EQ that it takes to be a true leader, there are several consistently critical elements:

  • Do you truly listen to others and allow for different points of view?  Truly confident leaders embrace the best options, regardless of where the ideas originate. Even if you are a subject-matter expert, there may be business realities that, say, your head of business development may understand even better than you do. Are you willing to change course in the face of information presented by a well-informed colleague, or do you stubbornly hold to the belief that your way is the right way?
  • Are you comfortable operating even when there is ambiguity? When a member of your staff comes to you with a problem that doesn’t have a readily apparent solution, how do you respond? In attempting to solve such a problem, if you are presented with several different points of view, all from people you trust, do you feel comfortable assimilating the information and making a decision? That is the role of a strong leader—making important decisions even when there is no single clear path.  The upshot, of course, is that you must be accountable for the decision, even if it doesn’t work out. And, if it does work out, the truly great leader will deflect praise to the employees who came up with the original solution.
  • Can you attract, retain, and, when necessary, terminate employees?  The old saying goes, “management is easy, except for the people part.” Great managers have the ability to share their vision in a way that makes strong candidates want to join the firm. Great managers also share their vision with all employees, allowing them to contribute in meaningful ways that also promote the employees’ personal growth. Finally, great managers understand that not every hire will work out. They cut their losses quickly, as discussed in our previous blog on terminations.

If you want to be a leader in your chosen profession, you may need to work on soft skills. If you’d like an honest assessment of your current leadership capabilities, give us a call at 301-520-9511 or email bob@epi.coach.  We’ll be happy to work with you.

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