The #1 requirement for leadership

Detailed illustration of an old-style map with ragged, curled edges and with a brown-and-brass spyglass lying on one edge.

Once upon a time, I conducted an informal survey of senior executives, HR leaders, and executive coaches.

I asked each of them what they thought the most important and most-often-lacking leadership skill was for newly-promoted managers.

I fully expected the answer to be “communication.” I was 100% wrong, and the answers were 100% consistent: strategic thinking.

So now you probably expect this to be an article on strategic thinking, but – nope.

Because there’s something that must come before any other leadership quality, whether it’s strategic thinking, communication, or anything else.

Personal development

I’ve been known to say on (many) more than one occasion that if I’d known how much personal work would be required as a self-employed business owner, I’d’ve run screaming for the nearest employment office.

Possibly true, though I love what I do and am only occasionally, and only very briefly, tempted to trade it in for a J-O-B!

Back to my point: being a leader requires personal development.

You cannot lead people if you’re not willing to look at yourself, understand your individual style, dig into your quirks and foibles and, yes, your dysfunctional patterns and struggles (we’ve all got ’em).

It doesn’t matter how you approach it; what matters is that you do it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you “should” be doing for personal growth; we each have our own ways of learning about ourselves, and as a friend of mine says, “we are all an experiment of one.”

But do it.

It’s a people-skills thing

The importance of strategic thinking notwithstanding, leadership is, first and foremost, about people, because in the end, that’s what gets the tasks – and strategy – done. And that means understanding people, being open to learning about each team member’s individuality, how you can help them explore their own growth, how to support the development of their strengths, and so on.

You cannot do that without venturing down the path for yourself. If you look at the least-effective leaders you’ve known, you will almost certainly see a lack of self-awareness; flip that around to look at the best leaders you’ve known, and you’ll see that they know things about and understand themselves.

(Yes, there’s a lot of middle ground where self-aware (perhaps self-absorbed?) people are ineffective leaders, but I’ll challenge you to find really good leaders who aren’t at least somewhat self-aware.)

And it’s a process

Just to be clear, the journey to self-understanding never ends. After 16 years in corporate leadership roles and heading toward 19 years of leading my own business, I recently made a significant self-discovery that I’m still integrating into my understanding.

So, yeah: it’s not a goal, it’s a process. Sometimes awkward, sometimes a clue-by-four, sometimes oh, that’s cool, sometimes yikes, and sometimes all of the above and then some.

But also, often fun.

Want to be a leader? Learn about your own individuality, and then apply what you learn as a way to understand other people’s.

I teach change leadership, which is all about the people aspect of change, and how to help yourself and your team overcome resistance and engage willingly with the change project. Unsurprisingly, the skills of change leadership are useful in more than just significant corporate change initiatives. Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk about it.