Some leaders just have it! It’s like the secret sauce of people management. You can put them in any team or system and they will rally the troops. Their team respects them, their superiors respect them. We wish we could have a dozen of them. We think they must be natural-born leaders.
I no longer believe in natural-born leaders.
As an executive business coach, I work mainly with high-level leaders. The great leaders have all developed four similar core skills. They have the secret sauce! As the coach, I get to see behind the scenes in their businesses, and I will share with you that they are rarely natural-born leaders. In almost every case, they actually started out as very average leaders. They developed their skills with time, mistakes, and a lot of practice.
“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” –Vince Lombardi
Leadership = Emotional Intelligence + Integrity + Communication Skills + People
Element 1: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a branch of psychology that emerged in the 1990s led by Peter Salovey and John D. Meyer. Their paper “Emotional Intelligence” answered many questions about why some people are more successful than others**. EQ is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Many studies on Emotional Intelligence agree that EQ is a strong determining factor is an individual’s success. These are crucial skills in Leadership. They allow the leader to navigate emotionally-charged situations, be sensitive to the stress levels of their team members, and create an enjoyable team dynamic.
Element 2: Integrity
Integrity is probably the most difficult component of leadership to define because it means different things to different people. The dictionary definition is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” But we live in a society in which morality changes with almost every decade. Very rarely do two people have the exact same definition of integrity. Great leaders do not attempt to live according to everyone else’s definitions of integrity. Rather they are VERY clear on their own. Their team may not always agree with the leader, but they always know where they stand. That consistency builds trust and security within the team. In a business climate full of corporate scandals, trust in leadership teams is no longer a given. Trust is now an earned commodity, and it is earned through the integrity and consistency of the leader.
Element 3: Communication Skills
Good communication skills are the third element of leadership. Business is, at its core, problem-solving. Leadership is, at its core, people-solving. The two are connected. The problems we experience in business are almost always tied to people, and communication is the key to resolution of the problems. Business is fraught with challenging conversations. Hiring, firing, disciplining, motivating, instructing, reporting, delegating, arguing, listening, apologizing, following, agreeing, and disagreeing are all part of the regular communication of a leader. Great leaders do not shy away from the challenging conversations, nor do they yell their way through them. They possess the ability to navigate the tough talks of business with a calm demeanor and a clear head. They find a way to balance the corporate objectives while maintaining the relationship capital with the team members and clients.
Element 4: People
People are the reason that leadership is never boring, and is always changing. Great leaders are great at reading people. They have the ability to recognize strengths, weaknesses, motivating factors, and core needs in the people they work with. The more a leader knows about their team member, the more effective they are at developing and maintain talent inside of the organization. Leaders with great people-reading skills are better at hiring. As CEO’s we know the pain of hiring and training people who are just not a fit for the position. A good people-reader sees beyond the rehearsed answers and into the reality of the person. They can also pick up on problems before they surface. Several months ago I told my business partner I thought there was a problem going on with one of our team members. He looked at her performance and told me I there was nothing to worry about. But I went with my gut, and sure enough, she was doing a great job at hiding some major performance issues. We were able to deal with the problem before it caused damage to the company.
I recognize possessing all four of these leadership elements is a tall order to fill. Whether you are looking to develop stronger personal leadership skills or develop the leaders in your company, there is good news. These skills are 100% learnable.
IQ (Intelligence Quotient) does not typically increase. We tend to have the intelligence level we have, and we just learn to do our best with it. EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is learnable and can be increased with effort, training and awareness.
Integrity is my least favorite to have to adjust out of the four elements. As the CEO of my company, if an applicant’s integrity is not close enough to mine, I will not hire them. However, as a CEO you can look at your personal integrity and make a decision to be more consistent. Stop making exceptions for some, but not for others. Start holding people to the bars that you have set forth as a company. If you have been lax with standards, this is a great time to have a discussion with your core team and start tracking your consistency.
Every challenging conversation you have in business will be unique. The people, personalities and context will be different each time. However there are patterns you can follow to successfully navigate these sticky situations. If you go in with a plan, you will be much more successful than if you try to wing it. In my book Walk Your Talk: Take Ownership and Lead Like You Mean it, I include templates to follow for successful conversations.
People-reading requires a desire to engage beyond a surface level with other members of the team. It is a skill some will have more aptitude for than others, but it is a skill anyone can learn. I am not recommending that we become leaders who want to be buddies with everyone in the office. That can cause more problems than it solves. I am talking about leaders who take time to listen, and study personalities, communication styles, and cultural sensitivities.
We all have room for improvement. I regularly self-assess how I am doing in my four elements of leadership. When I identify weaknesses, I set measurable goals for myself. When I identify weaknesses in other leaders in my team, I teach them the skill I want them to work on. I give them suggested study materials and I give them measurable goals. When I am hiring for leadership positions, I look for aptitude in these four areas. I could care less if they are a born leader or a learned leader. I simply want them to possess basic competence in the four areas. Never underestimate the power of a great leader in your organization!
Written by Amy Walker, founder of Amy Walker Consulting, an executive coaching company.
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*Photograph Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer by Stuart Isett for Fortune Most Powerful Women.
**Peter Salovey and John D. Meyer, Emotional Intelligence, (New York, Baywood Publishing Company Inc., 1990).