Leadership Success: The four skills that really matter

The importance of effective leadership is obvious and clear.

What is not obvious or clear, amidst the screeds of leadership competencies and divergent views, is the question of what specific skills or behaviors actually contribute to leadership success? At present there is no practitioner or academic meeting of the minds on this issue. It is unfortunately a very confused, uncertain and ambiguous space. No wonder there is often little confidence in the value of leadership development and also little empirical evidence that it adds quantifiable value to organisation results.

I was really excited and delighted to read the January 2015 McKinsey research report that brought refreshing insight and a lot more clarity to this debate. It is a ‘must read’ and the article link is http://email.mckinsey.com/1ac73b558layfousub76v3aiaaaaabzc4ukzdgg7ke4yaaaaa.

In summary, the research results suggest that there are four leadership behaviors that differentiate highly effective leadership from ineffective leadership. It briefly defines these four leadership behaviors as follows:

Supporting others. Supportive leaders are sensitive to how people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges.

Solving problems effectively. The problem-solving process precedes decision-making, when information is gathered, analysed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision-making for major issues as well as daily ones.

Operating with a strong results orientation. Leadership is really about following through to achieve results not only about developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives. Leaders with a strong results orientation stress the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.

Seeking different perspectives. This involves leaders monitoring trends affecting organisations, embracing environmental changes, encouraging employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance and accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues. It involves seeking diverse views and leaders basing their decisions on sound analysis to avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.

While the above research cannot be regarded as the final word on leadership success, it undoubtedly provides a very useful focus for leadership development.

I’d like to suggest that these four leadership behaviors do provide a very solid foundation on which to build powerful leadership development initiatives.

A further important observation is that the above four leadership behaviors correlate closely with the philosophy underlying current Action Learning approaches.

About the author

Ron McLuckie - Ron is Chairman & Chief Executive of WIAL India which he established in March 2012 and serves on the global board of the World Institute for Action Learning. He is a highly experienced international consultant and Action Learning authority. Ron has held senior executive roles in major organizations, senior lectureships and led a number of international consulting companies. His special interest is in developing skilled leaders who can drive business success and bridge the ‘knowing/doing gap’. His passion is challenging the conventional development approaches that do not work and finding effective ways of developing people and organization capability. He is also a proud granddad of three grandsons.

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