What Qualifies You to Lead: Is Not Taught at Business School

I remember conversations with Training & Development Managers in my early days in Human Capital Consulting. They would express the frustration that Management valued, and therefore, allocated greater budgets to Hard Skills training because with training for hard skills, they saw immediate, “tangible” evidence of employee technical skills improvement, as well as its positive impact on the bottom line.

Soft Skills training was often a hard sell because soft skills seem, well, soft and fluffy; focused on intangible, interpersonal relationship qualities, that seemed not immediately move the needle in performance improvement. Which meant less certainty of its contribution to the bottom line.

Fast forward a decade and a half, we read such headlines as the recently published Forbes article which ranks “Empathy” as “the most important leadership skill according to research”.

In the article, Tracy Brower says, “far from a soft approach [empathy] can drive business results.”

She goes on to share findings from respected research institutions that show how critical determinants to a company's profitability, such as employee and team innovation, performance, turnover, customer experience, are affected by the empathy, or lack thereof, of the leaders people report to.

For instance, she reports that 61% of employees were more likely to report being innovative, and 76% of employees to being engaged, where their leaders were reported to be empathetic.

I found this remarkable:

"57% of white women and 62% of women of color said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies. However, when they didn’t feel that level of value or respect for their life circumstances, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of color respectively said they were unlikely to consider leaving."

This means that no matter how much leadership invests in developing employee technical knowledge and skills, if people don’t feel seen, heard, and cared about as whole people with both personal, and professional lives and concerns, these very competent people are likely to choose not to apply their skills to the best of their abilities, or worse, they may even decide to leave entirely.

People-Centric Leadership

There is no longer work-life compartmentalization.

People want leaders to see them as human beings with emotions, concerns, and a life outside their 9-5, and to understand that what happens in any area of their life, affects all other areas of their lives.

As a leader that seeks to influence and solicit employee buy-in, the greatest investment you can make in your leadership development is to value and invest just as much, if not more, in interpersonal leadership skills, as you do in your technical competence.

According to the Purpose-Driven Leadership Development Framework, these are the four leadership qualities that are most critical to your leadership effectiveness, skills you probably were not taught at business nor in corporate training.

1. Emotional Intelligence

Proponents of IQ above all else never saw this coming: it is Emotional Quotient (EQ), or Emotional Intelligence, not Intellectual Quotient, that can make, or break personal and professional development.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is, “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

Leaders with high emotional intelligence “can recognize their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments.” - A Dictionary of Psychology, Colman A., 2008.

Put simply, no matter how good you are at what you know and can do as a leader, it can be sabotaged by how well or not, you can read a person and room, and are able to adjust your communication and leadership style, accordingly.

2. Trustworthiness

“If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” Zig Ziglar.

This applies as much to leadership as it does to sales. In both roles, you, the leader, seek to influence buy-in from your prospective client, internal or external.

Building trust is the only way to influence people with free will, to submit their own idea of where to go, and how to be and do things, and defer to yours.

Leaders earn the trust of those that answer to them by proving that they are Trustworthy.

What is Trust?

Trust is, “the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Trust is earned through experience. Often upon observation over time.

When people know that:

1. You are a person of your word

2. You have the ability to do what you are supposed to do by you, them, and others, with a high level of character and competence

3. No matter what has happened, you have consistently done what you were supposed to do by you, them, and others, with a high level of character and competence

4. You look out for their interest above yours (Holly Culhane lists Provision, Protection, and Presence as evidence of this, self-leadership of those in your care).

then, they are more likely than not, to deem you a Trustworthy leader they would willingly follow.

3. Mentor Leadership

When I first read the term, “Mentor Leadership” I thought, "Oh! So this is what it’s called!" It is what we were doing throughout our organizations all along.

What is Mentor Leadership?

Taken from Tony Dungy’s book The Mentor Leader, the concept is for a leader to develop other leaders, not followers.

In the book, he writes,

“Engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.”

A purpose-driven leader, a servant-leader, knows that they serve a mission greater than self, and that mission needs all hands on deck.

As such, Mentor Leadership is a skill to equip those that you work and walk with to be able to own the vision, proactively make decisions, and independently drive results because you have empowered them to.

Mentor Leadership acknowledges one’s limitations and embraces synergies that come from team diversity. It allows individual and team strengths to align to achieve common goals.

Mentor Leadership is also a sobering reality that “sooner or later, I will be gone”. It, therefore, takes a proactive approach to leadership succession by preparing successors throughout, and not, at the end of one’s leadership tenure.

Mentor-Leadership is so critical a leadership skill that in his book, In Charge, Dr, Myles Munroe stated that preparing a successor is the first task and measure of leadership success.

"The success of a leader is the success of their successor." Dr. Myles Munroe.

Tony Dungy sees leadership as a divine call and summarises the call to Mentor Leadership this way:

“So, when it comes to effective leadership, it’s not about you and what makes you comfortable or helps you get ahead. It’s about other people. It’s about serving God by serving others. That’s the mind-set of the mentor leader.”

4. Organization

Whilst Discipline was cited as one of the three qualities necessary for Self Leadership under the Purpose-Driven Leadership Development Framework (www.modesta.africa/leadership-development-framework) Organization is a critical skill in Leading Others.

What is Organization?

Organization is defined as, “the act or process of putting the different parts of something in a certain order so that they can be found or used easily.”

Without organization skills, you will find it extremely hard, and even detrimental to your leadership effectiveness, to daily try to lead scores of people, across numerous platforms, and myriads of processes, in the implementation of individual, team, unit, and organizational plans.

When you have organizational skills, you are able to deploy the right resources to the right places to do the right thing at the right time, for the right reasons and results.

Lynda Peterson said, “Organization is empowerment.”

And Benjamin Franklin put it in management terms we can quantify when he said,

“For every minute spent on organization, an hour is earned”.

If that isn’t a great return on your investment in being organized as a leader, I don’t know what it is.

Explore the Framework

I invite you to explore the Purpose-Driven Leadership Development Framework on www.modesta.africa/leadership-development-framework to follow the progression of the leadership qualities that graduate you from Self-Leadership to Leading Others, then Organizational Leadership, and ultimately Industry Leadership.

  • Do you agree with the qualities cited?

  • What qualities do you deem important at each level of leadership?

  • What level of leadership are you on?

  • Which qualities do you need to improve to be a more effective leader at that level?

You are most welcome to post your contributions in the comments below, or to email me directly at modesta@modesta.africa

I look forward to connecting with you.


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