Five Skills That Separate “Great” Leaders From The Rest


Much has been written about the importance of having the skills needed to be a good leader and executive. Most will highlight: (a) Focused on execution and delivering results, (b) Strategic and visionary with an eye on the future, (c) Great business acumen with mastery of the financials, and  (d) the ability to create followership. While there is no arguing that these are essential skills, the great leaders understand that in order to truly get the best out of people and deliver the best for the organization, it takes more.

The work of an executive leader is to ensure that the organization remains engaged, motivated, committed, and focused on achieving its goal. This is not to imply that hard work and delivering results are no longer essential to success. You just need to recognize that how you work will be different, and results will be the by-product of your effectiveness at executive tasks. The complex challenge of executive leadership does not allow you to simply rely on your fallback skills. Instead, you must develop and leverage new skills that may fall outside your sweet spot.

As opposed to the skills that made you a success early in your career, you will need to add and develop the following:

  • Listening: An old proverb says that we were born with one mouth and two ears so that we might listen twice as much as we talk. As an executive leader, it is essential that you develop your listening skills. And never confuse hearing with listening. Many of us hear, but we don’t listen. Listening requires focusing on what others are saying, giving them your full attention, and absorbing what is said. Listen to your peers, listen to your customers and former customers, listen to your associates, and even listen to your critics.
  • Questioning: Although listening is essential, it is equally important that you develop questioning skills. Very often, when listening to others it’s easy to assume you understand what they are saying. We believe it’s possible to gain even richer insights by asking the right questions. When in doubt, just ask, “Why?” Such questioning gives the speaker an opportunity to provide the logic and reasoning behind his or her comment or recommendation and helps the leader better synthesize the information.
  • Empowering: By empowering others, you accomplish several worthwhile tasks:
    - You free up your time, which allows you to address more critical matters.
    - You help others to develop and grow by providing them with opportunities to stretch and grow their skills. You teach them how to fish instead of fishing for them.
    - You create a sense of teamwork and accountability by sharing responsibility among team members and by making expectations clear.
    - You cultivate a “can-do” culture where everyone feels valued because everyone contributes.
  • Partnering: As an executive, you need to partner with peers and others in the organization to get things done. You set the organization on a path for success by creating an atmosphere of collaboration, since you understand that organization success trumps individual success
  • Recognizing and Rewarding: Because most executive leaders are focused on driving the organization to meet its goals, many times they fail to recognize and reward those whose efforts make achieving such goals possible. We forget that at the end of the day, we are all people, and people have a need to feel valued and appreciated. In my experience, the acknowledgment of a job well done, whether with a handwritten letter of thanks or even a simple phone call, can make an individual or department perform at even higher levels just because they feel valued. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!