Who knew that the art of leadership in the world of business would hinge on an individual’s ability to master an array of interpersonal skills? Today’s leaders face difficult challenges in the wake of scandals involving a powerful few who have abused the trust others placed in them.
Still, the basic elements in developing leadership skills have not changed. With a presidential election looming and many local leadership decisions on the horizon, consider using this list of skills as a guide not only to help understand the expectations of a leader but also as a standard by which leadership candidates can be compared and judged.
Accountability: Accountability boils down to accepting responsibility for your actions and decisions, as well as for the ramifications of those decisions and actions. Individual elements such as transparency, honesty, integrity and ownership each play into accountability. A master of the art of accountability will make all these elements appear to be second nature.
Accessibility: A leader with whom you can’t interact always gives rise to a question in the back of your mind that is reminiscent of “The Wizard of Oz.” Is the leader truly as you perceive her or him? Or is the leader simply pulling the levers behind the curtain to maintain a façade? Accessibility may be the single biggest issue for most leaders because of their grinding schedules and the overwhelming responsibilities they often shoulder each day. To master the skill of accessibility, a leader must have regular and sincere interaction with those he or she leads, whether it involves fielding questions at a gathering, responding to e-mail or written inquiries or holding meetings with small groups.
Engagement: Some people confuse accessibility with engagement; it’s important to understand the difference. If someone attends a meeting but isn’t mentally focused, they are missing the engagement piece of the puzzle. Eye contact, active listening, sincere responses, avoidance of distractions and nonverbal communication all are elements of being engaged. Those aspects are vital in developing trust between leaders and followers. Masters of engagement have a particular skill: They can make a brief, chance encounter seem as if an old friend had just stopped by to catch up.
Focus: Generally, you will hear political candidates or other elected leaders talk about how they are running on a platform. This platform is a representation of the individual’s belief structure and of their objectives should they be elected. Attaining this level of focus is not necessarily easy. Effective leaders must master the ability to judge each action they are authorizing or undertaking, as well as the ability to justify a particular action in pursuit of a specific goal.
It should be abundantly clear that the elements that make a great leader are strikingly similar to the factors that form the foundation for building a relationship of trust. That should not come as a surprise — leaders are entrusted with important responsibilities.
Certain questions must be asked of potential leaders: Do they have the ability to master all of the above skills? Can they earn the trust of a group?
Failure to live up to those expectations can bring a swift fall from grace.
Jason Monaghan writes about leadership and sustainable education for University Alliance. He has contributed to sites including Verizon Small Business Blog, Linked to Leadership and Lead Change Group.