Most of us in the business world will have to think about leadership development – for ourselves or those around us – at some point in our careers. After all, being a leader requires that we constantly evolve, learn new skills, and grow.
But planning for development can often feel overwhelming. Where do you start? What qualities make a great leader? Should certain skills be learned before others? What will be demanded of leaders in the future?
Great leadership always starts with leading yourself well. Building your awareness of who you are and how your behavior impacts those around you. Learning to manage your own emotions and responses more effectively.
These skills are even more critical in today’s increasingly complex world. As the pace of change increases, the stresses we face mount, and uncertainty looms large in front of us, we are called upon to master our own emotions, rise above frustration and fatigue, and create the results needed to succeed. It’s not an easy road, and it requires that we focus on a few critical skills to help us get there.
That’s why I believe three crucial skills will form the backbone of great leadership in the future.
Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to changes, challenges, and crises around you. We think of emotionally resilient people as being able to “roll with the punches” or “go with the flow”. They are less susceptible to the stress and frustration others feel when faced with adversity. Emotionally resilient leaders don’t face any fewer challenges than their counterparts, but they do tend to be more effective in the face of these challenges. And, from a burnout standpoint, they tend to fare better than their less-resilient colleagues as well.
We tend to overlook emotional resilience as a leadership skill for several reasons. It’s one of those traits that we think of as inherent, rather than as a learnable skill so it seldom enters our minds as something that can be improved. It’s also the kind of trait that is hard to put your arms around. It can feel vague, like the secret ingredient that makes one person more successful than another. If we struggle to name something, you can bet it won’t make its way onto a development plan.
But, emotional resilience can be learned. Even the most pessimistic leaders can learn the skills needed to respond more effectively to change and adversity. I’d argue that building emotional resilience should be at the heart of any leadership development work because it gets right at the heart of what is required of leaders – facing daily challenges and responding effectively.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions as well as those of others. In the business world, emotional intelligence is thought of as the ability to navigate the emotional world in a way that makes you and the people around you the most effective.
Emotional intelligence (or EQ) has received some increased attention in recent years, but I find it’s still one of the last things people think of when considering leadership development on an individual level. Like, emotional resilience, EQ can feel like an inherent personality trait rather than a group of skills and attitudes that can be learned and improved upon. Even when we know EQ might be lacking, we struggle to know what to do about it. So, we end up focusing on more straightforward skills instead.
But, research is clear on the importance of emotional intelligence for leaders. EQ is a much better indicator of ultimate success than academic achievement or IQ. Leaders who are high in emotional intelligence possess abilities that are central to driving great results. They inspire others and build more efficient and connected teams. They manage conflict more effectively. Their ability to read the situation more effectively may even make them better negotiators.
Coaching and Developing Others
Perhaps the most recognizable trait of a great leader is the ability to improve and develop those around you. Yet, this skill (or set of skills) is often overlooked when we consider how we need to improve our abilities. Coaching and developing other people to their full potential requires a cluster of abilities – great listening, careful observation, a willingness to speak difficult truths, and an ability to help others navigate their challenges – that can be honed and improved over time.
Coaching others often gets overlooked in favor of more straightforward skills like giving feedback, handling conflict, or delegating. This is probably because becoming a great developer of people can feel both overwhelming and vague. Plus, we tend to think either of improving our skills or the skills of our team and ignore the bridge that connects the two.
But, the truth is that great leaders are only as great as the people around them. They know that to achieve their most important results, they have to rely on an effective team. And, they know that great teams want to learn and grow and improve. In fact, the ability to invest in and develop people is a key driver of employee engagement and satisfaction.
Whether you’re considering leadership development for yourself or others in your organization, these three skills must be part of your program. Emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, and the ability to develop others are crucial skills for tomorrow’s leader. Be sure not to ignore them today.
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