4 absolutely essential leadership skills

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According to a joint report from The Conference Board and McKinsey & Company, over 90% of CEOs see leadership development as the single most important human capital issue their organizations face.

I couldn’t agree more.

For years, numerous researchers have been raising the alarm about the deplorable lack of training and support for new managers or leaders, and the devastating impact on corporate growth, innovation, and employee engagement when leaders are left to struggle on their own.

When leadership development programs are offered, they typically address such an extraordinarily broad range of behaviors and issues that they rarely achieve their intended objective. This may explain why only 43% of CEOs are confident their training investments will show a demonstrable return.

Research to the rescue

To better define why and how leaders are successful, McKinsey & Company identified a comprehensive list of twenty distinct leadership traits, and then surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations around the world to assess how frequently those leadership behaviors were applied within their organizations.

They found a small subset of leadership skills closely correlated with leadership success – particularly among frontline leaders. High performing leadership teams typically displayed four of the twenty distinct leadership traits. In fact, those four traits explained 89% of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness.

Four behaviors are essential

To more effectively target training investments, McKinsey & Company’s Organizational Health Index research suggests the secret to reliably developing effective leaders is to focus on and encourage these four behaviors.

  1. Supporting others. Supportive leaders understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust, and inspire and help colleagues overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency; they calm unwarranted fears, and prevent employees from engaging in internal conflicts.
  1. Seeking different perspectives. This trait is conspicuous in leaders who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to other concerns. Leaders who did well on this dimension typically based their decisions on sound analysis and avoided the many biases to which decisions are often prone.
  1. Operating with a strong results-orientation. Leadership isn’t only about developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives, but also about following through on them to achieve the desired results. Leaders with a strong results-orientation tended to emphasize the importance of efficiency, productivity and prioritizing the highest-value work.
  1. Solving problems effectively. The process that precedes decision making is problem solving – gathering, analyzing and considering all available and pertinent data. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it’s a key factor in decision making for major issues as well as the numerous routine decisions leaders and manages are expected to make on a daily basis.

McKinsey’s research highlights the core leadership behaviors that will be the most effective for many companies, especially in front line management. For organizations planning to invest in the development of their future leaders, prioritizing these four areas is a great place to start.

By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP
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