The idea that leadership skills are not just for leaders in formal leadership positions continues to gain popularity. Over the course of the last decade the idea has built up steam though in my view few organizations have embraced the idea beyond lip service. It is hard to disagree with the notion that leadership exists at all levels, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of action in organizations that is cultivating this idea as a means to competitive advantage. Ram Charan wrote a book called Leaders At All Levels which focused mainly on succession planning and readying levels for future leadership positions, but few have approached the topic of the importance of leadership at the individual contributor level. That is, in many organizations I work with, the leadership skills that are most useful for staff include some fundamental leadership abilities. Here are five critical skills that are important whether you are the front line or the chief executive officer.
Here they are:
- Interpersonal communication skills. More and more knowledge work requires that we work effectively with others. It is not just about playing nice on the playground, but rather how do you interact with others, what is your impact on them, and how do you work as a team?
- Results focus. Organizations today are about producing outcomes. It is not about the input. It is about the output and what happens with the results that you create. I once heard that bureaucracy is the triumph of means over ends and when you hear that, when you see bureaucracy in an organization it is a total lack of results focus.
- Integrity and honesty. Now this one might seem like a no-brainer, because of course, everybody needs these traits as a sort of table stakes for just being in the game. But I am not talking about the sort of not lying, not cheating, not stealing types of character issues. Rather do you say the same thing up the chain as you do down the chain of command? Are you consistent in your approach in dealing with issues? Those are the sort of characteristics that really manifest integrity and honesty.
- Technical expertise. I am not talking about the IT kind of technical expertise, though in some instances it very well may be. Instead, that each individual in an organization needs to have some area of discipline that they are an expert with (whether that is sales, product knowledge, process specialty,) that they know inside and out. Having some kind of expertise that you are one of the best at is a critical attribute.
- Customer, client, or end-user focus. If it is an association then it is members. If it is a not-for-profit then it is your constituency. It is obvious for business that the clients are the ones who pay the bills. But it is shocking how often we lose focus on them. Maintaining a focus on the end user or customer is one way to lead by positive example, regardless of level in an organization.
As I have said, leadership is not always connected to position. In fact many of my clients have key staff members that have an unbelievable influence on teams and on the entire organization but they don’t have a manager title. They are individual contributors. They are individual contributors with great leadership skills and they are exemplars of these traits. It isn’t about your spot on the org chart, it is about is what you do every day.