The Seven Essential Skills
to Become a Great Leader
by Dr. Peter J. Dean
The L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Method contains the essential skills necessary for any
effective leader to practice. While these skills are practiced to some degree
individually, it is their integration and systematic use that will result
in optimum leadership ability. And, as more leaders practice the Method, leadership
will be demonstrated at all levels of an organization. L.E.A.D.E.R.S. is an
acronym for seven critical skills:
- Listen to Learn
Leaders who listen to learn understand that true listening employs consistent
eye contact, facing the speaker, avoiding distractions and waiting until
the speaker is finished before responding. In business perhaps more attention
needs to be paid to listening than to other components of communication since
it is a key to successful exchanges. Active listening is collaborative and
comprehensive: it is listening with purpose; hearing what is being said;
recognizing tone of voice and mood of the person speaking; and having an
open mind. In many settings, learning is achieved through listening and,
in the business world, both listening and learning are prerequisites for
- Empathize with Emotions
This entails aligning the leader's personal feelings with those they
are in contact with without letting sympathy for the other person cause a
loss of objectivity. Leaders should recognize emotions by bringing them into
the conversation to show that they understand. Effective approaches for achieving
a level of empathy include phrases like "help me understand your concern
about this matter." Empathizing with emotions helps to encourage feedback
and to create a work atmosphere where disclosure by others can occur more
easily. This is facilitated by seeking to understand colleagues' areas of
stress, the emotions they are feeling, empathizing with the emotions, and
then moving on to the content of the discussion.
- Attend to Aspirations
Personal goals should be acknowledged and encouraged in order for aspirations
to thrive in a positive climate. Aspirations, which are strong desires or
ambition for advancement, are generated from within and drive us to act.
Leaders know that attending to aspirations is important because it encourages
productivity by helping others grow. In an exclusionary environment, it is
easy for individuals to go about their jobs without aspiring to improve themselves
or their situations. It is important for each organization to be clear about
its vision, mission and values so that employees can express their personal
aspirations and understand where they fit in.
- Diagnose and Detail
A leader must have the skills to diagnose and detail the facts in any
conversation in order to avoid wrong assumptions and undesirable conclusions.
There are several levels of diagnosis to be considered - from the philosophical
and cultural, through policy and strategic, and finally to the tactical and
logistical levels. There are many questions to be asked in looking for the
details necessary to make good decisions, and it is important to shape them
in a way that avoids negative response or causes silence. The optimum framework
for questions allows for issues of complexity, emotion, motivation and ability
- Engage for Good Ends
Leadership entails selecting the right course of action in planning,
decision making, and business practice to help bring the best overall results
for the company while adhering to ethical standards. While each of us has
a right to think and act in our own self-interest, it is not the thinking
and action of a true leader. Operating from the premise that creating and
maintaining an ethical environment ought to be within the mission of an effective
organization, as well as being good business practice, leaders should address
ethical concerns in a straightforward manner without fear of reprisal. Specifically,
ethical practices include the three main categories: integrity and justice;
prudence, competence and productivity; and fortitude and responsibility.
- Respond with Respectfulness
Respectful leaders honor the worth and dignity of individuals, are sensitive
to power differences, and resolve conflicts with honesty and patience. They
are also concerned with rights to privacy, confidentiality and self-direction.
They are aware of the potential conflict between certain legal obligations
such as compliance policies and procedures, and the exercise of individual
rights. When conflict does occur among stakeholders' obligations, concerns
and rights, leaders must attempt to resolve these conflicts with respectfulness,
eliminating or minimizing any harm to others.
- Speak with Specificity
Speaking reveals leadership skills as well as the personal power and
sphere of influence one has in an organization. The three elements of speaking,
verbal, vocal and visual, create a climate of credibility and confidence
for a leader. When a leader is a skilled speaker, he or she can elicit attention,
relay ideas, provide order and direction, solve problems, persuade, and build
trust. A lasting take-away thought or idea comes by way of a speaker-designed
residual message that carries emphasis and requires preparation and skill.
To be more successful as a leader, one must hone and develop speaking skills.
Learning to manage the flow of emotions, moods and ego during exchanges
is the foundation for authentic communication, and a powerful tool to be used
in everyday interactions, from formal meetings to one-on-one conversations.
By leaving ego and emotions at the door, an individual is positioned as a
genuine leader who instills confidence in those around him or her.
Using these seven essential skills, leadership is not restricted to positions
of authority or stature and can, in fact, be practiced by individuals acting
within their sphere of influence without being labeled as leaders. A powerful
organization has a broad spectrum of those who can be defined as "leaders."
Nearly everyone can lead, whether an entry-level employee, a productive sales
advisor, or a vice-president negotiating on behalf of the company.
The opportunity for practicing everyday leadership is fueled by the speed
of change. Our global society is experiencing an ever-increasing rate of change
in the areas of technology, economics, politics, social factors, knowledge,
and systematic thinking. There is change not only within these categories,
but because of the interaction and crossover among categories, and the expectation
is that the rate of change will continue to increase.
The difficulty of any change is that it is likely to be extremely complex,
and is certain to tax the attention, intelligence, powers, and will of anyone
interested in initiating and managing transformation. Change requires an honest
articulation of fresh visions of the future, and that vision can come from
virtually any level of an organization.
When individuals practice good leadership skills and acknowledge change,
the entire organization benefits. Management is easier when leadership resides
throughout all organizational levels with each person utilizing his or her
sphere of influence in a positive way. These skills allow individuals to develop
expertise earlier in their careers and demonstrate greater productivity, resulting
in a more enjoyable and positive work environment. People can be excited about
going to their place of employment because they are developing their repertoire
of leadership skills. By allowing leadership skills to develop early, both
the individual and the company grow and profit.
Dr. Peter J. Dean, President of Leaders By Design, the leadership development
and coaching firm, has served as an international coach and consultant for
many Fortune 500 and other companies worldwide. He currently holds the O.
Alfred Granum Chair in Management at The American College, where he is a Management
and Leadership Professor. He is a lecturer on Communication, Ethics and Leadership
at The Wharton School, and on Leadership in the Public Domain at the Fels
Center of Government, both at The University of Pennsylvania. He received
his Ph.D. in Learning Psychology and Human Resource Management from the University
of Iowa, a Masters of Science in Organizational Dynamics from the University
of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor of Science in Business from Morningside College.
for additional information.
||Dr. Dean's eighth book, Leadership for Everyone, was
published by McGraw-Hill in September 2005.
more articles in Creative Leadership in The
CEO Refresher Archives