Leaders at different levels of the organization face different business challenges. But whether you’re an individual contributor, a first-time manager, a senior executive, or somewhere in between, there are 4 leadership skills you need to master.
The “Fundamental 4” are self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility.
These are timeless competencies that are needed by leaders throughout an organization, regardless of industry or location. But the way you address each skill, what you need to learn or emphasize, will shift as you move to different levels and face new challenges.
Self-awareness is simply understanding your strengths and weaknesses, but gaining self-awareness is anything but simple. This is critical for ongoing and long-term effectiveness as a leader.
Communication is one of the most basic, across-the-board skills all of us need to develop and refine during our careers. In one CCL study, “communicating information and ideas” was rated the most important skill for leaders to be successful. Communication is also embedded in a number of other leadership competencies, including “Leading Employees,” “Participative Management” and “Building and Mending Relationships.”
Writing clearly, speaking with clarity, and using active listening skills are all part of the equation. Communication increases in complexity as a leader moves into increasingly larger roles. It’s largely an interpersonal skill for individual contributors. As you move up the career ladder, it expands to behaviors such as encouraging discussion, building trust, conveying vision and strategic intent and pulling people along with you.
Influence. Developing your influencing skills helps you to communicate your vision or goals, align the efforts of others, and build commitment from people at all levels. Ultimately, influence allows you to get things done and achieve desirable outcomes.
Influence can look very different at different levels in the organization. Knowing your stakeholders, or audience, is key. Do you need to influence your boss? Your peers? Direct reports? Customers? Each stakeholder has special concerns and issues, so various groups and individuals will require different approaches for influencing.
Early in your career, or in individual contributor roles, influence is about working effectively with people over whom you have no authority. It requires being able to present logical and compelling arguments and engaging in give-and-take. In senior-level or executive roles, influence is focused more on steering long-range objectives, inspiration, and motivation.
Learning agility is the ability to constantly be in a learning mode, to value and seek out the lessons of experience. To develop as a leader and as a person, we need to be active learners. This involves recognizing when new behaviors, skills, or attitudes are needed and accepting responsibility for developing them.
Learning agility involves learning from mistakes, asking insightful questions, and being open to feedback. It includes learning a new skill quickly, taking advantage of opportunities to learn, and responding well to new situations. For senior leaders, learning agility is also about inspiring learning in others and creating a culture of learning throughout the organization.
Each of the Fundamental 4 is a “continuous improvement” or “build-as-you-go” leadership competency. To be effective, you continue to develop, adapt, and strengthen them throughout your career. As you gain skill in one area, you’ll find there is more to learn and practice in taking on new challenges and larger roles.
If you think you’ve “skipped over” any of the Fundamental 4 during your career, you won’t be as effective or fully develop your leadership potential. The good news is that with concerted effort, you can learn and improve skills you missed out on.
It’s worth a long-term emphasis on self-awareness. If you can identify gaps or weaknesses in your leadership journey, you have the potential to learn, grow and change. With self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility as the core of your leadership development, you can be confident that you are building for the new opportunity and the next level of responsibility; they’re core leadership skills needed for every career stage.
To learn more, explore CCL’s guidebook series:
- Influence: Gaining Commitment, Getting Results
- Becoming a More Versatile Learner
- Return on Experience: Learning Leadership at Work
- Communicating Your Vision
- Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead