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 four leadership skills you need to master.
The “Fundamental 4” are self-awareness, communication, learning agility and influence. These are timeless competencies that are needed by leaders throughout an organization, regardless of industry or location. “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,” says Renée Hultin, CCL’s group director, global product development.
Self-awareness is simply understanding your strengths and weaknesses, but gaining self-awareness is anything but simple. “We know this is critical for ongoing and long-term effectiveness as a leader,” says Hultin. “Self-awareness has been the foundation of much of CCL’s work for a very long time.”
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 part of the equation. Communication increases in complexity as a leader moves into increasingly larger roles, notes Hultin: “Communication is largely an interpersonal skill for individual contributors. It expands to behaviors such as encouraging discussion, building trust, conveying vision and strategic intent and pulling people along with you.”
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,” Hultin explains.
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.
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,” says Hultin. “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.
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, it’s true that 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.
“This goes back to CCL’s long-term emphasis on self-awareness,” says Hultin. “If you can identify gaps or weaknesses in your leadership journey, you have the potential to learn, grow and change. With self-awareness, communication, learning agility and influence 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.”
- CCL’s Leader Development Roadmap shows how development can be targeted to five levels of leadership: leading self, leading others, leading managers, leading the function and leading the organization.
- From CCL’s guidebook series: