The Most Indispensable Skill for Any Person in Any Job Market
The most valuable skill in this turbulent business climate is the ability to lead — no matter your experience or title, and it comes from 5 simple habits
The landscape of business is changing rapidly. And so is the trajectory of many careers. Everything from changing business models, to remote working, to the burgeoning gig economy, are altering the traditional view of a career path. As such, it is increasingly important that you develop the skills that will separate you from everyone else, and ensure that you advance — no matter your chosen path.
While specific skills — like coding or statistical analysis — are important for specific career paths, their scope is narrow. And technological advancements have rendered many specific skills much less valuable than they once were.
But there is one skill that won’t be rendered less valuable any time soon. In fact, it seems like the many changes in the business world only serve to make this skill more valuable and in-demand each year — perhaps each day. That skill is leadership.
Leadership is for Everyone
Leadership is a universal skill — meaning that no matter what career or personal path you choose, being a good leader will help you more effectively navigate it.
And here’s the important thing: you don’t need to hold the title of a leader to practice great leadership. In fact, the best leaders practice leadership long before they’re given the title.
In fact, everyone, everywhere is in a position to potentially lead. Whether or not someone realizes and takes advantage of this fact is what separates people with unshakable potential from the rest of the pack.
Leadership is Everywhere
Opportunities to lead are pervasive, partly because leadership is the answer to a great many persistent questions.
Leadership is the answer to questions about how a family keeps going and becomes a loving, supportive sanctuary for its members. It’s the answer to how good parenting is done. It’s the answer to how a group of friends can keep up a thriving and supportive relationship. It’s the answer to how a company can grow from a handful of people to a thriving, consistently profitable business. It’s the answer to how an entire country of people with diverse goals and opinions can coexist peacefully.
Whatever the question — so long as it involves people — the answer is usually leadership.
But good leaders are not singular, charismatic, power-hungry type-A people. Leadership is not someone climbing on a proverbial soapbox and yelling to others what they think needs to be done. Leadership is not someone screaming at subordinates about how they need to work harder. People who call themselves leaders do that, but such things are not the makings of a good leader.
The 5 Habits of Great Leadership
In my time holding the title of leader — as well as my time without it — I have learned both how to lead and how not to lead. I haven’t perfected it — and I suspect it will be a while before I do. But I at least know what I’ve got to continue to do in order to get better.
I have come to learn that real leaders — whether they have the title or not — are actually good followers. They follow in 5 important ways.
Follow the Questions
The best leaders ask questions — a lot of them. Simple ones, sometimes stupid-sounding ones, but certainly many of them. Then they wait to hear the answers, and they listen to them with the intent of understanding — rather than becoming defensive or combative. Which — when done correctly — causes them to ask follow-up questions.
Asking good questions involves putting your ego to the side. You may want to jump in as people struggle to answer, but don’t. Let people craft their own answers. That’s part of following the questions. Ask the question, and let it go. See where it leads. Because questions do lead.
Questions should usually begin as open-ended, and asked in a way that makes people feel at ease and safe to answer candidly. If people don’t feel safe answering candidly, the feedback is useless; you’ll repeat the same mistakes over and over.
Continue asking questions even after it seems like you’ve gotten sufficient answers. Ask questions like “how do you feel about that?” or “what might we be missing?”. Get people thinking, and get yourself thinking. This is especially important for those leading “from below” — that is — without the official title of a leader.
Follow Your People
Great leaders must have faith in the people they’re working with. They must trust them. They must be willing to go to bat for them against detractors, and they must be willing to follow their people to the ends of the earth in their search for innovations and answers.
If that trust isn’t there, addressing that is priority #1.
That following needs to be collaborative, enthusiastic, and encouraging. If it is, it creates and cements strong bonds between leaders and the led. Those bonds ultimately outlast the stress created by up and down cycles. Those bonds become what the organization is, under all the other metrics, core values, and shared narratives.
Follow the Pulse
A great leader needs to know the people and to know how things are going and in what direction they are going. She needs to know the ups and downs in morale, the proud moments of the teams, and the hang-ups of those trying to push projects through.
Calamitous as it may sound at times, leaders tune in to the drumbeat of the organization — whether it’s in rhythm or not. And if it is not, leaders are the ones who dig in to find out why it isn’t — and more importantly — how they can help make it right.
That’s why leaders do the work of tuning into the pulse. They talk to people, get involved in various projects that often aren’t part of their official description. They listen to the pain and struggles, and look for places to provide comfort and aid. And they keep listening.
Follow the Vision
People will follow a leader if that leader has a clear vision. But vision is complex thing. It’s not simply having a crazy and disruptive idea; it’s seeing that idea clearly enough to get other people to connect with it. It’s feeling it in a way that makes others — as if by magic — feel it as well.
Vision is also the ability to include — as in, to include dissenting opinion. There are always dissenters. Not everyone sees the vision, and that’s okay. A leader understands and embraces this — and folds the dissenters in, knowing that they can bring value by checking the runaway power of groupthink.
And especially if you’re not a person with a leadership title, vision is the surest way to start testing your leadership ability. Having a vision for how something should work, and just getting started on it, is step one to becoming a leader. You get people to work with you, and believe in what you say.
When people believe in what you say, and you do what you say, they come to believe in you. They come to push hard for you. They come to follow you to the promised land.
Follow through — every time
A leader follows through on their promises. At the ground level, people must see the leader as the one person who does what they say they will — and when they fail, they candidly admit to it.
Perhaps this means promising much less — it probably always means that. But even if fewer promises are made — but are always kept — it builds credibility. In fact, simply making fewer promises tends to automatically make people more likely to believe you.
I once heard a veteran of my industry say that there are really only two things you need to focus on to have a great and fulfilling career: (1) Do your absolute best to keep every commitment you make and (2) make precious few, but extremely meaningful commitments.
It’s simple in theory, but infinitely difficult in practice. People want to be so many things to so many people. They want to take on more in order to advance. But that’s not the way. Focus on a few really meaningful commitments, and throw every ounce of yourself into them. You can still do other things, but they will be a bonus — because you will have kept all of the promises you made.
Leading Is Really Just Serving
In many respects, leadership is actually service in disguise. Leadership is actually the ability to effectively serve many others — often without them even knowing it. You’re never more powerful than when others are allowing you to serve them.
When you realize that service is where the real power is — and you hone that skill — leadership becomes a lifelong vocation. You may not always have the title of a leader, but if so long as you are being the best follower you can be, you’re well on your way to being an excellent leader — and as far as your career goes(and maybe even your life), not even the sky is the limit.