In 20 years there has been a significant switch in what is considered ESSENTIAL for a leader to be influential. Twenty years ago the focus was on helping leaders develop the technical skills they needed to master in order to be a great leader. It was believed that a great leader led through access to facts and that “soft” skills had a back seat. In September the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) conducted a survey of top leaders around the world and found the opposite to be true today. Now “soft skills” are the DIFFERENTIATOR between good and great leaders.
So what is different today and why are these skills- communication, adaptability and self-awareness- so important?
When what you are working on or looking at is straight forward it better technical skills allow you to be the one to get to the information first so you can act on it. So in the past technical skills were more important as leaders needed to be the first to the right information so they could act on it.
That is not true today. Today we are more complex and interconnected so there is TOO much to weed through. Now leaders need to rely on their ability to develop their ability to use critical thinking. They need to be able to think through situations they have not faced and they need to be able to weed out the irrelevant facts so they pay attention to the right information in the right way.
The problem I am seeing in organizations today is a big gap that is occurring between the leaders at the top and the high potentials. This gap is widening as the leaders at the top are honing their strategic and critical thinking skills while the high potentials are still focusing on the technical skills.
To close the gap in your team you need to focus on the following:
1. Teach your thinking, not the doing. Don’t make it so easy for your team to always get the answer from you. This builds a reliance on you and actually hampers their brain development. Instead, teach them HOW you think and develop it in them.
2. Once a month find a situation you can use to spark the group’s ability to conduct healthy debate. Like in Debate class, force them to take sides and argue their points and then make them flip sides. As their brain has to dig in and develop one argument (which teaches them strategic thinking) once they have to flip sides and argue against themselves they now need to develop critical thinking but re-looking at facts they may have misconstrued or dismissed before.
In our Outcome Leadership Program we help leaders through several critical paths- how to present their thoughts so others act on them, how to get to the right premise of a problem and develop a one time solution, how to get to the beliefs that keep a person stuck in a nonproductive behavior so employees make great change and how to operate as a high critical thinking team. Make sure as you develop your leaders that you work on all the aspects of influence so they can drive your results for 2013 and if you want help, we are here for you!
Anne Warfield, CEO of Impression Management Professionals in Minneapolis, MN.
IMP is a provider of strategic presentation skills training focused on the Outcome Thinking Methodology, helping leaders gain executive presence.