Effective leadership equals doing specific tasks well

As with all things human relations, leadership boils down to mastering the absolute basics as well! Tom Peters recommends the following skills that one must master to be achieve leadership excellence. It’s from his latest book, “Excellence Divided,” that I highly recommend you buy if you’re a student of leadership and excellence.

I’ve done my best to chip in with my comments for the points that might seem out of context or not-so-obvious. Enjoy!

  1. Avid practitioner of MBWA/Managing by Wandering Around. I’ve already discussed this in detail in a previous post. For best results, check out biographies by Howard Schultz, Muhammed Yunus, and Lou Gerstner.
  2. Aggressive (“fierce”) listener (student of listening excellence). Not just “active” listening but “fierce” enough that the person feels they are the centre of universe for you.
  3. Expert at questioning
  4. Expert at helping (so, so difficult). “What can I do to help?” Have you been asking this lately?
  5. Expert at building matchless first-line management. Investing in your production crew might be the smartest decision you’ll ever make. They know the harsh realities of the business more than you do. Treat them well. Help them grow. Period.
  6. Expert at holding productive conversations. Keep your meetings short, purposeful, and have an agenda. Always. It’s non-negotiable. (I often schedule “no agenda” meetings every now and then with my team and the insights that I draw from these are more valuable than the ones with a set agenda. The key is to have clarity on the outcome you want from the conversation.)
  7. Fanatic about clear communications that acknowledge (radical) individual differences. Believe me, the world would be a better place if we start doing this often. Most leaders or rather people in authoritative positions don’t get this. It’s either their way or the highway. Not exactly a great strategy to build a great team and leaving a legacy.
  8. Master of social media. I honestly don’t agree with this. Perhaps, functional mastery is what we can live with. Anything else is just an overkill.
  9. Master of/obsession with acknowledgment. Absolutely. An acknowledgment is a powerful gesture indicating that the other person has been heard.
  10. Effective at fast, proactive apology. The more you delay this the harder an apology becomes. Get it out of your way at the soonest.
  11. Excellent presenter. This is a no-brainer. But don’t just focus on “presenting” but communicating and more importantly, connecting with your audience.
  12. Conscious master of body language. Your body speaks. Think of it as the “video” that should always be in alignment with your audio. Those “unsaid” words have a graver impact on the way you communicate than you think.
  13. Master/student of hiring. Most leaders don’t think this is important until it’s either too late or they’ve been building and leading teams or a while. Having an eye for talent is a crucial leadership trait one must master.
  14. Master of evaluating people. Related to the above but goes much deeper. Ongoing evaluation is a must but that doesn’t mean you have to carry a pen and paper at all times. A thoughtful mind in addition to an understanding of the major objectives your people are fulfilling is a great starting point.
  15. Time manager par excellence/vigilant regarding overscheduling
  16. Avid student of the process/psychology of influence. This one’s so grossly underrated. Tom literally means you’ve got to be a student of the psychology of influence. This is so critical that it easily is one of my top 5 when it comes to leadership development.
  17. Student of organizational politics. It’s not a bad word until you think it is. Organisational politics is for real and you can’t dodge it. The only way for a leader is to master navigating around it. Start with these two books: Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks and HBR Guide to Office Politics (HBR Guide Series)
  18. Student of decision-making/student of cognitive biases that derail decision-making. Same as number 16 above. You cover that and this one’s taken care of as no study/resource of psychology and influence can ignore cognitive biases. It’s that damn important and obvious.
  19. Brilliantly schooled student/practitioner of negotiation
  20. Fanatic about employee development for 100 percent of staff. This too is in my top 5 must haves for up and coming leaders. People first. Everything else comes after. Growing your people is the most important responsibility of a leader bar none.
  21. Student of the power of diversity on any and every damn dimension you can name. This one’s redundant, honestly. See #22 below.
  22. Aggressive in pursuing gender balance. There’s overwhelming evidence that a diverse team can consistently outperform a regular team (with the usually imbalanced ratio of men and women) by a staggering figure. Why most leaders don’t pay attention to this beats me but if you are reading this and have the position and authority to build great teams, let this be one of your top priorities.
  23. Insistent on instilling business sense in one and all. You’ve got be careful about this one. Becoming overly “businessy” can get in the way to think about some of the crucial points listed above. Find the right balance of having a business sense and putting people, diversity, and productivity. It’s hard but definitely not impossible. As with all great things, everything starts with having a good intent.

Mull over this list. Rip it apart, combine them, or add to it but don’t ignore it. Some of the points above have been quite helpful in my development as a leader.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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