10 “Not So Obvious” Leadership Skills

How many of these skills have you mastered?

There are several “go-to” skills that all experts agree a leader needs, including strategic thinking, influencing, communication skills, delegating & empowering others, leading change, and executive presence. If you can deploy these skills effectively, you have a good chance of successfully leading a company or a group. However, there are certain “secondary” skills that the very best leaders utilize to amplify the standard list of go-to leadership characteristics. Here’s a list of skills that don’t get mentioned often enough when we discuss what makes a great leader… how many of these have you mastered?

1) The ability to give an unrehearsed motivating speech. Can you walk into a room on short notice and address the troops with a positive, optimistic message? The best leaders have the ability to hit the right notes with employees in a way that doesn’t seem rehearsed, offering the most important message of all – hope.

2) Interacting regularly with customers or clients. It’s easy to get inwardly focused as a leader. How often are you meeting with clients? How often are you interacting and listening to your customers? Don’t lose sight of why you’re there – to offer great products and services to your customers or clients. If you’re not checking in with them on a regular basis, how do you know you’re hitting the mark?

3) A willingness to reward small failures. Every leader likes winning, and many are good at recognizing success; perhaps this is a strength of yours, too. But how effective are you at rewarding failure? OK, maybe colossal failures aren’t worth celebrating, but all failures are learning opportunities. If someone puts the right effort into a challenge that misses the mark, do you celebrate the effort and key takeaways? Are you making it safe to “fail small”?

4) Strong 1:1 relationships with direct reports’ team members.   Hopefully you have good relationships with your direct reports. But how well do you know their direct reports? Do you have a good working knowledge of their background, responsibilities, passions, career interests, etc.? Be that boss who truly gets to know the people two layers down – you’ll get increased loyalty, trust and commitment to the mission if people know you care about them.

5) The ability to ask great “what if” questions. The best leaders are known for the questions they ask, not necessarily the answers they give. Are you challenging your team every day with provocative, challenging questions? Sometimes your greatest contribution is asking the right question at the right time; the one everyone else is afraid to ask. Ask about assumptions. Ask for alternatives or options when considering recommendations. Ask for diverse points of view and risk assessments. Get in the habit of asking great questions to keep your team sharp.

6) Walking around and talking to random employees. In today’s busy world, this seems like a lost art. Are you dropping by someone’s office or cube every day to chat for a few minutes? You don’t have to talk about work – you can just ask them how they’re doing. Taking the time to connect personally with employees (at all levels) is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the company. Who knows, you just might learn something important, too.

7) Taking care of one’s health and well being. A lot of leaders have stressful jobs. And while leading people is hard work, the best leaders try to keep a clear mind and calm demeanor by exercising regularly and keeping everything in perspective. You’re not much good to the organization if you’re overly tired, stressed or cranky. Are you paying attention to the one thing that enables your optimal performance? Your physical and mental health has to get first priority on your to-do list.

8) Role modeling and reinforcing the company’s values. Too often, a leader will talk about values, but doesn’t live them. Are you “walking the talk” when it comes to your company’s values? Do you speak of them often, sharing examples from around the company? Do you reward or celebrate people who embody the values? Are you always living the values? Remember, you’re always on stage as a leader; don’t miss an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the values.   

9) The ability to run an effective meeting. This skill doesn’t get the attention that the big leadership skills get, but it’s incredibly important. Leaders spend a lot of time in meetings, so it’s important that the meeting have a clear agenda, process and outcomes. Running a crisp, intentional meeting is a skill. Are you good at running meetings? If there’s room for improvement, dig into the what, why and how, and make the necessary adjustments.   

10) Self-awareness and humility. The best leaders know how to critique their own performance. They never feel like they’ve fully “arrived” – they’re always striving to get better. Are you taking a hard look at your leadership performance? Do you see opportunities to improve? Are you seeking feedback, and acting on it? Don’t lose your humility – we all have opportunities to broaden our skill set. Be sincere and genuine about your capabilities, and never stop striving to enhance your leadership impact.