The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World


TL;DR Summary

Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety

This is all about creating a safe and trusting environment, as a leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, while those who communicates clearly avoid blindsiding people.

In a safe environment, employees can relax and this invokes the brain’s higher capacity for creativity and ambition.

Neuroscience corroborates this: as the amygdala perceive a threat to our safety, the arteries harden and channel more blood flow to our limbs, preparing for a  fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the social engagement system of the limbic brain and the executive function of the prefrontal cortex, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence.

To increase feelings of safety, communicate with the specific intent of making people feel safe e.g. to acknowledge and neutralise feared results or consequences from the outset (i.e. clearing the air).

Empowers others to self-organize

No leader can do everything on their own, hence it’s important to delegate power and to trust the decision making of others.

Empowered teams are more productive and proactive, while also showing higher job commitment and satisfaction.

Avoid the feeling of reluctance to allow others make mistakes, even though that means owning up to their mistakes.

Start doing this by being aware of the physical tension that arises. Separate the current situation from the past and share the outcome you fear with others. Remember that giving power up is a great way to increase influence.

Fosters a sense of connection and belonging

As a social species, we naturally want to connect and feel a sense of belonging, and having one can impact productivity and emotional well-being.

After the leader has ensured everyone feels safe, it’s then important to make everyone feel cared for (which activates the limbic brain) in order to unleash the full potential of the higher functioning prefrontal cortex.

To do this, simply smile at people, call them by name and remember their interests. Be focused while speaking to them and set the tone that everyone has each other’s backs.

Shows openness to new ideas and fosters organisational learning

It’s difficult to admit we’re wrong.

Under stress, there’s a reduced blood flow to our brain that reduces peripheral vision, causing tunnel vision. Though this helps in ensuring our survival, our opinions get more inflexible when we’re shown a contradicting evidence, making learning almost impossible.

To encourage learning, leaders must ensure that they are open to learning and changing course themselves.

Start by trying to approach problem-solving discussions without a specific outcome. Let everyone speak and let them know that all ideas will be considered. In this way, a greater diversity of ideas will emerge.

Leaders must create a culture that supports risk-taking by allowing small failures and giving rapid feedback and correction. Allow team members to learn from each others’ mistakes too.

Nurtures growth

Think of the people you’re most grateful for. They’ve probably cared for you or taught you something important.

When a leader show commitment to our growth, the primal emotion to reciprocate is tapped and we’re more motivated to go the extra mile to express our gratitude.

To inspire the best from your team, advocate for them, support their training and promotion and sponsor their important projects.

Notable Quotes

Try to separate the current situation from the past, share the outcome you fear most with others instead of trying to hold on to control, and remember that giving power up is a great way to increase influence — which builds power over time.

Failure is required for learning, but our relentless pursuit of results can also discourage employees from taking chances.

Recommended Reading

Recommended book - The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard

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Source: Harvard Business Review

Note: HBR only allows free access to 4 articles/month

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