There are many skills required to be a good leader. In my experience there are three core capabilities however, that when mastered, provide an outstanding platform for leadership success.
These three skills are not only of great value to leading, but also to an extension/requirement of leadership which is the ability to build meaningful relationships with depth. Connecting with and the understanding of people is a key to earning the right to trust and be trusted; removing assumptions; accepting that differences between people is natural and when understood is a positive aspect of life; and increasing the opportunity to influence. Each of the skills detailed adds significant value to make these goals a reality.
The ability to truly listen forms a crucial element of any relationship. In my experience it remains the biggest single gap in capability and is not a strength across most people. Leaders who listen and take in the context and words of others have more chance to build a depth in relationships and purposeful direction, bringing others along on the journey. Listening impacts the level of respect people feel towards one another and taps into the core need to participate and be a ‘cog in the many cogs’ that make business run and life a success.
Associated skills such as paraphrasing; acknowledging; and body language are all important communication attributes, however listening has the most immediate impact both visually and practically. It is a difficult attribute to change or improve as it goes against the grain for most people. But it is not impossible and the power that comes from being a good and effective listener can be a game-changer for many of us in leadership positions.
In my experience empathy is as much about acknowledging as anything else. I have worked within the leadership and customer experience areas for many years and it is amazing how customers and employees respond when empathy is provided at the appropriate time. It is just as impacting when the opportunity to show empathy is missed.
Empathy sits in the mid-range between apathy and sympathy. When practiced sufficiently so that empathy becomes a natural or unconscious part of how you think and operate, it can be a powerful tool in connecting with people. Empathy allows you to understand the emotional state of other people and build a connection though acknowledgment and understanding of alternative perspectives. The potency in this is enormous however is regularly a missed opportunity.
The ability to ask the right questions at the right time is the single greatest skill I have been able to develop in myself and in helping other leaders develop.
How do you improve understanding? Ask!
This should not take the form of or feel like an interrogation. Developing the skills to know when is appropriate, what to ask and how many questions are relevant based on the person and situation will provide great clarity, purpose and direction. Again, this will also go some way to building a deeper and richer relationship with the person involved. We often feel the need to justify another’s position. When we seek solutions for a team member who has an issue that they want resolved or are unhappy with, we often try to resolve from our perspective, not theirs.
How can we answer a question that is not understood (or even asked)? It is neither our role nor right to speak on others behalf and we certainly don’t know as much about the issue or topic as the person involved. So don’t feel compelled to respond and justify what is not understood. Do question and paraphrase to understand and gain clarity.
None of these skills are a silver bullet that will resolve all relational and leadership issues. There is no doubt in my mind however, that by practicing and developing the ability to listen to what others are truly saying and meaning; ask the right questions to clarify and understand; and connect through relating to others via empathy actions and statements, you will become a better leader. In fact, these capabilities, when improved, will have a direct positive impact on all of your relationships…and who doesn’t want that?