8 Core Leadership Abilities

Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

Photo Credit: Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz identifies 8 abilities that the best leaders possess. Here is the list, along with a brief description and summary of each item on the list.

  1. Strategic Orientation: The capacity to engage in broad, complex analytical and conceptual thinking.” The new realities surrounding organizations demand that leaders have a capacity to engage in strategic thinking in the face of complexity.  Are you thinking about your organizational realities through a strategic lens?
  2. Market Insight: A strong understanding of the market and how it affects the business.” Along with increased complexity, the world is more connected to our organizations than ever before. Are you paying attention to the environment surrounding your organization and how this environment will shape the way your organization goes about its work?
  3. Results Orientation: A commitment to demonstrably improving key business metrics.” Increases in complexity and connectivity in our world translate into increased competition. This increased competition necessitates that leaders pay attention to performance for the things that matter to your community. Are you measuring what matters most to your organization?
  4. Customer Impact: A passion for serving the customer.” In-grown organizations will struggle to thrive in the changing economy. Who do you serve as an organization? Do you have a passion for providing the best possible service for these individuals and communities?
  5. Collaboration and Influence: An ability to work effectively with peers or partners, including those not in the line of command.” Leadership in today’s organizations is not simply about individuals getting individual work accomplished. Complex problems require complex solutions that are often worked out in collaboration. Do you possess a collaborative orientation?
  6. Organizational Development: A drive to improve the company by attracting and developing top talent.” Finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent is a substantial need in the coming years. Factors such as globalization and demographic shifts are making this need more pronounced. How are you leading your organization in a path of intentional leadership development?
  7. Team Leadership: Success in focusing, aligning, and building effective groups.” As noted above related to collaboration, it is no longer about individuals accomplishing individual outcomes. Organizations today require effective groups or teams working together to accomplish increasingly complex outcomes. Are you developing your capacity as a team player?
  8. Change Leadership: The capacity to transform and align an organization around a new goal.” Our changing world translates into dynamic and changing organizations. How are you developing your change leadership capacity? As a community this will be essential as you lean into these organizational and environment transitions?

As the world around us changes, a capacity to adapt to new environments is critical. As you consider these 8 Core Leadership Abilities, what are your strengths? What are your growth edges? Are you committed both to developing yourself and those around you to meet the demands of leadership today?

Watershed Moments and Leadership Development

Just yesterday I passed a sign along the side of the road that caught my attention.

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Photo Credit: Justin A Irving, purposeinleadership.com

The sign indicated a geographic point of separation between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds in Colorado. Watershed in this sense of the word points us to where water will drain from these mountain tributaries.

Watershed Moments

While this is a literal watershed place, leaders are often faced with figurative watershed moments in their development as leaders. Dictionaries define this sense of watershed in the following manner:

…a time when an important change happens

…a crucial dividing point, line, or factor:  turning point

…a critical turning point in time where everything changes that will never be the same as before

Watershed Moments and the Level 5 Leader

Leadership theorists point to related concepts as they describe how leaders develop. Jim Collins talks about events such as a battle with cancer, changed war orders, or religious conversion as creating a watershed moment for developing “Level 5 Leaders.” Collins explains that such experiences allow the level 5 seed to sprout in their lives. Robert Clinton engages integrity checks developing leaders face in his discussion of leadership emergence theory. These integrity checks are often watershed moments, shaping and defining the character of the developing leader.

Watershed Moments and the Twice-Born Leader

Abraham Zaleznik puts forward what he calls “twice-born” leaders in a 2004 HBR article. Zaleznik points to “once-born” and “twice-born” personalities, and argues that it is twice-born personalities who tend to be leaders. According to Zaleznik, while “once-born” individuals have fairly straightforward and relatively peaceful experiences in adjusting to life, “twice-born” individuals often do not having an easy time. Their lives and upbringings were often marked by continual struggle to attain some sense of order, and this struggle created “twice-born” occasions to grow as leaders.

Watershed Moments and You

If you look around at leaders we generally respect, they are often leaders who have faced watershed and challenging moments in their lives. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s overcoming of failure before leading the US through its historic watershed season. Consider Nelson Madela’s time on Robben Island. Consider Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”

Although the experience of difficult circumstances is not something we wish upon ourselves, these circumstances often define watershed moments in our own leadership development journey.

  • How will we face them?
  • How will we face opposition?
  • How will we face failure?
  • How will we face an opportunity to “get away with something”?
  • How will face physical pain such as a life-transforming accident or a battle with cancer?
  • How will we face the loss of a job or position?

Will we face our challenges as watershed moments? Embrace your challenges in life and leadership as opportunities to develop your character, courage, and conviction.
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As you think through your own leadership journey, what have been your watershed moments in life and leadership development?