10 organizational competencies of a superlative leader

He was a fair to middling woodworker. On a good day he could complete a project with only one or two mistakes. In his early thirties, he had an inclination to drink and in a place where the price of rum was less than that of milk, staying lubricated was neither difficult nor expensive…unless you counted the cost of impaired thinking and skills.

He worked for me for a while but I finally let him go after my attempts to keep him sober and on the job just didn’t work. I heard that he opened his own cabinet shop. A few months later I learned that he had closed his shop and gone to work for someone else.

He had discovered that woodworking skills, what in the HR world are called hard skills, are not enough. Successful owners of businesses or leaders of organizations know that two skill sets are often required. One is personal, the skills of the particular profession whether it be woodworking or architecture.

But the second set will ultimately determine if the organization or business will survive and thrive. That is the set of 10 organizational competencies every superlative leader needs.

1. Maintain a forward focus and organize change. Technical skilled people must, of necessity, focus on the right now. They must attend to the processes and practices in the immediate. Widgets have to be made, sales calls must be completed, or briefs must be written. But superlative leaders know that what’s done today must have some definitive relevance on tomorrow and next year. If you don’t, the urgent will supplant the important. There will always be things to do. The question is, are they the right things to do?

2. Identify and solve problems. I wrote about problem solving skills in previous posts. Check them out here,  here, and here.

3. Make decisions. This may be one of the most critically important things you can do. Indecisiveness will torpedo your authority faster than anything else. People expect you to lead and that means that want someone to make a decision. That’s you.

4. Manage politics and influence others. Politically skilled leaders know how to move an agenda forward. The skill set includes the powers of persuasion, negotiation, compromise, and influence. The idea of managing politics is distasteful to many but look at it in its purest sense. Everyone has feelings, ideas, ambitions, and intentions. Use your skills to bring people along for the good of the company or the organization. At the same time, guard against manipulation and the blind abuse of power for selfish purposes.

5. Take intelligent risks and innovate. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Leadership is a risky business. In the end we very often judge ourselves by what we have accomplished, but we tend to diminish our gains by those things we just didn’t even try to do. No one is recommending foolhardiness. I am encouraging you to take chances. Why do you think funding sources are sometimes referred to as venture capitalists?

6. Set vision, develop strategy, and implement tactics. I go here more than anywhere else. If there is one skill that rides supreme over all others it is this one. On it hinges everything. Organizations enter a death spiral when vision and purpose fade from view.

7. Monitor the work. To get what you EXPECT you must be faithful and diligent to INSPECT.

8. Business skills and knowledge. You really do need to know the business you are in and how it works. Many soft skills are universal but their application usually needs to be tweeked and your insights into the business because of experience and education give you an edge.

9. Understand and navigate the organization. This is trickier than it seems. We are familiar with organizational charts but things never work that cleanly or precisely. There are lines of communication within organizations you need to know…and therefore can use. Machines are simple to learn to operate but people are complicated and can be inconsistent depending on mood and circumstances.

10. Always motivate, never manipulate. Manipulation is usually more efficient but ineffective over the long haul. Being able to motivate is at the crux of leadership. General Dwight Eisenhower said that leadership is the art and science of letting people have your own way.

These ten things are more a manifestation of who you are than what you do. They are the result of a thousand small acts and words. And we are all learning how and doing better all the time.

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