If you are looking to improve your leadership skills, you look into a leadership development program to develop your leadership skills. Leadership development is a huge industry. In fact, we spend a whopping $14 billion a year on leadership development¹.
So, we must get amazing results, right?!
Consider this: a recent McKinsey study found 35% of employees would forego a substantial raise in exchange for getting their supervisor fired².
They found almost 40 percent of employees are actively looking for a new job.
What other area in business, or in life, would we tolerate such poor performance? If we are spending all of this money developing leadership skills, how come we have such poor results? It’s because the industry is predicated on making leadership complicated. Leadership can be simple (but not easy).
It turns out there is only one truth you need to remember to develop your leadership skills. What makes a great leader? They remember the one leadership truth and possess the following three leadership skills.
The Leadership Truth
Great leaders aren’t interested in being great leaders. They are interested in being great people.
This is common with the greatest leaders I know, read about, and study. They weren’t interested in being great leaders. They were interested in being a great person. That’s the single most important leadership skill you can develop.
Think of someone you would label a “great leader.” They were more worried about what they could put into others than what they could get out of others.
Leadership Skill 1: Great leaders set the tone at the top.
The first leadership skill you need to know is great leaders masterfully set the tone at the top. They set the tone by communicating the vision and holding people accountable.
When I go into organizations and spend time employees, I commonly hear great leaders are incredible at setting the vision or people are truly inspired. This is a leadership skill that is developed.
When employees “get” the vision, they are visibly excited. They are on the edge of their seat, telling me the vision for the company. You can tell when the leader has set a clear vision.
The vision is not so big that it’s silly. However, it’s big enough everybody can attach to it. The vision is simple. It’s not a 14‑sentence long paragraph. It’s usually a simple 7 to 10‑word statement that gets to the essence of what they do.
Great leaders also set the tone at the top by holding people accountable. “Accountable” can feel like a four‑letter word. It can be punitive. We think the only way to hold someone accountable is to threaten them.
Fear is a great motivator, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When someone isn’t doing their job, you need accountability.
First, you need to understand why someone doesn’t do the job.
They can’t, they won’t, or they don’t know how.
If my job today was to dunk a basketball, I’d be in trouble. However, because my livelihood depends on making you believe that I can, I will do whatever I can to make you think I can dunk a basketball.
Here’s where being a great leader is so important. When I can’t do it, you put your arm around me, and say, “Hey, love the effort, Kirk, but I have to reward results. I believe you can’t dunk this basketball. We’ve got to find something else for you to do.”
If I’ve shown that I can dunk basketballs, but I’m like, “You know what? I’m tired of dunking basketballs. I’ve been doing this forever. Let someone else dunk basketballs. I don’t like dunking basketballs anymore. Can I do it? Sure, but I don’t want to.” As a leader, that’s my trigger to hold somebody accountable.
It’s your responsibility to have the conversation before it turns into a real issue. That conversation is pretty simple, “I need you to get back to doing your job. I hired you to dunk basketballs and need you to dunk again. That’s what I hired you for.”
Don’t know how.
There’s a lot of reasons why someone might not know how. They weren’t given clear expectations. They don’t know culturally what’s expected of them. These people depend on you as a leader to help them learn and go through that process. If done correctly, they can be highly productive for you and for the rest of the team
Read more about how to deal with problem employees.
Leadership Skill 2: Great leaders know how to make the tough decisions.
Great leaders make really tough decisions, especially with time and people. They’ve developed this leadership skill.
They understand this paradigm: time is the most delicate, valuable asset that we have. But it’s also perishable. When a minute is gone, it’s really hard to get it back.
Your time is money. Think about your meetings. How are we spending your “money” in meetings? Or consider your one‑on‑ones. How are you spending your money?
Being diligent with your time is a really tough one. I’ve spent a lot of time coaching people on how to really break through the excuses.
Excuses are like drugs. They’re easy to get your hands on. They’re easy to become addicted to and help us, giving us something to fall back on. Once we can get stripped of those excuses, now we’re ready for some change.
Great leaders also have to make tough choices with their team.
First and foremost, they build great relationships. They build relationships that can handle the weight of the truth. They earn respect.
When the tough conversations need to happen, they can have those tough conversations.
Sometimes those tough choices are moving people out. They can go somewhere else and be wildly successful. It’s scary. If we always are waiting for the problems to show up in the results before we make the decisions, are we really leading? Or, are we just reading?
We’re reading the situation. Everyone else sees it, too. If you wait until an issue shows up in the results, that’s not really leading. It’s too late.
As an organization scales and grows, this behavior actually causes “gunk” in an engine. It causes the engine to underperform. Great leaders don’t let that happen
Leadership Skill 3: Great leaders build trust.
It sounds overly obvious, embarrassingly simple. We all know it’s not easy. It takes time. It takes effort. This is truth beyond simply trusting the words coming out of their mouth. This is another leadership skill that is learned and developed over time.
Every day, you’re either making deposits or withdrawals into the bank account of trust. If you’re honest, admit mistakes and follow the other anchors, there’s a good chance the bank account of trust is in the black. However, leaders get in trouble when it comes time to make a withdrawal and the account is in the red. Would you want to work with someone you couldn’t trust?
Play the tape. Look behind you. No one’s following. They may be following out of compliance (they have to), but they’re not committed. If you’re trying to change the world, you can’t do it with people who are compliant. You’ve got to do with people that are committed.
Don’t set out to be a great leader, set out to be a great person.
Everyone’s trying to corner the market on what a great leader is. In fact, we’re spending $14 billion a year in the US trying to figure it out.
What’s the common thread I’ve seen working with over 8,000 great leaders? It’s pretty simple: Great leaders care about being a great person.
Great leaders know how to set the tone at the top. They set great vision that everybody can attach to. They hold people accountable. They make the tough choices. And they’re able to do all this because they’ve built trust. They’ve earned benefit of the doubt.
Stop focusing on being a great leader. Start focusing on how you can be a great person. Start focusing on these simple 3 leadership skills you can develop today.