5 Leadership Skills Non-Managers and Non-Supervisors Need to Learn
“Leadership is a quality rather than a job,” Julie Zhou writes in her book The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You. “Anyone can exhibit leadership, regardless of their role.”
If you or your organization’s leadership disagree with Zhou, consider this: Businesses that extend leadership training to all employees, regardless of managerial aspirations, are 4.2x more likely to outperform those that don’t in terms of revenue growth, operating margin, and return on equity.
Unintuitive as it may seem, inclusive leadership development is good for business — especially if your training focuses on these five essential skills.
Leadership skill #1: Communication
Communication is the foundation of effective leadership. But effective communication, or lack thereof, is intricately connected to your organization’s productivity. In a recent survey of almost 2,000 office workers, 70% reported experiencing some form of unclear communication.
The impact of workplace miscommunication, according to researchers, leads to an average $188 billion loss of productivity a year. That’s a lot of moolah!
Work with people managers to assess the proficiency of communication across your organization and identify skills gaps. Every employee should communicate project statuses without being prompted and — more importantly — when they need help, which leads us to the next leadership skill.
Leadership skill #2: Influence
An effective employee is an influential one. This is especially true for the majority of the workforce who occupy the lower rungs of the company hierarchy.
With influence, according to Entrepreneurial You author Dorie Clark, “You get more done and you advance the projects you care about and are responsible for.” Even employees whose primary motivator is to collect a paycheck should consider investing in their ability to influence colleagues. According to Clark, the more influential an employee is, the more likely their paycheck will grow in turn.
Your training programs should cover two types of influence:
- Transactional: Transactional influence focuses on short-term solutions. A leader outlines exactly the steps a subordinate needs to take to achieve a specific goal.
- Transformational: Transformational influence is rooted in empathy. Transformational leaders “act as role models and motivators who offer vision, excitement, encouragement, morale boost, and satisfaction to the followers.”
Leadership skill #3: Active listening
Active listening is technically a communication skill. But it’s far too important to briefly mention in the first section of this article.
A well-spoken employee, no matter how sharp-witted and persuasive, can not gain influence and win the trust of others if they cannot listen. Listening, not hearing, is the key that unlocks every employee’s true potential.
Active listeners don’t wait impatiently for their turn to speak and formulate their response while their coworker or supervisor is speaking to them. Instead, they focus on what’s truly being said, noticing the subtlety of someone’s body language, and — most importantly — learn from the other person. This is critical for developing the next leadership skill in the list: giving and receiving feedback.
Leadership skill #4: Feedback
Giving and receiving feedback is yet another communication skill that’s too important to overlook and warrants the spotlight.
Why? You likely agree that individual contributors who are comfortable receiving feedback will go far, no matter their career aspirations. But those that have limited experience with feedback might never get comfortable with it. They’ll recoil every time the word feedback gets mentioned and develop an aversion to both giving and receiving it.
However, when you normalize it and build a robust feedback culture, the phrase “do you have a minute to talk” becomes benign. Here are a few ways to help every employee practice giving and receiving feedback:
- Reframe experience: Instead of using the f-word (aka feedback), choose different words like “I’d love to share some thoughts with you” and vice versa.
- Celebrate the wins: Add an agenda item to your weekly team meeting asking employees to share their appreciation for a colleague who went above and beyond.
- Encourage frequent reflection: Don’t just wait for performance reviews or project debriefs to share or request feedback. Find the opportunity to check in along the way and offer thoughtful suggestions that can be implemented sooner rather than later.
Leadership skill #5: Strategic thinking
The last must-have leadership skill worth developing across your organization is strategic thinking.
“It’s a common misconception that strategic thinking is an activity that’s reserved for senior leaders,” says Ron Carucci, Managing Partner at Navalent and Udemy instructor. The more employees who can think strategically, according to Carucci, the more easily your company distinguishes itself in the marketplace and continues to build and secure its future.
What, exactly, constitutes strategic thinking? Research involving more than 20,000 executives identified six key leadership qualities that set strategic thinkers apart from everyone else.
- Anticipate: In a sea of ambiguity and an environment riddled with uncertainty, your organization needs employees who pick up the subtle signals of impending change and find opportunities to stay ahead and avoid disruption.
- Challenge: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is a dangerous mentality that can spread like a virus throughout your organization — unless your employees are capable of challenging the status quo.
- Interpret: As the speed of business accelerates, your business needs a workforce that can more quickly recognize patterns and understand their implications. This is especially important for the growing number of roles that require data literacy.
- Decide: The buck may stop somewhere, but an organization that requires management to approve every decision can’t compete. Equip your workforce to make reasonably informed decisions, and you’ll become unstoppable instead of disrupted.
- Align: When teammates can find common ground, anything is possible. They know what needs to be communicated and when. They know their stakeholders’ expectations and avoid misunderstandings. Put another way, they get sh*t done.
- Learn: A strategic thinker’s ability to anticipate the future, challenge assumptions, interpret ambiguity, independently make smart decisions, and masterfully align resources isn’t impervious to failure. Fortunately for you, their team, and your organization, they seek out the lessons gained from both success and failure.
Further challenge your assumptions about leadership development
As you can see, leadership is role agnostic. And when leadership skills and guidance are in your training programs, your organization benefits.
That said, it’s worth evaluating your entire leadership development program. The old take on leadership development is a “stepwise, architected process,” according to HR and workplace learning expert Josh Bersin. These programs can last years and require employees to spend too much time away from projects and teams.
Check out Reimagining Leadership Development for a Multi-Generational Workforce to explore the challenges of developing leaders and identify what leaders, across the multiple generations currently in the workforce, need to help your company succeed.