There are a lot of ideas floating around about the different skills and competencies that leaders require to be effective in their roles.
From providing inspiration to holding people accountable, communicating effectively to driving innovation, there is no shortage of ideas about the traits and skillsets that make for effective leaders in today’s organizations.
I once went to a week-long leadership development program that tried to teach 16 different leadership competencies. For the record, I can remember about three items on my grocery list, so the idea of holding 16 different competencies and balancing them against each other was daunting at best (and probably a little overwhelming).
And therein lies one of the biggest challenges with leadership.
If everything is important, then nothing is important. If you have to simultaneously be funny and fair, motivated and mature, bold and balanced, empowering and empathetic (and 97 other things)…at some point it’s not surprising that leaders throw their hands up in the air and lie awake at night wondering if they’re having the kind of impact that they hope to.
Why Self-Care is the #1 Leadership Skill
It was a serious toss-up between the two leadership skills to see which one would come out on top, but I firmly believe that Self Care is the most important (and most overlooked) leadership skill that separates the best from the rest.
The simple fact of the matter is that leadership is the vehicle for almost everything that happens in an organization, and leadership is simply a relationship between someone with power and influence (and the ability to make choices and drive action) and those that they lead.
Leaders have an impact on the people that they lead, and that impact can be positive or negative (it’s very rarely neutral). Essentially, leadership means taking someone, loading them up with responsibility and pressure to succeed, and putting them in charge of other people. What could possibly go wrong?
It quickly becomes apparent that Self Care, in this context, is the critical element of leadership success.
Because leaders who are burnt out, stressed out and generally not taking care of themselves, are in no way, shape or form able to adequately care for the people in their charge. It’s impossible.
Aside: If you have kids, you’ll understand this immediately. When are you at your worst as a parent? For me, it’s when I’m stressed out and/or overwhelmed that my patience and ability to be present and engaged with my children is most compromised. 8PM on a Friday night after a long week? Bedtime gets a little rough.
And you know what? Leadership and parenting aren’t that different, when you strip away the titles and job descriptions. Caring for the people in your charge to maximize their growth, development and contribution.
From a Right Use of Power perspective (a model that heavily influences my work), Self-Care is considered a critical component of our ethical practice, not something that is optional.
Feedback is an Investment in Relationship
The second most important Leadership skill (and a close second to Self Care) is the ability to give and receive effective feedback.
Feedback is the only mechanism that a leader has to align their IMPACT with their INTENTION.
I’ve never met a leader who says;
“Every morning I wake up with the intention of causing my people undue stress, confusion and harm.”
And yet…I’ve met my fair share of employees who tell stories of leaders who’s impact is just that.
How can leaders ensure that the impact they’re having on people is congruent with their intentions? In a word, feedback.
The ability to give and receive effective feedback is so critical, because it’s the only mechanism by which we can become aware of our impact, take steps to align our behaviour accordingly, and then take meaningful and positive action steps.
Here are a few tips for building your feedback muscles, and make sure you check out the other posts on the topic (start with F is for Feedback);
- Remember that feedback is a gift…the intention is to make an “investment in relationship”. Even tough or uncomfortable feedback is possible when it’s built around the knowledge that it’s being delivered in the best interests of the receiver, not the frustration or anxiety of the sender.
- Start early and deliver often. Nothing’s worse than getting no feedback for months on end, and then being blindsided by the 3-month eval or annual performance review. Make asking for feedback, and giving it, an organizational habit and part of the normal rhythms of your organization.
- Give regular positive praise for performance or behaviour that lines up with your team’s values. “Something I notice and appreciate about you is…” goes a long way towards reinforcing positive behaviour.