Skills Aren’t Enough (To Be a Remarkable Leader)

Posted: Updated:
Kevin Eikenberry Kevin Eikenberry

When people want to become a more effective leader they ask, “What skills do I need?” When organizations plan their leadership development programs, they start with the skills that will be needed to be successful. It is an understandable goal – to know what people need to be able do in order to lead. Here’s the problem: asking about the right leadership skills isn’t the only question that needs to be asked, because skills aren’t enough.

If skills aren’t enough, what else is needed?

I’m glad you asked.

Skills are Important

Let’s be clear; becoming a successful leader requires us to act.  People aren’t leading because of their title, but because of what they do.  This means that identifying the needed leadership skills is important. Asking the questions posed in the first paragraph are necessary and natural.

Necessary, but incomplete.

After all, if the list was enough, we could identify the perfect list. With that list we could build training to teach those skills and predictably create leaders like creating a product on an assembly line. Stated that way, it is obvious that won’t work, yet that is largely how well-meaning organizations and motivated leaders have been approaching leadership development forever.

But if having the right skillset isn’t enough, what is missing?

Something Else Comes First

Before leadership skills can be applied, questions like these must be considered:

• Do you believe those skills will work with your team?

• Do you believe you can apply those skills?

• Are you confident that these are the right skills?

• Do you believe you have a team that can achieve what you need them to achieve?

• Do you think change – for yourself or others – is possible?

Just one “no” answer (or even uncertainty) to any of these questions, and an individual leader will avoid applying a skill, or at a minimum hesitate and not do the work to build the needed leadership skills.

Before anyone can do the work to learn and apply the skillset, they must have beliefs and a mindset that allows and encourages them to do that work.

It is also worth noting that those questions are framed as personal questions – each leader must answer those questions for themselves.

You Need More Than Shiny Tools in Your Toolbox

Even when the mindset is supportive of the leadership skills offered, there is yet another potential barrier to leaders having remarkable results.

If leadership is about doing things, then leadership skills must be used and applied in the real world, right?  Learning leadership skills isn’t an academic, intellectual exercise.  Rather, the most effective leaders are those who try those skills, apply those skills, hone those skills and use those skills.

And so leadership skills, like any other skills, must be practiced.

Attending training or reading a book can give you the tools.  But until you use those tools they are of little value.  The master mechanic isn’t a master because of the tool collection, but because they know how to use the tools, when to use the tools and then actually uses them.

They have taken the time to try. Their tools have dings and scratches from use.  Yes, they have a big collection of tools in their tool box,.  The collection allows them to use he best tool at the right time. A master mechanic doesn’t try to solve every problem with one hammer, one screwdriver and one crescent wrench.

The same is true for leadership skills –  they are are only useful when used, and can only be used when they become habit.

Much as we might hope, teaching or even having the “right” leadership skills isn’t enough.  Remarkable leaders become remarkable as they develop the right mindset, skillset, and habitset.

Kevin Eikenberry is Chief Potential Officer at The Kevin Eikenberry Group.

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