The Three Most Important Skills for Leadership

What a lifetime of management taught me about great leaders

In my experience, all the leaders I have met, trained, and worked with, have the same attributes, or skills. These are three of the most important.

I have not met anyone who is a natural leader who lacks even one of these skills. Those who acknowledge their existence and refine them, become some of the best entrepreneurs I’ve had the good fortune of meeting.

Before I continue, however, I must stipulate that all three of these skills are built on the preamble of “a leader is not a position, it is an attitude”.

Let me repeat that: a leader isn’t defined by his or her title in the org chart, but by how they address, and react to, problems. You can be a manager, or a supervisor, and still not be a leader. While on the other hand you could be a brand-new hire at the bottom of the food chain, and be one of the most powerful leaders in your company.

Keep that in mind as we explore these skills, all of which would be meaningless without understanding this base.

Become an excellent follower

Good leaders are, and always have been, good followers.

“Follower-ship” is an imperative skill that must be mastered before anyone can become a leader, and is an important component of quality leadership. Not only will following others bring you new insights, but it will also demonstrate your trust and respect of the team.

If you want to show your manager you can be a good leader, start by being a great follower. Contribute regularly, learn from everyone, and become as good as you can be in your role. If you do this regularly, it will get noticed and it will be rewarded.

Managers will see the influence you will begin to wield in a growing way over the others in your team, who turn to you for guidance and support because you’ve constantly demonstrated your value.

Once you’ve established this trust, you will find that opportunities to lead will become more prevalent.

Which segues nicely into the next part…

Learn by doing

This is what I would call a BGO, a blinding glimpse of the obvious — the way you learn, demonstrate, and improve your management skills is by simply doing it.

Leaders lead — and not in some “let’s take the hill” or “kill the other side” macho-type stuff, but rather by taking initiative and getting things done.

People generally assume a leadership position quietly, after others have begun to demonstrate a preparedness to follow them. It’s not some dramatic event that propels one into being a leader, but consistent accountability and productivity that establishes a trust. This happens because true leaders know where they’re going, and their followers view them as accretive to their life, their role, their assignment, and/or their business.

They may not have all the answers right away, but by persevering and knowing how to get the most out of those around them, they are able to learn as they go, and continue to build their own expertise.

Managing people isn’t about telling them what to do, it’s about empowering them to bring their best to the table every day.

Consensus is not an alternative for leadership

Consensus is a methodology that leaders employ for decision making and implementation. You can have a democracy where a majority rules, a dictatorship where the leader has complete control, or you can have consensus.

It’s all just a question of how you get to that final decision, but none of these methodologies can operate without leadership.

Someone, in that jury of twelve, has to become the jury foreperson, to guide the conversation and arrive at a consensus. Without significant leadership, it simply cannot happen. Consensus is not an alternative for leadership, it’s just a methodology used by different styles of leaders to help reach a decision

In the business setting, my best advice for making decisions isn’t consensus because you’ll spend forever looking for it. It usually involves concessions and you end up with, at best, a B or B+ outcome.

A much better form of the decision-making process is what I call the counseling method.

The leader, usually chosen by virtue of his title or rank on the org chart, gets together with a few “sub-leaders” who are valued in the team for their expertise. In this meeting, they consider all of the proposals and brainstorm any potential alternatives, and discuss any element that is relevant to the decision that needs to be made.

Once every stone is turned over, and each point has been debated, the leader then assumes the task of guiding the group towards a decision.

There won’t always be consensus, and not everyone will always be happy with the outcome, but through proper debate and discussion, the group will ideally have landed on the best possible option.

It will even help to keep the debate going once a selection has been made, to try and poke any theoretical holes that need to be adjusted or taken into account.

Additionally, everyone that has earned the right to be involved in the decision will feel that their voices have been heard and therefore their opinions respected. By choosing this small select group you won’t spin your wheels trying to please the entire team (that will never happen), but you will have enough of the team’s input to make a well-informed choice.

If you can establish this practice, and open your team up to good healthy debate, directed by a single, strong leader (you) then you’ll find that your great decisions will reap great results.


Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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