Improving Leadership Skills for a Better Career

In the EBNonline webinar last week, Gerry Fay, chief global logistics and operations officer at Avnet, clearly demonstrated the need for leadership skills for company growth. With the difficulty companies currently express in finding talent, all of us need to understand why and how we must continue to improve our leadership skills, no matter what our age, rank, or serial number.

Are Your Leadership Skills Showing?

Moving into leadership without the maturity and  actual on-the-job experience can lead to failure.

Moving into leadership without the maturity and
actual on-the-job experience can lead to failure.

Here are some numbers Fay shared:

  • In 1990, the median age of people in director level positions were age 42, but in 2010, the median age was 34. He also stated that 30 percent to 50 percent of new managers “fail or derail.”

What does that mean for us? He explained that leadership comes with experience. Moving into leadership without the maturity and actual on-the-job experience can lead to failure. Companies often promote without adequate training and experience. But let's start with the definition. What is leadership?

I polled about 100 of my closest friends for a one-word definition of leadership. The results were amazing. I received better than 25 percent response within 24 hours of asking. Many did not follow directions with one person sending 10 points to ponder on the topic. Two quoted famous people (Abraham Lincoln and Norman Schwarzkopf). There was no real consensus but the traits that were repeated include confidence, listening, decision making, and compassion.

What you can do
Speak up when you have something to add, not just to hear your voice. Accept your strengths and delegate to others with different strengths. Learn to use the strengths of team members, encouraging ongoing learning.

One remark from a job seeker, I thought particularly poignant, demonstrated action for us, whether we are management or individual contributors:

  • Reward the performers,
  • Motivate the laggards, and
  • Assuage the “prima donnas”

A balance in age in any group can help or hinder talent leadership. The new grads love challenge and flexibility. They won't stay if they aren't happy. That doesn't mean cajoling the younger worker or appeasing the worker who says, “That's the way we've always done it.” It means trying to add value with the ideas at hand. It means moving forward, not stagnating. It means being open to new ideas and helping others look at innovation from various aspects to determine merit.

Take a leadership class. Read a good book on leadership. Attend a conference to hear role models and learn new skills. Enroll in a college class or program to update your skills. Discuss your role within your group with your manager. Take time to think about what you contribute to your work group. Moving into leadership starts now. Keeping your career on track requires attention every day.

The more experience you have leading groups, projects, and organizations, the better you know what works and doesn't. When given an opportunity for leadership, accept the challenges and promote others' talent. Leaders must often make tough decisions, like layoffs, closing a department, and terminating someone well liked, but underperforming. As Kermit the Frog said, “It’s not easy being green.”

Feel free to add your comments. Next week I'll share the 25-plus responses I received from my best friends! You may want to add to their comments then, as well! You'll like my friends!

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22 comments on “Improving Leadership Skills for a Better Career

  1. SP
    May 9, 2013

    completely agreed that leadership is a skill which is very well needed if you want to grow in the corporate ladder. some are born with this skill, some develop it with experience and some tries it. some key points of a good leader is honesty, work hard, take tough decisions, rejoice the success and learn from failures.

  2. ahdand
    May 9, 2013

    Leadership is the key path for sucess. If you have leadership qualities you are sure of being sucessful.

  3. Wale Bakare
    May 9, 2013

    How would you make correlation between someone with natural qualities and paper qualifications e.g MBA?

  4. Ruth Glover
    May 9, 2013

    You question is fabulous.  I hope other readers respond with something far more profound than my comment.  I think some MBAs have innate abilities and some don't.  The individual who goes back to school with a period of prior work experience has an advantage, but only with the right personality and pertinent experience.  

  5. _hm
    May 9, 2013

    What are special skills to have better career as follower? As there are few leaders and more followers, I may like to know more about to be successful follower.


  6. Ruth Glover
    May 9, 2013

    To be a better follower? Someone told me a long time ago that the best way to succeed is to make the boss look good. Certainly, that's easier said, than done, if you have an incompetent, irrational jerk for a boss. Coping with your perceived reality, doing the best you can seems trite. But if you do work for a jerk, maybe it's time to move to a new position. I think being willing to go above expectations and excellent communication skills, both oral and written are required for success. What do you think?

  7. SunitaT
    May 10, 2013

    Accept your strengths and delegate to others with different strengths.

    @Ruth, thanks for the post. Leaders should  be aware of strengths and weakness of the entire team. This will help them in resource planning because they which person has the skill set to do the job at hand.

  8. SunitaT
    May 10, 2013

    some key points of a good leader is honesty, work hard, take tough decisions, rejoice the success and learn from failures.

    @SP, totally agree with you. I think one more important skill leader should have is that he should be  a team player. He should always take the entire team along with him and give the credit to the team in when he is successful.

  9. elctrnx_lyf
    May 10, 2013

    Leaders should be always curious and investigative to spark the thought process of individuals. Its always important to timely reward the perfromers and encourage team work.

  10. _hm
    May 10, 2013

    @Ruth: I do not agree entirely. You may sound good, as in text book. Real life drama are little different. You need to respond to circumstances.

    I never classify boss as jerk or like – I may call them difficult. But I have tamed difficult bosses and we have become very good friends and they have helped me so much so. I have also effectively utilized this approach and was promoted in senior management at very young age in Fourtune 100 organization.

    You need to be very good follower too, learn art of management from your senior. When opportunity arise, utilize all these skills to be great, highly effecrtive adorable leader. It needs time and perseverance.

    For successful organzation, you need few good leaders and many more effective follower.



  11. Ruth Glover
    May 10, 2013

    Another suggestion, which I seem to preach, the imporatnace of networking with people in other companies who have similar skills.  That's where connecting with people on LinkedIn and other social media can be very helpful for your career.


    May 11, 2013

    It would be interesting to understand if readers believe leaders are only born and cannot be created?  It defnitiely seems that way in most people.

  13. SunitaT
    May 11, 2013

    Its always important to timely reward the perfromers and encourage team work.

    @electrnx_lyf, I totally agree with you. A good leader should always encourage his team and reward the performers. He should also keep any eye on the people who are not performing upto their potential and should try to resolve if they are facing any challenges.

  14. Ruth Glover
    May 12, 2013

    Young children often show signs of leadership but I think people can be taught leadership skills,too.  That doesn't mean they will use them properly, but we can hope!


  15. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 13, 2013

    One of the essential quality of a leader , in my opinion , is that the leader should be capable of playing the role of any of its team members in case of an emergency.  That way the leader is automatically respected by the team members as they know that he is the sum of all of them and nobody among them is indispensable.

    Such capability comes only with experience. But normally after certain age the capability to actively participate in the work , diminishes while the capacity to guide and take correct decisions increases.

    So the middle age appears to be the right age for the leadership role.




  16. Eldredge
    May 13, 2013

    @Ruth – I agree that experience and maturity contribute to good leadership (or at least improve on whatever inate leadership qualities one has). I also think that a great leader is often a servant to his/her subordinates – doing all they can to remove roadblock and empower their personnel.

  17. Ruth Glover
    May 13, 2013

    I think leadership should be a two way street-we make the boss look good and the boss helps us make the department look good with his or her support, knowledge and fair play.  Praise and appropriate humor add value sprinkled into the mix.

  18. Eldredge
    May 14, 2013

    @prabhakar – I agree, that would be ideal. It's not always possible for the leader to have all of the skills of his team. In that situation, leaders need to recognize their own gaps and make sure that they surround themselves with the right skill mix.

  19. ahdand
    May 14, 2013

    @Wale: That is why there are so many issues where you get so many paper qualified people who does not understand the practical values.  I feel the knowledge can be seen when they act on tight pressure situations.

  20. Wale Bakare
    May 15, 2013

    The issue is this how can employers identify right candidates without paper qualifications? That's difficult though.

    Nevertheless, that peculiarity unlimited to technical but also to managerial – business owners mindsets towards MBAs is that – whoever has MBA in an organization got the language to conjure up money and lead people willingly and easily. This is not true with every MBA holder.  

  21. Mr. Roques
    May 16, 2013

    Motivation and good ideas, that characterize young professionals doesn't always go hand in hand with good leadership. But if you had to choose, what would be better?

  22. ahdand
    May 18, 2013

    @mr.Roques: I would go for good ideas since if you have good ideas then you can implement it anyway.     

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