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Is there a skill every leader must have?

Nov 21, 2011 Business Daily, Leadership

“”We hired a new CEO, but had to let him go after just seven months,” the chairman of an East Coast think tank complained to me recently.” His resumé looked spectacular, he did splendidly in all the interviews. But within a week or two we were hearing pushback from the staff. They were telling us, ‘You hired a first-rate economist with zero social intelligence.’ He was pure command and control.””

DANIEL GOLEMAN blogs.hbr.org (14 October 2011)

Daniel Goleman has, over the years, taught me much of what I know about real leadership. That it is not the ability to bark orders or use your position; it is actually the ability to inspire good behaviour in others, and get the best out of them, without even seeming to do it.

To achieve that level of leadership, one must be able to command through influence, order through example, direct through demonstration.

Leadership is a many-splendoured thing, requiring many skills and attributes. But some, Goleman tells us, are more important than others. Leaders require a synergistic set of skills, and the more they have, research suggests, the more likely they are to succeed.

One skill-set, however, is absolutely vital. Without it, the others may not matter at all. In Goleman’s words: “…some competencies matter more than others, particularly at the higher levels of leadership. For C-level executives, for example, technical expertise matters far less than the art of influence: you can hire people with great technical skills, but then you’ve got to motivate, guide and inspire them.

You can be the most brilliant innovator, problem-solver or strategic thinker, but if you can’t inspire and motivate, build relationships or communicate powerfully, those talents will get you nowhere.”

Think about it. A modern organization is actually just a web of relationships: between executives and board members; between directors and investors; between leaders and followers; between employees and customers; between managers and society. If you aren’t going to understand the nuances and subtleties of those relationships, you don’t have much business occupying the C-suite.

But do we understand this? Do boards seek social intelligence as a threshold quality when recruiting CEOs? Do chief executives look for people who will have the interpersonal skills to get the best work out of others, when they look for their direct reports?

You may cough in embarrassment at this point.

Too many senior executives I encounter have been recruited with no concept of social intelligence in mind. They were the most technically gifted; they were the most experienced; they were the most senior; they were in the right place at the right time; they had a good record of achieving targets.

All those may be good things, but they are useless in leadership if you don’t have the essential leadership quality: the ability to get the best out of OTHER people. That is why we have so many social retards with great CVs running great organizations into the ground.

Please understand: this is not a recipe for hiring vapid schmoozers, smooth-talkers, bar-flies or cocktail junkies. We are not discussing superficial social skills here; we are talking about the real deal. Leadership must go to people who have a deep understanding of human psychology; who understand the inner motivations of their people; who have the gift of empathy; and who can lead simply by being themselves – not by fabricating a fake leadership brand.

When I seek out outstanding leaders, I look at the faces of their followers. Those who can make people work out of their skins for them, willingly and enthusiastically, are like gold dust. Those who don’t fake their curiosity and concern for others; those who command attention without issuing an order – they are the real thing. Look out for them this week.

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