It’s selfishness, plain and simple…our tendency is to be focused on our own interests as well as pointing out the flaws in others instead of improving our own.
True leadership starts with the leader working on herself first and serving her team, not the other way around. And not only that, but we should seek to put the interests of others first, not our own...which I hate to admit is often my first instinct. It’s why I wrote my book Why Leadership Sucks™… to highlight the fact that servant leadership is the best way to go. But this post isn’t all about me and only my advice.
So what are the top leadership competencies the best leaders exemplify? What helps them succeed at a high level?
I certainly have my opinions on the subject (jump to my comments at the bottom of this post), but I wondered what other leadership experts believe is the most important leadership competency from their experience.
So I reached out to a number of experts with these 3 questions:
- What is the number #1 leadership competency a person must possess or learn to succeed?
- What is the number #1 book you recommend for learning how to become a better leader (boss/manager or leading self)?
- Any other leadership advice you recommend for leading well?
And I got 29 thoughtful responses...which I will give you in full detail after I highlight the Top 19 these experts collectively believe we need to focus on.
Click "READ MORE" to check out the advice of the experts when it comes to leadership competencies and behaviors.
#2: Agile and Continual Learner (5 Votes)
#3: Creating a Compelling Vision (4 Votes)
#4: Vulnerability & Courage (w/ Discernment) (4 Votes)
#5: Building Trust (3 Votes)
#6: Impeccable Communication (3 Votes)
#7: Leaning into Tough Conversations (3 Votes)
#8: Emotional Intelligence (2 Votes)
#9: Maintaining Balance (2 Votes)
#10: Curiosity (2 Votes)
#11: Organization (2 Votes)
#12: Confidence (1 Vote)
#13: Authenticity (1 Vote)
#14: 100% Accountability for Results (1 Vote)
#15: Compassion (1 Vote)
#16: Deep Listening (1 Vote)
#17: Honesty/Integrity (1 Vote)
#18: Discipline & Follow-Through (1 Vote)
#19: Intentionality (1 Vote)
The Best of the Best: 29 Experts Opinions on Leadership Behaviors
Start with a few and work on those. Enjoy the journey and let’s grow together.
And this isn’t about any one leadership behavior or competency over another...it’s about all of them.
Read on to discover each of the expert's top pick and their answers to each of the 3 questions...
- There are so many factors and characteristics that make up a great leader, but one that encompasses them all is balance. To succeed, a leader must learn to balance their relationships, time, strategic efforts and personal development.
- ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide For First Time Leaders and the People Who Support Them. Not only does it provide tools and resources for those transitioning into a leadership role, it also includes development strategies for management teams who are overseeing the growth of new leaders.
- Along with balance, great leaders must know themselves in order to lead others. They must know what makes them tick, their own strengths and weaknesses and what their vision is for the future. In order to lead others, you have to start with leading yourself.
- Ability to build trust with your team
- Besides my own “Power Mentoring” than a new book on Making your job a calling by Dik and Duffy
- Don’t assume all is well on your team - measure it by using Gallup’s engagement surveys
- Tough to pick just one. In Winning Well we talk about the important balance of confidence AND humility and results AND relationships. Strong communication— the ability to set and and communicate clear expectations and to have the tough conversations is a way that stems from a confident and humble place focused on results and relationships is vital.
- The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes and Posner)
- You have more power than you think. Stay true to your values and do what is right. Even if you are working in a difficult culture, do what you can to make an impact in your sphere of influence. It will attract more A players willing to follow you and your influence will grow.
- There is no ‘#1 leadership competency’ that on it’s own will make a successful leader. There is no ‘silver bullet’. It’s entire suite of competencies and that’s what makes leadership so complex and elusive. For example, I’ve worked with and studied leaders who are charismatic visionaries…but their ability to listen, stay focused and make consistent decisions are totally absent. I think you’re trying to oversimplify something is not at all simple and, therefor does a disservice to the subject.
- Authenticity - knowing who you are, what is important to you, what you stand for and being comfortable in all of that.
- There are many leadership pearls wrapped up in the complexity of all sorts of leadership books. Read widely, read lightly, allow the various content to resonate or not and add what you garner to my answer to question 1! The purpose behind three of my books ("The 'Keep It Simple' Book", "The Impact Book" and "The Attitude Book") is to do this pearl finding for my readers - each contain ideas, thoughts, insights and ways of shifting your leadership brilliance. Specifically "The Impact Book" takes the reader through a transition from Attraction - creating Appetite - nurturing Advocacy - inspiring Action.
- My work with leaders on their effectiveness and gravitas consistently highlights the benefits of slight reductions in speed. All aspects of speed; speaking, moving, changing subjects, deciding etc.
- The #1 shortcoming in leadership is the unwillingness to have "the tough conversation". Part II, if a leader is able to have the tough conversation, is to have it with the poise and caring that allows everyone to walk away understanding why the conversation was necessary.
- The Servant Leader by: James Autry
- You must give more to your culture than you take from it. For this to happen, you must love your constituents.
- Creating a vision that stimulates, excites and inspires, getting ‘buy in’ to that vision and establishing a culture that supports and enhances it to make it happen.
- Think in 3D! The 7 Characteristics Of Dramatically And Demonstrably Different Businesses (By Andy Hanselman and Jill White – Yes, that’s me!!! So, if that’s not allowed, I would go for ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh
- ‘Champion your champions’ and ‘challenge your challengers’ – that means spot, reward and recognise those that move you towards your vision and demonstrate the behaviours you want, and constructively challenge those that don’t! Please DO NOT reward those who do a great job simply with more work!!!!!
- Compassion. Compassion is a much more positive and useful trait than empathy. Empathy is about feeling with someone, and can easily lead to emotional overload, distancing and in extreme, desensitization. Compassion is feeling for another person and brings with it the desire to alleviate their pain. Key components of compassion are self-awareness, kindness, self compassion, acceptance and equanimity. In a current study of high performing teams, one of the key observations is that the leaders of these teams tend to have a much greater sense of personal security than their counterparts in less successful teams. They have confidence both in themselves and in others, are forgiving of mistakes (their own or other people’s) and, because they have trust in themselves, are able to extend trust to others, empowering them to take decisions and self-manage.
- Curiosity. Curiosity incorporates creativity, for an incurious mind does not easily put concepts together to generate new ideas. Curiosity causes us to explore our inner worlds (why and how do I think, feel, behave and function?),how we interface with the world outside of us, and how that world itself functions. Key components of curiosity include mindfulness, higher order reasoning, and learning orientation.
- Courage. Courage is the capacity to do the right thing, while being aware of the personal and wider risks. Key components of courage include clarity of one’s own values, a deep sense of ethicality, being positively self-critical,being able to let go and move on, resilience to setbacks. Courage alsoencompasses the will to work with dreams (generated or espoused through Curiosity) until they become reality. It allows us to take tough decisions, to have conversations and to avoid dealing with issues we would rather avoid,and to behave in ways closer to the person we aspire to be.
- Purposeful Visionary (leading from a deep sense of purpose) is the number #1 leadership competency a leader must possess to succeed. Personal learner (a commitment to lifelong growth in cultivating your strengths and passions and having the courage to have honest conversations and take necessary actions about transforming your weaknesses) is the #1 leadership competency a person must possess to learn to succeed over the course of their personal and professional life.
- My #1 book recommendation for today's leaders to increase their self-awareness of their competencies and areas that may need improvement is Mastering Leadership by Robert Anderson and Willam Adams. My #1 book recommendation for how to find your purpose and lead from the inside-out in life's most difficult situations is: Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
- To be a better leader, start by working on yourself. Put your strengths towards a purpose greater than yourself and have the courage to face your weaknesses. Yet be mindful how you use your strengths as a leader, or else they could become liabilities if you over-extend, over-depend or over-use any of them at the expense of other people.
- I would say being an “agile learner”. Things are moving fast in our VUCA world and we need more leaders who are learning WITH their people and helping to create deliberate learning organizations.
- I just read Multipliers this morning. I am sure you know this book. It is all about being a multiplier of talent vs a diminisher...being a magnet and developer of talent...
- Final question-to lead with purpose, passion and creativity and watch over-engaging the intellect. Our job as leaders in today’s world is to be fearless!
- Vulnerability, with discernment: (No hiding or emotional vomit)
- Aside from my own :) Fiercely Loyal? "Daring Greatly" Brene Brown
- Great leaders stay curious about their people, their culture and themselves... Make self exploration a foundation of your leadership and from their discover your own life purpose.
- DIFFICULT to pick just one but if I really have to, it’s VISION – you can’t lead if you don’t know where you’re going and you won’t gather up committed followers if they don’t understand (and believe in) where you’re taking them, especially if it’s based on what’s possible versus what’s been proven based on the past
- “15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” by John Maxwell is indispensable for leaders wanting to grow themselves, their organizations and their communities
Other leadership advice? Where to start? Here’s a page full of Aprille-isms to check out: http://aprilletrupiano.com/aboutaprilletrupiano/stuffaprillesays/
Here are some Aprille-isms on leadership that are the underpinnings of my work:
- Being a woman in leadership is not always about leading people where they WANT to go instead about leading them where they NEED to go – for the good of themselves and the good of those whose lives they touch.
- There’s no wrong way to do the “right thing” and no right way to do the “wrong thing”. Even though sometimes it’s more costly, time consuming or uncomfortable, do the right things and your life and business will always flourish in ways you never expected.
- People want an amazing future. As a Leader, SHOW THEM POSSIBILITY. People want to succeed. As a Leader, HELP THEM WIN.
- Spend less time planning and more time DOing. Having a plan is critical. TALKING about the plan is just that – talk. Leaders must be in action. Doesn’t mean you have to be the one to do it all yourself…but you must be the one to make sure it’s all getting done. And if need be, you must be ready to roll up your sleeves and stand alongside your people to do it.
- Keep your promises. Honor your word. It’s part of your Legacy.
- It’s a dangerous myth that Leaders are born. Leaders are developed! Leadership skills are not necessarily innate. They can be learned, absorbed, honed. Don’t let this fallacy hold you back from the destiny for which you were put here and the difference you were intended to make.
- Here are some Aprille-isms on leadership that are the underpinnings of my work:
- One of the challenges that I see with my Biz Coaching clients in over 40 industries around the world is that they over-complicate the simple stuff, often in order to avoid making a decision, and they over-simplify complex stuff to avoid digging into the real basic causes for their market-related, operational and management challenges.
Just for fun, I’ve attached a few of my Business Tools:
- Tool #A-9: ‘Rate Your Leadership Ability.’
- As business owners, leaders & managers, our 1st job is clarity about these 9 things:’
- Tool #A-1: ‘The Business Key Challenge Audit Sheet.’ Note: This hugely insightful Tool identifies the key challenges in any business and whether or not everyone is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, to quote my Grandma Cooper.
- Tool #A-12: ‘Problems on the Front Line Are A Symptom of Problems at the Top!’
- I hope that some of these are helpful. They are part of a complete set of 45 business assessment and management implementation tools that we use with our coaching clients.
- I believe that it's listening. First, listening shows we care about others and what they have to say. It shows we value their thoughts and opinions. Second, listening allows us to learn and to understand. In order for us to empathize, we must listen so that we understand what others are dealing with, what’s happening in their careers and in their lives. In order to help them grow and to provide for, and aid, their development, we must listen to learn about their needs, aspirations and inspirations. Third, we listen to earn trust and respect. Listen with the intent to hear—and then use what we hear for the betterment of those around us.
- My top leadership book recommendation is Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. His concept of truly human leadership - and his focus on caring for your employees as family and not as cogs in the wheel to personal and corporate success - is refreshing. And desperately needs to be the approach for leaders in every company worldwide.
I think there are a few things that leaders should know or can do to lead well. In no particular order:
- You don't have to have all the answers
- Talk less, listen more
- You don't have to be the sage on the stage; be the guide by your team's side
- Give credit where credit is due; don't take credit for your team's work
- But when your team fails, you're the first to fall on the sword
- Recognize your employees for a job well done
- Take care of your team; sincerely care about them
- Hold yourself accountable
- Respect people and earn trust - really work for it
- The Number 1 Leadership Competency is Communication Skills .... More than 50 % of what leaders do is communicate.
- The Number 1 Book I recommend all leaders and those who aspire to become leaders is THE LEADERSHIP ZONE: Lessons from the Front Lines. This is a manual on leadership that covers most of the essential aspects of personal and organizational leadership.
- Leadership ability starts with self and it takes superior people skill to influence and lead oneself than to lead others.
- To choose One Competency I would have to say Emotional/Conversational Intelligence. We created EQAgilityInsights a comprehensive approach to enhancing leadership and professional development by integrating both competency skills with Emotional/Conversational Intelligence. EQ/C-IQ Agility is necessary for a leader to be successful in this ever changing disruptive world especially with 5 generations in the workplace. A leader today must know how to use their whole brain to co- create conversations that activate trust, think strategically, increase foresight and increase the ability to empathize with others.
- What is the number #1 book you recommend for learning how to become a better leader (boss/manager or leading self)? I think the book that Conversational Intelligence “How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results” by Judith E Glaser is a book I have read several times and plus I took the C-IQ certification course for coaches. This information give me a new perspective on the science of the brain and how to support and help leaders to the best they can be.
- Any other leadership advice you recommend for leading well? The most successful leaders I know are lifelong learners, open to new innovative ideas, they read the latest books, they are willing to explore and experience self-awareness and they use good accredited coach to support them in their successful leadership journey.
- Honesty is without question THE most important element of being a successful leader. Where there is no honesty there is no trust, where there is no trust there is no leadership, where there is no leadership there is no organizational success. If you are talking about a skill-based competency, then that would be communications. Being excellent at setting clear expectations, communicating important ideas, asking great questions and being an intense listener.
- The Truth About Leadership by Jim Kouzes and Barry poster
- No matter how successful you might become, self-leadership, humility and vulnerability are essential for being a truly effective leader.
- Making sense of the future (to many leadership gurus talk about leaders that essentially sustain the status quo - your job is to find ways to achieve progress - to create a better future!)
- Gamechangers: are you ready to change your world? (it’s my book, but I do think its the best book to become a better leader - otherwise I wouldn't have written it!)
- Forget all the stuff about humble, etc … be yourself … your job is amplify the potential of your people (your team < your organisation < your business) in whatever way you can do this best.
- Selflessness: A desire to serve others, before self.
- After the Bible, Why Leadership Sucks, & Paradigm Flip you mean? Well then, it would have to be "Leadership is an Art" by Max DePree
- Authentic leadership is SERVANT Leadership. After all, if you're not serving others, you are self-serving and that's not leadership.
- Number #1 leadership competency a person must possess or learn to succeed? Discipline to complete the task no matter how long or tough the journey.
- What is the number #1 book you recommend for learning how to become a better leader (boss/manager or leading self)? I think if someone was just starting to learn about leadership and success, they'd have to start with Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Any other leadership advice you recommend for leading well? Yes. Look for the strengths in yourself and others. I think many people hold themselves back as well as dampen the potential of others because they focus too much on deficits and not enough on assets.
- The master skill for leaders is ability to learn. That requires the humility to remain open to learning from others and to seek diverse opinions. Leaders are learners.
- "The Leadership Challenge" by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner provides a framework for leadership. It's written for leaders at every level and offers The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® so readers can understand exactly what behaviors will mobilize others toward a shared vision.
- Don't confuse leadership with management. Both are important. The difference is that you manage work and lead people. Different skills are required for both parts of the role.
- There is no number one competency for leadership. You need to be able to master many competencies — thinking critically, doing what you say you will do, and working for the benefit of the organization.
- Again, no one book. I would folks to read biography, history, strategy and philosophy.
- Leadership is not about you but it is all about you. What I mean is you must think of the team first and then exert your ability to create conditions for them to succeed.
- Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends and Influence People.
- Discover who you are and don’t try to be anyone else.
- I would say the number 1 competency for leadership knows how people, processes, policies, and systems work together in your organization. Having this background is not an endgame either but an ever-changing and constant updating as all of these areas will and should change. However leading with the ability to understand how a change will impact the people or processes, or even a system in an organization can aid in problem-solving or eliminating problems before they happen.
- Who Moved My Cheese? Is still my favorites. Although I was “voluntarily mandated” to read it in my younger days by a past mentor/supervisor it, became to me a symbol of how change is a good thing.
- Don’t be scared of failure or asking for help. Failure and receiving help is how you learn.
- Curiousity. Why? Because it means you know that you don't have all the answers, you want to continue to learn, you're eager for new ideas and you listen well.
- Leaders Eat Last - Simon Sinek
- Any other leadership advice you recommend for leading well? Stay human. With the speed of change and too much pressure in the system, it's tempting to focus on the what, not the who or the why. Everyone has a back story, everyone is fallible and fragile.
- Lead Like Jesus
- Humble yourself to understand the strengths you have and lead through them; don't be anyone else. Humble yourself enough to understand others you lead so you can lead them through their strengths.
- The most important competency is leadership presence. The way you carry yourself as a leader affects everyone around you and your place of work. Learning to stay centered within yourself and choosing to act instead of react amongst the inevitable and changing circumstances helps leaders lead more mindfully and effectively. Mastering your leadership presence is not something you can go to a weekend course to do; it takes time, honest self-reflection, trial and error and professional coaching is helpful if you are willing to really look at yourself.
- There are so many great books. One book that I think is valuable for thriving and developing sustainable long-term business success is: Love Leadership: The new way to lead in a fear-based world. by John Hope Bryant
- Stop trying to be the expert. Vulnerability is strength. Lean on your people. Hire people who truly love the work they do so they will bring more creativity and energy to their job, your workplace and to your customers. Ask questions over providing advice. Be mindful about the example you set as your actions will always speak louder than your words. If you’re not sure how you are affecting others, get a development focused 360 done or hire an accredited coach to come in and observe you so they can provide honest feedback. And for those of you with head and heart, who haven’t fully made their way into key leadership roles; we need you. It’s time to step up. Be brave, be bold and change the face of leadership.
- Humility. Leading is not about the leader himself/herself but about adding value to others and to the organization. This value add is the real contribution a manager can make to the organization’s success. By adding value, a leader increases the chance that team members perform at their best to achieve the organization’s objectives. Adding value to others requires a great amount of humility. Humility is the key competency that allows a leader to cultivate his/her individual flourishing and then engage other people on their own level. Engaging other people is a perpetual questioning and challenging of one’s established concepts to avoid rigidity which can lead to micro-management. Questioning one’s own beliefs, values, knowledge, methods requires humility. Humility helps us understand the true value or worth of our actions and decisions which results in acknowledging more others and their worth. And leadership is about inspiring others to high achievement not about promoting the leader himself/herself.
- This book doesn’t yet exist. Why? Because they are too many misconceptions about leadership. For example, a quality like humility is not cited or celebrated much in leadership books whereas it is a key component of leadership. Many leadership theories misunderstand the essence of leadership. They associate leadership with praising and promoting one individual which is only halfway on the path to successful leadership. The essence of leadership is adding value to others, harnessing and mobilizing collective intelligence and not only promoting one individual. I will support any initiative that will promote leadership as a mobilize for collective intelligence.
- Continuous learning. Inspiring others, mobilizing collective intelligence and guiding others towards excellence require to constantly develop both the hard skills and the soft skills of the leader. Soft skills can be developed through coaching. Hard skills can be developed through training and mentoring. It is the duty and responsibility of the leader to stay on top of things and to turn to the professionals and professional services which will contribute to fostering continuous skills development for the leader and his/her team. Leading by example should be the norm – not the exception.
- Humility. With humility one’s ego does not get in the way of self-interest.
- For 23 years I have used and recommended “People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better,” by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton. Although it is not targeted only to leaders, there is a considerable body of research that supports how the model can help leaders be great. It’s an absolutely amazing book!
- Yes! Remember that the best decisions have been vetted through critical thinking and have considered both the people aspect of the business and the financial or task aspect. I would also recommend perusing these books if you haven’t yet: “The Servant Leader,” by James Autry; “Strengths-Based Leadership,” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie; and “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” by Kerry Patterson, Rob McMillan, and Al Switzler.
- While there are many competencies to master, if you have to pick one, start with increasing your emotional intelligence. It is becoming increasingly important to success in the workplace.
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- Stay humble all while not shirking our responsibility as a leader to lean into having tough (yet friendly) conversations to address issues that most of the time we would rather avoid. Always be learning; this leadership race is a marathon, not a sprint.
What’s Next to Grow Competency in Leadership Behaviors?
For further help developing your leadership skills, check out some of my other blog posts.
- 25 Stellar Leadership Audiobooks You Mustn't Miss
- 31 Great Leadership Qualities, Traits, & Characteristics to Master
- 27 Top Shelf Leadership LinkedIn Pulse Posts
- 28 Popular Beard & Facial Hair Types and Leaders Sporting Them
In addition, you can check out my book, Why Leadership Sucks™ which offers a lot of perspective and advice directly from my work in the “leadership trenches”.
A big thanks to everyone who contributed to the roundup. Please share if you found it useful and leave your comments below!