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Leadership Skills That Work Best Right Now?

Leadership Skills That Work Best Right Now?

September 15, 2009

The context for leadership is dramatically different from what it was even five years ago. Customers are harder to get and to keep, profit margins tend to be slimmer, and lots of employees live in a state of anxiety, stressed by overwork and worries about their jobs.

What’s a leader’s role in these trying times, and what competencies do leaders need to succeed? i4cp recently conducted a major new study in partnership with the American Management Association (AMA) to find out.

In August 2009, i4cp received responses from about 600 employees working at the manager level or above in a wide range of industries. We found that three competencies clearly came out on top: knowing the business, knowing the customer, and having the ability to execute strategy. In tough times, companies need leaders who know the nitty- gritty details of their companies, and none of the details is more important than knowing the customer. They also need to be able to act on this knowledge, and that means excellent execution of the strategies that serve those customers.

But these aren’t the only critical competencies today. Respondents were asked to identify, from a list of 14 leadership competencies, the six that best characterize the most successful leaders in their organizations currently. Among the other most widely cited competencies were these:

  • building good relationships
  • having good communication skills
  • creating an environment of trust and respect.

These three competencies were more widely cited than such important issues as being able to develop strategy and knowing how to align the organization well.

A similar leadership survey was conducted by i4cp in 2005, also in partnership with AMA. It is interesting to note that while knowing the business and knowing your customer were also important a few years ago (that is, when the economic pressures weren’t as intense), “building relationships” has gained significant ground in importance. Taken together, these results suggest that while technical competence is still paramount, there are softer skills that leaders cannot ignore, especially during the tough times.


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