In evaluating the leadership skills that separate leaders from bosses, you first start by acknowledging that leaders and bosses have the same objective: they both want to help their company grow and succeed.
However, leaders and bosses differ in their approach.
One of the top leadership skills that separate leaders from bosses is that leaders are future-oriented. While bosses focus on processes that keep the company functioning day to day, leaders are forward-focused, visionary thinkers.
You could say that bosses help people see the trees, but it's leaders who help people raise their heads to see the forest.
So what are the leadership skills that are the hallmark of successful leaders? The following three help leaders focus on the big picture:
1. Leaders champion change and innovation as part of their leadership skills.
There's a lot of pressure for companies to change and innovate to remain competitive in today's rapidly evolving business environments. Successful leaders initiate change. They look for ways to apply innovative and creative ideas to improve their company and grow the business.
Here are some examples of the leadership skills that differentiate leaders from bosses when it comes to approaching change and innovation.
Leaders buck the status quo.
Bosses are generally concerned about maintaining the status quo. Leaders, on the other hand, look for ways to challenge it. They do this by:
● creating a culture that values innovative ideas.
● making space for new ideas by listening to employees' suggestions for change and improvements.
● letting ideas be heard. (They don't squash ideas before they're airborne with statements such as “This won't work" or “We've always done it this way.")
● supporting those who champion change.
Leaders take risks.
Above all, successful leaders encourage prudent risk-taking and give people permission to fail.
In 2018, MIT Sloan conducted a study called Grow Faster by Changing Your Innovation Narrative to identify the most effective levers for organic growth. They interviewed 25 innovation leaders and surveyed 192 leaders from diverse global companies.
This is what the study found:
● Leaders in innovative companies foster tolerance for risk throughout the organization.
● These successful leaders are convinced that more can be learned from the careful dissection of failures than from successes. They routinely conduct innovation postmortems to learn from failures and mistakes.
● They also are more willing to share the risks and rewards of their efforts to innovate. As the report states, "The mantra of “share to gain" also extends to the way leaders distribute project risk internally, by sharing accountability up and down the organization."
2. Leaders give people latitude.
The ability to empower people is one of the key leadership skills that separates leaders from bosses.
While bosses may want to control people and processes to hit the numbers, leaders are skilled in loosening the reins of control to give people the opportunity to manage their areas of responsibility.
No matter what challenges face them, leaders give people hope that tomorrow can be better than today.
Successful leaders know that giving people this latitude is a part of business today. That's because the latitude to act helps people be more responsive to the rapid changes and challenges in today's business environments.
Empowered employees may also be more energized and more willing to give you the best they have to offer.
So, how do successful leaders achieve this sense of empowerment?
As part of their leadership skills, successful leader start by understanding what empowerment is for each employee. One size doesn't fit all. Empowered employees in customer-facing positions, for example, may need the latitude to use their judgment on the spot to handle a customer complaint. Empowered employees in sales may require the authority to provide appropriate discounts to major customers.
Successful leaders also relinquish control to give experienced or competent team members more autonomy and allow them to take on challenging assignments.
This doesn't mean that you have to give up total control. For example, if you're looking to boost your leadership skills when it comes to empowering people, you can start by talking to employees about their boundaries and what autonomy and authority would look like for them. Then show them what they need to do to earn increased latitude and authority.
Some leaders also provide a high degree of autonomy while retaining high levels of monitoring and oversight. This can create a win-win situation where employees feel engaged and energized while the company still retains any necessary control at a high level.
3. Leaders paint a picture of what the organization can become.
One of the leadership skills that distinguishes leaders from bosses is leaders' ability to envision the future of their organization and communicate a compelling vision to their followers.
While bosses may focus on the short-term, successful leaders use visionary thinking to rally the troops by highlighting the untapped potential for the future.
Leaders are known for identifying what success looks like for their company's future. They work on analyzing and gaining clarity about the success factors necessary to take their company to the next level.
They also take every opportunity to explain their visionary thinking to their followers. They do this by painting a dynamic and vivid picture of the company's potential.
These leaders know how to amplify their voice with storytelling, metaphors, analogies, and examples, to name a few. Questions they might ask are:
● What makes us unique?
● What do we need to do better?
● What new direction do we need to take?
Successful leaders know that the vision is not static. They monitor trends and developments that may impact their long-term view of the business. They don't lose sight of the global perspective. In that regard, they may meet periodically with all stakeholders to identify what new paths need to be created to deal with changes that can influence the business. To hone your leadership skills in this area, ask yourself these questions:
● How might our traditional customer base change?
● What are the consequences of that change?
● What do we need to do to stay competitive and keep our vision alive?
No matter what challenges face them, leaders give people hope that tomorrow can be better than today. The most inspiring leaders are those who have the ability to generate excitement on the possibilities for the future.
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