Just as employees are expected to continuously enhance their skill set to fit with changing demands, company leaders should recognize the necessity for themselves as well. Aside from the fact that it will help you make better decisions, enhancing your skill set will help you better recognize and appreciate the talent of your employees. And, if you understand your employees better, that’s a win-win all around.
Most CEOs recognize the value of staying current with trends in business, legal areas, markets, etc. But, the most effective leaders recognize that while boosting these business skills are extremely important, they shouldn’t be the only focus in continuing their education. Developing skills in several other areas will help to dramatically boost the effectiveness of your leadership.
Boosting Tech Knowledge & Skills
Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, big data, digital marketing, and many more technological advances are being touted as the goldmines for companies in the 2020s. These advancements are drastically changing how we do business and how we work with our employees.
Instead of committing a lot of time and money to a traditional degree, you can fast-track building your technical skills with programs like coding boot camps or micro degrees. Some allow you to work at your own pace while others will require a set schedule. However, all of them will be more affordable and less time-consuming than a traditional degree.
Simply put, be more open-minded. In the next few years, companies will be working with two generations of workers who have a completely different mindset from many of the older generations. Millennials and Zoomers/GenZ embrace a different value system and approach to how they work.
Call this shift in thinking whatever you like, but it is still important that leaders find a common language and define common goals. As diversity in how people think grows, we will need to adjust our leadership styles to meet this new change. Expanding your horizons to understand a diverse set of opinions and cultures will increase the cohesiveness of your team.
Knowing how and when not to keep things behind closed doors is a difficult skill to acquire. Some leaders think that all decisions should be made behind closed doors, then announced to employees on an as-needed basis. On the flip side, bringing employees into every decision-making process is not only burdensome but can be considered a waste of time, as well.
Honestly, there is no one right answer on how to find the proper balance between the two extremes. It will depend on your business culture, goals, employee culture, nature of the topic, and other considerations. However, there is a certain level of good sense that can be applied. As a start, try inviting an employee that wouldn’t normally be involved in the decision-making process to a meeting and rotate who you bring in.
This makes coordination and communication with team members really important. When brainstorming, a CEO must be open-minded to the ideas and strategies that the employees bring to the table and not just focus on their own designed strategies. Even in decision-making, a CEO should not forget to involve team members in the process of decision-making and promote a company culture where everyone is welcome to contribute in order to reach the team’s goals.
A study on Developing Exceptional Executives by Navalent points out the importance of being transparent and balanced in every communication. Top executives must be able to communicate business potential and challenges in a way that is clear and understandable to all concerned stakeholders. This is a manifestation of how these top executives value every interaction.
Having a Distributed Leadership Style
Learn how to delegate responsibilities and tasks. If done correctly, you are not only freeing yourself up to focus on other things, you are also building up your employee’s knowledge and skill set. However, it’s not a matter of just handing off a task to someone without the same level of knowledge and hoping they do it the same way you would. That’s just setting yourself up for disappointment and setting them up for failure.
It starts with hiring the right people who have the soft skills necessary. It also takes some initial coaching on your part, as well as patience if they don’t complete the task exactly as you would. But, once you get the momentum started, distributing the leadership tasks throughout your company is only going to yield positive results.
In order to delegate tasks to colleagues and subordinates, a CEO, as leader must develop a culture of mutual trust. While overseeing various functions within the organization, a CEO must be willing to delegate authority. For that to work, a CEO must be comfortable in doing this to a wide range of colleagues, but also not turn a blind eye towards them. Although he or she must delegate authority to perform tasks, the greater power is still vested within the CEO so he or she must take responsibility and oversee all decision making undertaken by the organization.
Exercising Soft Skills
Identifying hard skills in employees and prospects is important. But, looking for soft skills such as the ability to learn new systems quickly is potentially even more important than having a developed hard skill. Adaptation is a strong skill for prospects, and it is also one that leaders should work on, as well.
Some of the most important soft skills leaders should work on are:
- Strong communication skills
- Learning from—but not living in—the past
- Relationship building
- Actively listening—not just listening to respond
- Always seeking to understand
- Reading body language and other subtle hints
- Negotiation skills that benefit both sides as best as possible
- Knowing the difference between constructive criticism and plain criticism and delivering it effectively
- Effectively managing difficult employees
If you are looking for a certain skill in an employee, strive to embody that skill yourself. And, as you develop these soft skills within yourself, you will more easily recognize and appreciate those skills in employees and prospective employees.
Keeping a Proactive Approach
It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Although it is impossible to plan for every potential problem, do your best to be a proactive leader. A strategy that focuses on contingency planning will serve you well when unexpected issues arise.
When bad news does show its ugly head, it is also important to be responsive as opposed to reactive. The difference is in how you approach the situation. A CEO must not be impulsive and every action should be thought carefully with analysis. Refrain from immediately firing off an angry email or harshly commanding your team to do something. Instead, take five minutes to take a deep breath and absorb the situation before coming out with a plan. It is important that a CEO can execute the designed strategies to combat the change in a manner that can enhance the profitability of the organization.
Pessimism Never Won Any Battles
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower uttered this pearl of wisdom in 1955 during the beginning of the Vietnam war. However, these words are an important reminder for everyone that pertains to everyday life. Pessimism in leaders is especially troubling for companies as that trait will trickle down to other employees and infect the workplace.
Moods are contagious. Negative thinking of one person can seriously drag down the rest of the workforce and it does so very quickly. At the same time, being a realist who focuses heavily on the negative aspects of a topic is not exactly being a realist at all. A realist examines both the positive and negative aspects of things. They determine what positive things can come from negative and vice versa.
Knowing the negative consequences is important, but focusing on them can lead to an excess of critical thinking. Find the balance between the two and do your best to always lean toward optimism. The idea that goals can and will be achieved will end up achieving more than constant critical evaluation ever will. Being confident is important for a CEO. One must be careful though not to appear arrogant about their skills and what they offer to their employees. CEOs should keep being aware of the challenges and confront them while they are still hustling hard to reach audacious goals.
Perhaps the best skill you can work on sharpening this year is identifying all of the ways you can grow, evolve, and adapt. There are always ways in which we can grow. Encourage your team to do the same, but don’t be surprised if they want to choose their own methods. While personal growth can happen in groups, individual growth also needs to be customized to an individual.
Artur Meyster is the CTO of Career Karma (YC W19), an online marketplace that matches career switchers with coding bootcamps. He is also the host of the Breaking Into Startups podcast, which features people with non-traditional backgrounds who broke into tech.