One of the most important questions that people must ask themselves before pursuing a C-level position is if they have leadership skills. The ability to lead is one of the main qualities that distinguish managers from C-level executives. While some people think of leadership as managing, this is the wrong approach to take if someone wants to reach the C-suite. Effective leadership relies on strong interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to all people. In addition, leadership, unlike management, involves vision. Great leaders can get their employees excited about a project and motivated to achieve even more in the future. This is the level of leadership skill that a person needs to attain a C-level position.
Leadership skills can be developed, and people aiming for the C-suite need to spend a great deal of time trying to improve their ability to lead. Here are some of the most essential competencies of good leaders and suggestions about how to develop them:
- Emotional Intelligence: This is the ability to pick up on and read a person’s emotions. Leaders must understand how to interpret body language and other nonverbal cues to figure out a person’s emotional state. By doing so, they can then adjust their communication style accordingly to continue exchanging information in an effective manner. When people become emotionally shut off because a leader lacks emotional intelligence, communication completely breaks down. Emotional intelligence also involves being in touch with one’s own emotions and learning how to keep them in check in a professional setting.
In order to develop emotional intelligence, individuals need to begin paying attention to nonverbal cues and strive to check in with themselves regularly. People can also practice expressing complex emotions in a succinct manner to gain greater familiarity with the interrelationship of different emotional states.
- Social Intelligence: The corollary to emotional intelligence is social intelligence, the ability to read social dynamics and respond accordingly. People with high social intelligence can communicate effectively in vastly different settings. At the C-level, leaders often need to communicate with investors, other executives, employees, and even customers. Each of these demands represents a unique situation for C-level executives, who must adjust their communication styles and approaches accordingly. Social intelligence involves role-playing skills, in addition to basic sensitivity to social situations. Leaders need to do more than just identify how they should act in a given situation: they need to actually pull that off in an authentic manner.
Developing social intelligence involves working on active listening skills, as well as conversational skills. Individuals can pay closer attention to their interactions with family, co-workers, and others to see how they adjust their communication styles accordingly. By paying attention to a social intelligence that they likely already possess, people can learn how to harness it in new situations.
- Conflict Management: When conflict arises, people often turn to leaders for resolution. Leaders must understand how to deal with the conflict effectively. Conflict management involves listening to all sides of a conflict, identifying what is at stake, and thinking of creative solutions that satisfy the needs of all parties involved. Conflict management skills can also help leaders avoid conflict altogether or handle it in a less emotionally driven manner to maintain peace.
Several different courses and workshops, many of which are available online, exist to help people develop conflict management skills. The courses typically emphasize collaboration and finding a win-win outcome, but they also look at the power of compromise and explore ways of encouraging the involved parties to give something up for the greater good.
- Wisdom: While wisdom may seem like an obvious attribute for a leader, this virtue involves more than just intelligence. Wise leaders understand how to put themselves in someone else’s place to understand their point of view. In many ways, wisdom is linked to empathy. Leaders need to be open to seeing things in a new way and understanding what motivates the people around them. Wisdom informs how a leader interacts with people and how they approach particularly sensitive topics in order to get what they want without creating unnecessary drama.
People can develop wisdom by challenging themselves to be more open-minded. When their mind immediately jumps to a conclusion, they should ask themselves why they had that reaction and what the other people involved are thinking. Wisdom also involves taking advantage of the different ways people may approach a problem. By asking for other people’s opinions and seriously considering them, leaders will ultimately take a better course of action than if they acted on their first thought.
- Political Skills: Every organization has its own politics. More politics exist in the interactions between different companies in a given sector. Within a company, people will try to gain allies, bend rules, or engage in other forms of politicking. C-level leaders must be able to recognize the political agenda of these actions and react in an appropriate manner. In many ways, effective leadership depends on understanding how the game is played and, in turn, playing it well. Rather than engaging in politicking of their own, great leaders use their influence to diffuse situations that will potentially lead to conflict and ensure that the politics of the organization do not lead to dysfunction.
Developing political skills mostly involves experience and being mindful of interpersonal interactions. Individuals should try to pay attention to their actions and the likely motivations behind them.