• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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The skills leaders need at every level


Are some skills less important for leaders at certain levels of the organization? Or is there a set of skills fundamental to every level? To find out, we asked 332,860 bosses, peers and subordinates what skills have the greatest impact on a leader’s success in the position the respondents currently hold. Each respondent selected the top four competencies out of a list of 16 that we provided. We then compared the results for managers at different levels.

There was a remarkable consistency in the data about which skills were perceived as most important in all four levels of the organization we measured – supervisors, middle managers, senior managers and top executives. This suggests that as people move up in an organization, the fundamental skills they need will not dramatically change. Still, our data indicate that the relative importance of these skills does change to some degree as people move up.

Here are the 16 competencies, with the top seven listed in order of importance for the supervisory group:

Inspires and motivates others: 38%

Displays high integrity and honesty: 37%

Solves problems and analyzes issues: 37%

Drives for results: 36%

Communicates powerfully and prolifically: 35%

Collaborates and promotes teamwork: 33%

Builds relationships: 30%

Displays technical or professional

expertise: 27%

Displays a strategic perspective: 24%

Develops others: 21%

Takes initiative: 19%

Innovates: 16%


change:    16%

Connects the group to the outside world: 12%

Establishes stretch goals: 10%

Practices self-

development: 9%

For middle managers, problem solving moves ahead of everything else. For senior management, communicating powerfully and prolifically moves to No. 2. Only for top executives does a new competency enter the mix: the ability to develop a strategic perspective, at No. 5. There is some logic to focusing on distinct competencies at different stages of development. But certain skills are critical to you throughout your career, and if you wait until you’re a top manager to develop them, it will be too late. For instance, our research indicated that a lack of strategic perspective is considered a fatal flaw even when your current job does not require it. Your managers want to see you demonstrate that skill before they promote you. So ask yourself which competencies are most critical for you right now – and which ones are going to be most critical for your next job.

(Jack Zenger is the CEO and Joseph Folkman is the president of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy.)