5 Essential Skills for Contemporary Leaders

Guest post by Nan S. Russell:

The great recession and economic crisis have accelerated shifts in how people view their work and their leaders. Studies confirm what many see – no longer are title and authority the driving force behind results. Leader credibility is down and the trust deficit is up.

The post-recession workplace harbors a new reality for leaders. At a time when discretionary efforts and intellectual property are essential to drive innovation and organizational growth, those who are able to earn natural and enthusiastic followers will deliver the best results. But, doing that means operating with the right actions, not the right titles.

Successful contemporary leaders will need uncommon behaviors grounded in 5 essential skills to reignite staff engagement, enhance influence, and build lasting results:

1. Operating with trust. In a world where it’s hard to differentiate a real photograph from one created by computer wizardry, and more people trust infomercials than organizational leaders, trust is the new workplace currency. Trustworthiness is now the number one quality people want in their leaders. But operating with authentic trust requires more than behavioral integrity, the alignment of words and actions. It also requires performance trust, self-trust, and relationship trust.

2. Becoming an independent thinker. Bandwagon “solutions” for the ills troubling organizations or employees are often gobbled up by leaders and reinforced by trade and business publications featuring successful examples of the “new” thinking or approach. Yet complex problems plaguing most groups and businesses don’t have bandwagon solutions. Successful leaders are not herd followers. They cultivate an active personal practice of curiosity, alternative perspectives, expanded sources, and challenging assumptions.

3. Applying dependable politics. Getting things done the “right way” is what it means to apply dependable politics at work. “Right” in this context implies operating with ethics, integrity, and a positive use of influence others can count on. It means building lasting relationships. To do that requires an understanding of healthy conflict and the power of stories, plus a consistent application of c’s: collaborate, cooperate, consider, and contribute.

4. Enabling transition after change. Who would you follow? Someone having difficulty handling the constancy of change, or someone who practices and uses tradition tools to move themselves and others forward? Enabling transition requires choosing growth, even for change you did not choose, and reinventing yourself along the way. It also requires helping those you lead do the same. Transition follows change. Enabling it is an essential skill.

5. Being self-aware. Authentic leadership yields natural followership. It springs from self-awareness, and understanding one’s own thoughts and actions, and how they impact others. Too many pre-recession leaders have focused only on outer-work. That’s the skills, knowledge, information, or know-how. Contemporary leaders must add inner work to their skill palette to increase self-awareness. Both are needed to be a leader others will enthusiastically give their best ideas, discretionary efforts, and great work to in today’s world.

While basic productivity and job presence can be bought, contemporary leaders with uncommon behaviors, anchored in these 5 essential skills, will be the ones igniting staff engagement, fueling innovative products and services, enhancing customer impressions, and rebuilding a thriving economy, regardless of their titles.

Nan S. Russell is author of three books including her latest, The Titleless Leader (May 2012, Career Press); www.thetitlelessleader.com She is a former Vice President of a multibillion dollar company, a national speaker, and a blogger for Psychology Today on the topic: Trust: The New Workplace Currency. She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a M.A. from the University of Michigan, both in psychology. More at www.nanrussell.com.