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Colin Powells Leadership Skills List for Highly Effective Managers

by ROD DUNNE on MAY 4, 2011

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell developed his own leadership skills list that focus on the essential qualities, characteristics and traits necessary for highly effective, high-performing leaders and managers.

These skills can be applied to business, military and any form of management. This list of leadership skills can, and should, be applied universally in managing people, technology and innovation strategy.

1. Great leaders don’t expect to please all the people all the time.
Your decisions will not always be approved of by everybody in your organization and poor leaders wrongly think this is possible. So let go of your ego! This is one of the more critical skills for highly effective managers, but sadly one that’s difficult to learn.

2. Top leaders are always available and open to criticism and hearing of failures.
A poorly informed leader becomes distant and out of touch with the sentiment and day-to-day operations of their staff. Effective business communication is fundamental to making the right decisions.

3. Real leaders don’t lose sight of the people and capabilities within the company which actually caused its success.
In any leadership skills list you always find the need for commanders to keep an eye on the big picture but not lose sight of the fine detail. This also relates to understanding what the key capabilities and key employees are within the firm that caused you so success. Don’t forget to maintain a customer driven strategy that all client facing staff are aware of, and buy into.

4. Leadership should always be questioning, especially of professional experts and advisers.
It is key when developing leadership skills to ensure that no recommendations are taken on face value. There are always several options and potential solutions that should be considered and questioned.

5. Leading means delegating and empowering others, but you shouldn’t lose sight or neglect fine details.
Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Just because you delegate doesn’t mean you abdicate responsibility or interest in smaller details within the firm. Leverage your in-house business computer services to harvest important information and metrics.

6. Leadership is meant to take risks. But be prudent, not reckless.
A cautious leader will never make a jump on the opposition without having a strong feeling for how successful the outcome will be. You should note however that attitudes to risk are an essential part of any leadership style inventory and vary depending on the context. For example, startup companies require entrepreneurial leaders with a greater capability of handling risk. Whereas, mature companies are risk-averse so need a safe hand at the tiller.

7. Keep looking for the next opportunity and threat.
The status-quo will not stay that way for long. Good commanders are always on the lookout for the next opportunity and potential threat. If cutting edge technology can be used then test it and prototype it. Likewise, unique promotional products can help give your final marketing stages a boost if applied effectively.

8. Knowledge management and therefore people management is critical to all businesses.
Leadership has to foster the right environment and people within the company (since this is what powers modern knowledge economies). Focus on technical management 30% of the time, and assign the rest for people management. Your choice of performance appraisal/evaluation methods should feed into how you communicate with and assess the best people in your organization.

9. Real leaders understand that job titles have little bearing on where the true power lies.
Sometimes the CEOs secretary has the most influence and power over what gets done within the company. Leadership realize that job titles do not always pinpoint the people with the keys to power.

10. Business is all about change. Effective leaders realize this and foster an environment where learning and change management is encouraged.
Commanders are always developing leadership skills in their subordinates to foster learning and ownership of tasks within the organization. Effective use of change management strategies helps companies weather the storms of recessions and economic change.

11. Don’t get hung up on management techniques.
Every situation is different and requires a unique approach to best accomplish your own goals. Some leadership skills list of items you read focus on specific methodologies and strategies. True leaders know they have to use the right tool for the right job, at the right time!

12. Optimistic and enthusiastic leaders cause a ripple effect through the organization.
Lead from the top. No list of leadership skills would be complete without understanding the impact that a strong, enthusiastic and driven leader can have overall staff and subsequent departments. Just as motivational speakers can sweep up an audiences enthusiasm, senior management must instill their own enthusiasm in their staff.

13. Leaders know that they need to recruit & surround themselves with loyal driven individuals who have a sense of integrity, foresight and good judgment.
The key to being a good leader is hiring people that are smarter than you.

14. Surround yourself with people who seek a good work/life balance.
Managing teams of workaholics is a recipe for disaster. Well-balanced individuals are more motivated and more enthusiastic find people who work hard and play hard.

15. Great leaders can cut through the crap.
Modern business is stifled by lingo and terminology. Strong leaders are always able to simplify arguments, debates and doubts in order to offer solutions which everyone understands. Keep it simple.

16. To lead effectively you must act promptly.
Analysis paralysis is the curse of modern business. Managers who hesitate bring more risk upon the company and lose out on opportunities. Developing leadership skills in hesitant individuals is pointless since they will always be risk-averse.

17. Assign power and financial accountability to those subordinates who are actually bringing in the beans.
Leaders realize that it is the command in the field who understands the environment best and therefore makes the best decisions. Don’t simply allocate powerful decisions and financial choices to your backline staff.

18. Good commanders realize that they have the final decision and that ultimate accountability lies with them.
It’s lonely at the top and leaders have to make tough decisions which they can stand by.