The skills for leadership in priority order are: believing in yourself, being passionate about your ability, knowledge of the issue, communicating what needs to be done, storytelling to persuade, sociability to be a good listener, and picking the right people.
You must have confidence in yourself. You have to trust your judgment and believe that you are capable to take on an assignment when asked, or even when no one asks, but there is a need. Doing it yourself is one thing, finding helpers is a step higher, leading a group is a lot bigger, and leading a company or a government is on a grand scale.
Having confidence to be a leader is generated internally based on how you were raised, what you were taught, and what you know about yourself. You must have passion for your ideas, and you move forward, even after failure. Failure is an excellent teacher.
Whatever the situation, you have to know the territory, whatever it is. Knowledge comes from study or being mentored by others. It is, of course, useful to have native intelligence, a good memory, a gregarious nature, and a fundamental curiosity about lots of things. Work with people who can teach you what they know. The best people will always improve your leadership skills. Ask for help.
I unconsciously studied the leadership of my parents, my uncles and aunts, my teachers, my friends, and every boss I had. Over time I gradually came to understand what made them leaders, or not leaders. Eventually, I worked at trying to imitate their best leadership traits.
Knowledge of the situation can come by applying what you already know. Study the present situation to understand it in simple terms. It is not easy to define the problem simply in terms that others can understand. What is the problem? What is missing? What can be done? What can you do personally? Simple examples can explain the issue for they tell a good story. Find a good example that explains the problem. Once you grasp the problem, you will know more about the situation than most people.
Leadership also requires being a good listener. You can start by reading about the issue, but it is better to talk to people. They will inform you. In my career, I became involved in electronic banking when it was just beginning. I had the luxury to study the issues with 17 other smart people for almost a year and became a leader from the knowledge I gained. I remained a leader by continuing to stay abreast of what was happening over several decades. Keeping informed required speaking to other leaders in the field so that I knew as much as possible about new developments, and from reading the latest published work.
Leadership is about communication. It’s about persuading others that while there is a problem there also may be a solution. Once you know as much as anyone else, you will find yourself in a position of leadership to explain the issue and what can be done about it. Leadership comes from understanding that there is a need, communicating the need to others, explaining why fixing that problem is important, and then proposing a solution.
The times do produce leadership. The more stress, the more leadership that is required. Worry and problems produce leaders. In the end, it’s the ability to communicate the problem and the solution that makes you a leader, regardless of the issue.
In business, it’s knowing your product, being aware of the competition and the market for your products, and selecting an outstanding staff. I am a firm believer that leaders are not born, they can be made. Leadership comes from a desire to serve others and a belief that you can make a difference.
In the end, leadership comes from having the freedom to be your own boss, to test yourself, to experiment, to challenge the world, to learn on your own, and to feel that you are in charge. That’s why small companies produce leaders – they have to survive on their own wits. Always taking orders does not produce leaders. Being in charge creates problem-solving skills and a verbal ability to explain the solution to anyone.
The Bottom Line: To be a leader, people skills outrank intelligence.