The "people" part of leadership is what makes it both so rewarding and so challenging. Some of these skills can be found in leadership books, but all of them require real-life practice. You don't learn to lead unless you jump in with purpose.
I've worked with many companies over the years as an executive coach. I mostly work with founders and CEOs, but recently, I've been asked to create programs for people who are technically great at what they do but want to become stronger leaders.
After many assessments of these leaders, I found three skills take priority but are often underutilized. In fact, leaders usually believe they're competent in each of these areas. Most of the time, I find they've overestimated their abilities.
1. Persuasive Communication Skills
Getting people to understand your words isn't the ultimate goal of persuasive communication. You want your team to take action. When you give your team a speech about your vision or strategy, you must ensure they're inspired by your message to do something.
Before talking to your team, practice what you plan to say. Advanced persuasive communication includes being intentional about the emotion you want your audience to feel. Think about the emotional ups and downs of the message to provide contrast. Also, practice moving while you talk. Don't slump or hide behind furniture.
In the 1950s, a groundbreaking study by Albert Mehrabian found that only 7 percent of a speech's effectiveness comes via words -- the rest of its impact comes through tone (38 percent) and body language and visual cues (55 percent).
Sharpen your content and don't stuff 60 minutes' worth of material into a 30-minute slot. This is one of the biggest mistakes occasional speakers make. Reserve time for stories that inspire your audience to accept the new perspective. Be sure to include a call to action that clearly states the next step for the team to take. You want the last words you say to lift up the audience and provide hope for the future if they boldly follow your lead.
Also, leave a reminder. One of the most overlooked areas of communication is what happens after your talk. Think about how you'll reinforce your message with graphics, video or audio.
Delatorro McNeal, a professional speaker and author of Platinum Presentations, shared a post-speech tip with me: "Think of something to leave behind that is a constant reminder of the message you want the audience to accept." McNeal says this leave-behind should be "sticky."
At a recent corporate speech, I handed out a sticker that says, "I Love Mondays." The idea polarizes the room and gets those who don't care for the notion of Mondays to think hard about why. This is my leave-behind, and I had listeners ask for more stickers so they could pass them out to others they know who love Mondays, too.
2. Balance of Vision and Execution
There are two kinds of leaders in this world: those who know how to execute and those who don't. The latter won't remain leaders for long.
A leader must be able to see her vision with such clarity that she can get others to see it, too. Mile 20 is the "dead wall" in marathon running -- it's when the highest number of runners quit because they can't see their vision past their exhaustion. Your role is to help your team get past Mile 20.
Leaders' real job is to be able to balance their thinking between vision and execution. In other words, it's about long-range planning and short-term doing. This is a learned skill that gets better with intention. As leaders rise in an organization, they get more insight into different needs and considerations and do a better job of serving one without harming another.
3. Relationship Building
Today's leaders understand the value of relationship building. However, it's an often neglected skill as you pile more and more work on your calendar and to-do list.
I was giving a presentation to a group of sales leaders at an AA-ISP (American Association of Inside Sales Professionals) leadership retreat. After conducting research via more than 50 conversations with CEOs on the Inc. 5000 list this year, it was clear that fast-growth wasn't about "making the numbers." I came up with a simple way to look at this to keep people front and center for those who tend to be more comfortable with metrics: "Manage the numbers. Lead the people."
Improving your leadership effectiveness will never be solved by just one thing. These three skills are common in conversation, but they're unfortunately lacking in most leaders' day-to-day practice. Mastering them carries the opportunity for challenges -- and incredible rewards.