Many people make the mistake of buying into persistent leadership myths:

Leadership is an innate skill you either have or you don't and only a select few are capable of learning the needed skills to excel.

In fact, most great leaders develop through the pursuit of skills over a long career. Some even start practicing in their youth.

BUILD, the organization founded by YPO member Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, develops leadership and entrepreneurship skills in high school students who might otherwise be left behind. Beginning in the ninth grade, students develop a business plan, pitch for funding and launch real businesses. The ultimate goal for BUILD participants is to graduate from high school, attend college, and achieve both academic and professional success.

Klahr believes six "Spark" skills are key to leadership development. Just like the students and communities they have served for nearly 2 decades, she urges her own team, which has grown to more than 100 members, to continuously learn and use them. To reach your full potential and become a truly great leader, Klahr recommends that all future and present leaders master all six:

1. Collaborate to achieve common goals.

"Most people think they can do it all--and do it better--alone, especially when they are young," Klahr laughs. "BUILD creates student business teams to drive the development of collaborative skills." How it happens:

· Identify the strengths each member brings to a group.

· Set collective goals and identify the tasks necessary to accomplish them.

· Delegate work equitably and hold each other accountable.

· Resolve conflict as it arises.

· Give and receive feedback in a productive way.

2. Express and communicate ideas clearly, both verbally and in writing.

BUILD not only emphasizes influential communication as an individual skill, but as a collective ability. Great leaders understand that positive momentum is lost when teams don't communicate well. The challenge is then to bring all team members to the same level of understanding, while work may be reassigned temporarily. Klahr shares an anecdote: "At a recent idea pitch a young woman totally froze as she was to deliver her part of the pitch. A fellow team member took over for a few minutes and then gently tossed it back to her. She froze again, and another team member picked up the narrative, then brought it back to the terrified young woman. Finally she was able to address the audience, surprising everyone in the room, herself most of all!"

How it happens:

· Identify target audience and adjust language and tone accordingly.

· Demonstrate effective oral presentation skills through posture, voice and gestures.

· Employ draft and revision strategies to improve the quality of written work.

· Utilize active listening strategies such as asking questions, tracking the speaker and giving non-verbal cues.

· Practice communication via mock pitches, role playing and speaking opportunities.

3. Show grit by demonstrating perseverance and passion in chasing both short- and long-term goals.

Great leaders must model and grow grit and resilience in themselves and across their teams. Everyone has the capacity to persevere, and team leaders are both teachers and learners in this ongoing quest. "Virtually all of BUILD's students arrive in the program loaded with grit due to the challenging circumstances of their lives, but they are unsure of the power it holds for their academic and professional success," explains Klahr. The program gives them opportunities to see the results of persistence. One team faced a major setback when a big order of teddy bears arrived with flaws. With less than a day to rebound before they were to deliver to a major client, they developed a marketing incentive to drive further customer engagement featuring the incorrect merchandise. Each team member took on new roles, and the promotion significantly increased growth.

How it happens:

· Identify examples of how others have displayed grit.

· Identify short and long term goals and the action steps necessary to accomplish them.

· Anticipate potential obstacles and apply strategies to overcome them.

· Demonstrate a growth mindset and use setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow.

· Celebrate failure - allow for it and learn from it.

4. Innovate through creative thinking and positive risk taking.

Perhaps the greatest challenge leaders face is the tempering of risk and creativity. Yet driving innovation is a key trait of great leadership. Klahr says that "high school youth are innovation machines, always questioning the status quo and seeking immediate change and gratification. The challenge is how to focus the energy and harness the risk."

She recalls one BUILD group that developed a listening device that looked like a normal mobile phone. Their presentations sparked a class discussion about privacy rights and government surveillance, which resulted in a decision that the product would not be desirable.

How it happens:

· Approach challenges and goals with creative, out-of-the-box solutions.

· Allow brainstorming to be safe and open without negativity. Use idea-generating strategies to produce inventive and original ideas.

· Use a variety of strategies to assess risks associated with new ideas.

· Take positive risks to try new things and share ideas.

· Refine and improve ideas based on experience.

5. Problem solve effectively.

Leaders want teams that can shine across an organization, not just in their own silos. Every level and facet of a work environment demands the ability to overcome challenges. "This is an area where the BUILD students learn to excel," Klahr insists. "Real businesses create motivation through financial gain. This drives their passion to solve issues and move purposefully ahead."

How it happens:

· Identify problems and their roots causes.

· Generate possible solutions and anticipate potential outcomes.

· Select and execute solution(s) based on analysis.

· Assess outcomes and develop improved solutions based on experience.

6. Self-manage emotions and personal growth.

To act in your own best interest, you must learn to regulate your emotions, identify your personal strengths and weaknesses, and drive your own growth. Employers increasingly desire this ability, and a good leader must be able to recognize and develop it in their teams.

"Anyone who spends time around teenagers knows that self management is a real struggle at that age, especially for those who chafe at authority or an overly-structured environment. Teaching the entrepreneurial mindset is a terrific way to illustrate the success of a strategic approach, whether to a business or one's own personality, and how that contributes to a team's overall success."

How it happens:

· Identify emotions, emotional triggers, external stressors, needs, and motivations.

· Differentiate between responding and reacting to emotions and apply strategies in order to "respond" instead of "react".

· Reflect on past behavior. Identify progress, strengths, internal obstacles and areas for growth.

· Consider allowing team members 10 seconds of deep breaths when conversation gets very heated.

· Utilize reflections to self-advocate and plan for the future.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: Jan 6, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.