Earlier, I released my list of skills that employees need to focus on and improve on to make the biggest impact in the coming year. Today, I release a similar list for leaders. Actually, leaders would be best served to improve on all skills on both lists – or at least consider all in their professional development plans for the coming year. I have only included one on both lists, and it is the final one on this list.

Read this list and think about how well you do at each, through the eyes of your team. Consider getting some feedback from your team on this list too – ask them which areas they see you doing well, and where you would benefit from spending some effort.

Here are the eight critical skills for leaders to focus on this year.


More productivity, less place.

More leaders have teams who are remote some or all of the time. If you have worries about what people are doing when they aren’t nearby, it is time to let that go. In most all cases, people are more productive when they have fewer of the distractions that naturally occur at work. Focus on your productivity and supporting the productivity of your team, wherever they may be working.

More influence, less power.

For far too long too many leaders have tried to play the power card as if it was the only card in their hand. There is an inherent power imbalance between you and those you lead, but there is far more to leadership than just using your power. Focus your development on being more influential; working on skills and relationships with individuals to create an environment where people choose to follow. This is related to the last item on this list, and it is too important to overlook!

More trust, less micromanagement.

You don’t want to be led by a micromanager, and neither does your team. While a lack of trust is far from the only reason leaders micromanage, it is often the biggest perception your team has of this tendency. Work to build your trust in your team members – you will be rewarded in many ways, and likely you will feel less need to micromanage too.

More coaching, less “annual performance review.”

I have far more to say about the annual performance review than can be shared here (try here and here and here ), but the fact is that you need to coach more frequently. If your organization requires an annual performance review, it will be far easier and far more effective if you are coaching regularly. When you do that, most of the stress goes out of the performance review; and performance will improve and improve sooner.

More intention, less routine.

Routine helps us navigate our world, but doesn’t allow us to change. Routine is the worker bee of the status quo. (Tweet That) As a leader, you must expect more of yourself and your team than the simple stats quo, which means you must be more intentional about what you want to accomplish and be more intentional about your behaviors and choices. Don’t rely solely on routine; re-examine them to make sure they are serving your best interests.

More “us”, less “them.”

I challenge you to change this in your thinking, and one way to test it is in your words. Read your emails, read your memos. Listen to what you are saying. Speak more inclusively and with more personal pronouns. This shows your ownership and shows your team where they stand in your mind.

More listening, less talking.

You know this is important and it is pretty simple. Talk less. Engage with your team by listening, not by talking. Ask questions, then be quiet. When you listen, you can learn. When you really listen, you show people you care about their message and them.

More commitment, less compliance.

You want commitment from your team, right? If so, you need to lead differently, be more intentional and focus on influence. Recently I wrote an article about this that I hope you find helpful.

This list applies to you as a leader – it also speaks to those who lead other leaders – you might share this with those people as a source of conversation about their development and your expectations. Also, if you are reading this as a Learning or Talent professional, ask yourself if your leadership development experiences address these important skills. If not, and you would like some help, contact us.

Note: I don’t have all the answers to being more effective. Leave a comment and tell me what I left out, or what you would add to the list!

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  1. Outstanding Article!
    As a high school baseball coach, the objective of the program has always been preparing young men to succeed in society. Instilling confidence is crucial. Thanks for making me a better leader, a better coach.

    Robert H Jenkins

  2. Found you through a web search. Great points all. I would add something I’ve been working on of late: More questions, fewer answers. Good open questions focus attention and define effort.

  3. I must confess I take your articles all the time to share with not only the group I work with but with upper management when i can as your blogs and articles are very informing and helpful.
    My apologies i don’t always tell them where i get the ideas from.

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