Top 5 Toughest Leadership Skills to Learn

They are all directly related to team success.

Posted Oct 10, 2018

This is the third in a series of posts taken from our Kravis Leadership Institute’s Fall board panels, consisting of advisory board members – each of whom is a recognized leader. They were asked about the most difficult leadership skills they had to learn.

Here are the top 5:

  1. Giving Feedback. Not just any feedback, but giving feedback that is honest and constructive. As one member said, “If it’s hard for you to give, it’s going to be helpful to their development.” Learning how to give useful feedback to others is a skill that takes time to develop.
  2. Reinforcing People. All too often, leaders neglect to provide enough positive reinforcement to followers. This is a key motivational strategy. As one of our leaders said, “Different people are motivated by different things, so you need to know what they will respond to.” This is also a prime element of transformational leadership theory, called Individualized Consideration (IC). IC involves learning each particular follower’s needs, desires, and capabilities. It is what helps you to get the best out of your people.
  3. Learning to Accept Feedback. As one of our leaders mentioned, “Once you get to a top-level position, you sometimes neglect to ask for, or to respond to, feedback from followers.” It is sometimes hard to hear criticism from the lower levels of the organization. One leader told a story about asking for feedback, but then neglecting to open a feedback email from a lower-level team member. That member later confronted the leader and said, “You asked for feedback, but you never acknowledged mine. I went out on a limb to be honest, and you didn’t seem to care.” The leader said that it was a valuable lesson in humility.
  4. Learning When to Speak Up. This was an interesting (and somewhat unexpected) difficult skill. The woman executive who mentioned this referenced Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and her book “Lean In.” She mentioned that women leaders oftentimes need to learn when to speak up and contribute. “A leader who doesn’t lean in and speak up will not have much impact.”
  5. Effective Delegation. Learning to delegate appropriately is one of the hardest leadership skills to learn. It involves elements of some of the other skills, particularly understanding the capacities and limitations of followers. Leaders need to delegate responsibilities that followers can handle, but not overload them with too much.

Which leadership skills have you found to be difficult to learn and develop?

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