ARTICLE: The 6 Fundamental Skills Every Leader Should Practice
Updated: May 1
Over the past year, Ron Ashkenas, Partner Emeritus at Schaffer Consulting, and Brook Manville, Principal of Brook Manville, have been writing the Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook — a primer for aspiring leaders who want to take their careers to the next level.
Part of the research for the book was interviewing over 40 successful leaders of large corporations, startups, and non-profits on their views about what it takes to become a leader. They explored years of published HBR research on that subject, as well as reflecting on their own experience in leadership development.
What they noticed was that the best way to develop proficiency in leadership is not just through reading books and going to training courses, but through actual experience and continual practice.
The research also pointed to 6 essential, basic leadership skills — nothing mysterious or new — where practice was particularly important. The skills that aspiring leaders should focus on practicing are:
Shape a vision that is exciting and challenging for your team (or division/unit/organization).
Translate that vision into a clear strategy about what actions to take, and what not to do.
Recruit, develop, and reward a team of great people to carry out the strategy.
Focus on measurable results.
Foster innovation and learning to sustain your team (or organization) and grow new leaders.
Lead yourself — know yourself, improve yourself, and manage the appropriate balance in your own life.
By reflecting on successes and failures at every step and getting feedback from colleagues and mentors, leaders can improve their own performance by 20% — by simply spending 15 minutes at the end of each day writing reflections on what they did well, did wrong, and lessons learned. Leaders often have a bias for action that keeps them from stepping back in this way — but it is the reflection on your practice that will help you improve.
Read more about their research in the full HBR article.