While there are many great qualities a leader may possess, I believe there are three leadership skills young leaders should consider. This tripod of leadership skill development can serve as the foundation to which young leaders can navigate the role of “leader.”
Leaders need to be competent within their area of responsibility. They do not need to be subject matter experts, but they must be able to have a conversation with those in their care that are and illustrate it up the chain-of-command. Competence is a leadership skill that creates credibility.
I urge young leaders stepping into new leadership roles to be quick to listen, learn, and soak in knowledge from others more established in the organization. Establish and build relationship equity by kindly learning from the experience of others. In a short time, you will go from “newbie” to be known as the hard worker who became, “competent.”
Once you have earned the street credit by being competent, people understand you “get it”, but can they trust you?
Character develops the trust required to be an effective leader. Character is more than integrity and playing by the rules. It is following through with the exact core competencies you expect of your team. It is more than showing up on time prepared, not lying, cheating, stealing. It is being the principle-driven individual that inspires others to greater things.
Competence gets you in the game but character keeps you there. Both require time to acquire credibility and trust, but a mistake that compromises your character can deplete all the trust you gained. This can happen in no-time. A leader’s character establishes a accountability and can make or break a leader’s legacy.
A leader’s natural ability to lead, to influence, your “charisma,” is in vain without competence and character. However, once you have credibility and trust, people are more likely to accept that big beautiful personality of yours. This last leadership skill is last on the list because certain personalities can skew the view of team members, especially when they do not know what you are talking about and you can’t be trusted.
Leaders that channel their charisma to inspire, cast vision, and encourage, can lead organizations forward because when their followers can trust your character and competence.
Putting it into context
There is a recommended timeline for new, first time managers to use. It can also be used for any executive moving into a new role, new function, or new post. The timeline is 3–6–9.
First 3 Months
The first 3 months as the young leader negotiates the opportunity, they should be focused on demonstrating competence and character. Learning diligently while being extremely professional by showing early, leaving late, asking appropriate questions, taking notes, learning names, & having a teachable spirit. In that 3 month period, refrain from the colorful personality injections of jokes, off-topic wasting of time conversations, unless the setting is structured to intentionally facilitate it. Essentially, do not let your ego or personality write checks that your competence or character can’t cash—this prevents the mistake of some random personality conflict inhibiting the leadership opportunity.
At 6 Months
At 6 months deep, young leaders should have a grasp on roles and rules, and should have taken copious notes on their environment to effectively form educated opinions. However, before implementing all of those great “improvement ideas,” I suggest pulling an Abe Lincoln and just writing them out. Then place them in the top shelf of your nice new desk. As you are learning the job role, it would be easy to shoot from the hip and want to innovate some fresh idea. The 6 month period allows leaders to avoid the mistakes of being too quick to act, with a shallow knowledge base. Waiting allows time to reveal the core process of the work unit which may be seasonal or shifting.
At 9 Months
At 9 months, you guessed it, you can go into labor and start to birth your ideas into life. Start the conversations with the experts, use the established relationships to suggest improvement, and convey your personal passion via the charisma that hands off energy that will inspire it back to you.
The tech-savvy millennial leader may face leadership challenges through team members that cannot understand their generation’s “entitled” views. However, you can use this 3–6–9 technique to avoid being labeled “entitled” or “impatient.”
Contributing thoughts from Lacy Gunnoe, U.S. Air Force Officer, Instructor/Evaluator Pilot. Professor at Samford University.