7 Skills Every New Leader Needs to Develop - Blue Ocean Brain
Young leader standing in front of his new team, who are looking expectantly at him.
Young leader standing in front of his new team, who are looking expectantly at him.

7 Skills Every New Leader Needs to Develop

News — 4 MIN

Leadership in today’s world of work may be more challenging than ever before. It’s simply not enough to be an effective communicator with confidence and an open-door policy. Those qualities are still important, but no longer provide the complete package. With millennials projected to make up 50% of the global workforce in 2020 (and 2020 is knocking in our door) your leadership development program should include the modern skills required for today’s leaders to be successful while taking advantage of the unique qualities of millennial professionals.

Essential skills for today’s new leaders

To build and compete for the next generation of talented leaders, here are seven skills every new leadership development program should build in their emerging leaders:

Anticipate change. Long-term, birds-eye-level thinking is often considered a skill that must be learned the hard way. After stumbling through enough bumps in the road, we start to see a pattern. Change has always been inevitable, but in today’s environment the pace of change is accelerating. New leaders should learn early on that change is not only a reality but should be embraced as a catalyst for recalibration, growth and team building. A leader who demonstrates confidence and flexibility in the face of change—both planned and unforeseen—will not only help their team weather change more successfully but will help foster these qualities in their employees, setting them up for success for the next change that’s around the corner.

Clarify what matters. The noise around us today—literal and figurative—can be overwhelming. Email, messaging channels, and newsfeeds constantly request our attention. The day-to-day activities of responding to clients or churning out deliverables can cause us to forget the overarching “why” of our work, which is a major cause of dissatisfaction in today’s employees. A successful leader will remain steadfast in his messaging of what matters to his team. Who are the people who benefit from our work? Which goal are we working toward right now? What is the work that will move the needle? Clarifying what matters helps employees maintain a focus of business over busywork. But more importantly, it helps employees understand how their work contributes to others and plays a role in the success of the organization.

Innovate with courage. American psychologist E. Paul Torrance said, “It takes courage to be creative. Just as soon as you have a new idea, you are a minority of one.” New leaders can be reluctant to flex their creative and innovative juices. And understandably so: simply keeping the ship afloat and on course seems like success, and anything else feels too risky early in their leadership careers. But today’s new leaders bring with them a fresh perspective and the belief that healthy and innovative disruption can lead to breakthroughs in processes, productivity, and outcomes. Embracing boldness and risk-taking in your new leaders will help them do the same with their team members. And that’s when true innovation can happen.

Inspire and empower. A good leader knows her success and productivity hinge upon her team’s success and productivity. New leaders are often barely older than some of their direct reports, and can in fact be much younger than others, causing them to be reluctant to express the mentoring qualities of inspiration and empowerment with their teams. Your leadership development program should teach these qualities, through scenario-based learning and direct observation of seasoned leaders, to give them the tools to step in these roles.

Champion diversity, inclusion and belonging. The very beginning of a leader’s training is the exact right time to being to teach them how to lead with diversity, inclusion and belonging as guideposts. D&I is no longer simply an “HR issue”. Diversity, inclusion, and their many related counterparts including belonging and equity, are belief systems that are directly related to the health of your organization and its people.

Your new leaders will need to demonstrate the standards of how to act with respect and inclusion. They will need to foster a sense of belonging for all, regardless of race, gender, age, religious affiliation, orientation and more. They will need to learn about bias in recruitment and succession planning. They will need to be prepared to act if issues of disparity arise on their team. This is a heavy lift for a new leader, and it is imperative that leadership development programs provide relevant and ongoing education to support this crucial element of successful leadership.

Simplify work. We all know busy doesn’t equal better. New leaders offer a chance to bring a fresh lens to processes and reflect on opportunities to update and streamline. Teach them to examine and question long-held processes, looking for outdated or unnecessary work. Companies that empower their new leaders to do this are exposed to new technologies and trends that can boost productivity. In turn, new leaders are rewarded with early wins that boost their confidence and build momentum.

Act with purpose. Nick Craig, president of the Core Leadership Institute, and Scott Snook, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Business School, wrote that the process of articulating purpose and finding the courage to live it is the single most important developmental task one can undertake as a leader. Instill in your leaders that purpose—both personal and organizational—should always inform and inspire action, not the other way around. Purpose-driven leaders build stronger relationships with their teams and are better able to meet performance goals.

Following these guidelines will help you build a learning development program that graduates bold, engaging, and innovative thinkers, ready to take your teams to the next level.

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