The Eight Skills You Need For Success As A Leader

I have a coaching client who was promoted from a specialist engineer to the dizzy heights of team-lead without the company investing in the skills she needed to transition from specialist to leader.

Because her boss and company did not recognize that they were promoting her into a new profession and invest in her accordingly, their accomplishment was to turn a fine and capable engineer into a poor supervisor!

The difference:

  • Specialists use their skills and experience to create a product
  • Team leaders need management skills, a knack for problem-solving and the ability to plan and manage the work – NOT to do it!

So, what is a team leader’s skill set?

1 Balancing between leadership and management

These are two separate skills:

Leadership is communicating a common vision of a future state; gaining agreement; then, motivating others in a forward direction.

Management is results driven and getting the work done.

Your job as a good team leader will constantly switch from a leader to a manager as situations require.

2 Be a Team Builder and a Leader

The leader sets the “tone” of the team to lead them through the various team development phases to the point where they begin to perform.

Read about teams

3 Be a Problem Solver

Identify the possible “causes” that lead to the problem, then analyze possible options and alternatives, and determine the best course of action to take.

4 Be a Negotiator and Influencer

Negotiation is working with others to come to a joint agreement. To avoid power struggles, develop influencing skills. Influencing is the ability to get people to do things they may not do otherwise.

5 Be an Excellent Communicator

Being a communicator is a two-way street as. A good way to get a grip on managing the information comes and goes is to ask yourself the following questions: who needs this information? Who gathers and delivers it? When or how often do they need it? And, in what form?

Read about communicating

6 Be Organized

Think of what you need to organize; project documentation, contracts, emails, memo’s, reviews, meetings, etc. It’s almost impossible to stay organized without developing good time management skills.

7 Become a Planner

The skill of planning can’t be underestimated. There are known and logical steps in creating plans. You may well own your team’s plan, but others depend upon your success.

8 Manage Budgets

At the heart of this is the skill is managing the budget, particularly costs. You will need a knowledge of financial systems and accounting principles.

If you are new to team leadership, don’t be overwhelmed by all this. There are well-understood methodologies, tools, guidelines, and procedures to help you on your way to developing the life-skill of leadership.

The first thing you need to do is book time with your boss and ask what their performance objectives are; what does he need you to do to help them be successful; and, then what professional development do you require to be successful.

Read about partnering with your boss

Your Workers Don’t Give A Rat’s Patootie About Your Precious Mission Statement – 4 Questions To Give People Something To Believe In

Boards and executive teams everywhere spend an unbelievable amount of time and energy on developing their company’s mission statement.

To be fair, this is important work as it helps to focus the organization but, in my experience, high-level mission statements do nothing to motivate frontline staff.

In fact, the Gallup organization found that only 20% of U.S. workers feel proud of or engaged by their company’s mission statement.

Most companies promote their mission by putting up posters, give out mouse pads and coffee cups. If that doesn’t work, they push managers to explain their precious mission differently so that it will finally sink in. They believe that once those darn employees finally get it life will be all sunshine & roses and profits will climb.

Sorry to tell you that this is not going to happen.

Why? Leaders think big & are future-focused, and workers are focused on very intimate, personal and local issues.

read about reaching leadership nirvana

Focus locally

When I ask workers what matters to them, they say what matters most is their ability to support their families, have good-paying jobs and hope to have a better life for their kids — and do what they can for their community.


When you have invested so much energy into that lofty mission statement, the idea of a local mission may not make sense. Because a corporate mission is supposed to give employees something big and important to believe in and work for: but employees connect to what they do every day; their team and the community in which they work.

I could list similar examples from around the world. But when I was a leader of a large NGO we had two mission statements, the official one – World Peace – and the local one – Every person who needs help will get it – and that was the one that inspires passion.

You must understand that the mission that matters most to your workers is the local one.

You’ll find it’s almost always about keeping the doors open and the community healthy.

My recommendation is to ask your workers what’s important to them:

  • What does it take to operate in their location?
  • What does the plant mean to the local community?
  • What would be lost if it went away?
  • Ask your workers to imagine the company closing; what would they do to keep the doors open and deliver on their mission?

Talk about the questions and the answers on the shop or office floor, and invite every worker to respond. Listen carefully to what they say, and craft their local missions.

read more about how to talk to your people

Then start doing those things — now before they don’t give a rat’s patootie about anything.

Boy I Don’t Like that SOB in Accounting – 5 ways to Manage That Guy You Can’t Stand!

A few years back, I hired a person against the wishes of other people on my team. I was sure he had the right skills and experience and hiring the usual suspects hadn’t gotten the results I needed & wanted so maybe it was time to be disruptive.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked him either. He wasn’t kind or diplomatic in his comments. He simply wasn’t likable.

I tried to focus on the content of what he was saying rather than the way he was saying it, and I coached others to do the same. I also invested time in helping him understand how he was coming across and coached him to alter his style. My attitude toward him never really changed but he slowly started to fit in and began achieving results.

What if you don’t like someone on your team?

Can you be a good & fair boss to someone you wouldn’t sit with if you had to share the last seat on a bus with?

The presumption is that your job would be easy if you liked everyone at work.

Life would be easy if cats slept with dogs and Mom’s kisses made boo-boos go away, but that’s not reality nor is it what’s best for you, your team, or your company.

You have to accept the fact that this person is not going to be your BFF.

The real test is: Are they doing good work? Are they achieving results?

The employees you gravitate toward are probably the ones you want to go for a beer with. You need people around you who can challenge you with new insights and help propel the group to be better.

Like the Boy who said the employer had no clothes people like these can ask the hard questions and, maybe, can stop you from doing something stupid.

Here’s how to get the most out of someone you don’t like:

1. Make it about You first – It’s important to learn how to handle your frustrations: Figure out why you are reacting the way you are by asking the following:

  • Is the problem really with the individual?       Does the person remind you of the miserable old aunt or that first awful boss and now he or she can do nothing right.
  • Do you see this person as a threat? If your direct report constantly interrupts you, you may react strongly.
  • Are they a member of a group that I have a problem with? You need to be honest with yourself about any hidden biases you may have.

2. You have to put on a good face – Everyone wants their boss to like them. Whatever your feelings for your employee, he will be highly attuned to your attitude and will presume that any disapproval has to do with his performance. As the Boss, you are the adult in the room, and it’s up to you to be fair and respectful.

3. You have to seek out the positive – No one is 100% annoying. It’s easy to see the worst in people who bother you. A boss of mine once said that no one comes to work hoping to do a crappy job, so assume the best about how they can help your team.

4. You have to keep your bias out of the way – When someone irks you, you need to be especially vigilant about keeping your bias out of the evaluation by asking: “Am I using the same standards that I use for other people?”

5. Sorry to tell you this, but you have to spend more time with that guy – This might sound like the last thing you want to hear, but it might help to give yourself more exposure to the problem employee. Sometimes over time, if you work together, you may come to appreciate them.

People Pleasing Leaders & Soup Sandwiches – 5 messes you make when you try to make everyone happy.

I sat across from a client recently who was struggling with the direction his company is going. As we delved into the matter I asked some probing questions:


How bad is the problem?

  1. If the situation at work was a chest pain is it:
  • Heartburn
  • Angina; or
  • Cardiac arrest?
  1. What was the end-state he was hoping for from us working together?
  1. Had he already made his mind up about what he wanted to see and needed me to provide justification?
  1. Did he want out?


Luckily we are dealing with heartburn chest pain; he truly wants his company to be everything it could ever be; He knows it can be better and needs help getting there; and, He wants to grow and thrive with his team.

But he did say something that stopped me in my tracks … “I am a pleaser and want everyone to be happy,” I responded to him that being a pleaser is like making a soup-sandwich.

 Click to read more about how to recognize your people

How do you make a soup sandwich?

You take a slice of bread, pour a ladle of soup over it and cover that with the second slice of bread. What you end up with is not a bowl of soup or a sandwich, but a hell of a mess. Sort of what you get when a leader tries to make everyone happy.


Let’s accept one simple fact… Leadership is hard.

It is equally exhilarating and challenging, but it is hard.

Every hard decision a leader makes will inevitably excite some and upsets others. At the same time, we want people to like us personally and in our role as a leader: That can lead to people pleasing. When that happens, we begin to lead by opinion polls than vision.


What happens when we try to lead by pleasing?

  1. No one is satisfied – When the leader tries to please everyone … no one is happy.
  1. Tension mounts – People are conditioned to jockey for positions with the people pleaser leader. This creates a political tempest among people who should be working together.
  1. Disloyalty reigns – People don’t trust a people pleaser. They quickly learn what the leader says isn’t necessarily the whole truth, but what will keep the leader popular.
  1. Frustration rules – People pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions.
  1. Visions stall – Great visions take us where we’ve never been. That means change and who is happy with change. People pleasers like people to be happy … see where this will end up?


Can you gauge if you are a people pleaser?

Someone told me once that when you move on from your current leadership role the way to gauge that you have been a good leader is that the going-away-party attendees should fall into three groups:

  1. 25% should be crying that you are leaving;
  2. 25% should be cheering that you are leaving; and
  3. 50% shouldn’t care.

My guess is that when a people pleaser moves on … everyone is cheering.

Learn more about being a thoughtful leader by reading my book: