It is crucial that the next generation of leaders have both strategic information skills and strategic people skills. Research makes it clear that cognitive and personality elements work in combination in high performers (Schmidt and Hunter, 1998). To see why this is so necessary, consider the challenge facing a leader tasked with integrating an overseas acquisition with the parent company. The leader will need critical thinking and learning agility to navigate new, unfamiliar terrain, and devise the best strategic approaches. That alone, however, will not be enough – the leader will also need collaboration and team-building skills to quickly and smoothly achieve buy-in from employees of both the new and parent organizations, and bring them together as an effective unit.
Extensive studies are finding that while the next generation of leaders excels in areas such as technology, online marketing, and other “hard skills,” these leaders lack the kind of strategic skills companies now desperately need to survive and prosper. The research shows an alarming gap in capabilities that are increasingly needed – yet are in short supply.
• Critical thinking and learning agility: the two key strategic information skills.
• Collaboration and team building: the two key strategic people skills.
Strategic Information Skills – Knowing What Actions to Take
Critical thinking is now more important than ever. Rapidly changing trends and markets are requiring leaders to solve complex problems they have not seen before – and which do not have ready-made solutions. At the same time, leaders are being asked to make critical decisions based on an unprecedented flow of information from a wide range of sources. These kinds of challenges require that emerging leaders be adept at critical thinking – essentially, the ability to take in, organize, and evaluate complex information, and then draw logical, sound conclusions that are free from influence or bias. When leaders come into an ambiguous situation, for example, they must be able to quickly assess it, put it into context, and then make quality decisions. Critical thinking also helps leaders develop the key strategic skill of learning agility. Leaders with this quality have both the ability and willingness to draw on past experiences and learn quickly in new situations to help their organizations stay ahead of rapidly changing business realities.
Strategic People Skills – Knowing How to Engage Others
Organizations are far different than they were just a few years ago, requiring an additional set of strategic people skills. As companies become more global, workforces are more diverse and increasingly virtual. All of these factors make collaboration and team building more important and, at the same time, considerably more difficult. To foster collaboration and build teams, leaders need a full understanding of the different ways people take in information and make decisions. Some people, for example, tend to look at the bigger picture, while others are more detail-oriented. Or, in a downsizing, some people might focus on the numbers, while others might focus more on the employees losing their jobs. If leaders do not fully understand their own thinking and communication styles – and the styles of those they work with – they cannot effectively bring people together to develop new ideas and make sound decisions. Instead of teamwork and harmony, there is likely to be conflict and dissonance. Successful collaboration and team-building also requires that leaders understand the role of personality and values, particularly in relation to matching people with an organization’s culture. More than ever, cultural fit is critical to an organization’s speed and agility. The broad ability to recognize different styles, personalities and values requires a deep layer of strategic people skills, which in turn calls for self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Leaders must be both willing and able to look beyond their own world-views, so that true collaboration becomes possible.
A balanced leader is a :
1. Critical Thinker: Gathers information and evaluates evidence to make sound decisions.
Needed: Leaders who make good judgments after analyzing relevant information and alternatives.
2. Agile Learner & Problem Solver: Examines situations and problems carefully to make novel connections.
Needed: Leaders who can apply prior learning to perform successfully in new situations.
3. Collaborator: Works with others to achieve shared goals.
Needed: Leaders who foster communication and cooperation across the team and successfully manage conflict.
4. Team Player/Builder: Builds cohesive teams that execute effectively.
Needed: Leaders who can organize people, engender team spirit, and motivate collective performance and cohesiveness.