Core Leadership Skills and Traits
As we’ve said before, foresight is only a subset of leadership, but it is a necessary skill. Leaders must both generate useful foresight and inspire productive action. In fact, foresight and leadership can be considered the two most general—and most prized—skills in organizational environments. To better understand how foresight and leadership relate, let us look a few evidence-based leadership models. As Peter Northouse describes in Leadership: Theory and Practice, Fifth Ed. (2012), the first widely accepted skills-based model of leadership was developed by Robert Katz in 1955. In the Katz model, Conceptual, Technical, and Human skills are the three core ways leaders can improve their personal effectiveness.
In 2000, in “Leadership Skills for a Changing World,” Leadership Quarterly, Michael Mumford and colleagues also proposed Katz’s three as the core leadership skills (“competencies”), renaming them to Knowledge, Problem-Solving, and Social Judgment. They further proposed that these rapidly-learnable skills must be combined with much slower-changing Personal Traits (cognitive ability, motivation, personality), and the leader’s history of Past Career Experiences, Recent Leadership Outcomes, and Environmental Influences to best predict leadership abilities. Leadership ability is clearly complex. Success at leadership can be self-fulfilling, as it sets up expectations of further success, but it can also lead to arrogance, conservatism, or groupthink. Personality and social judgment matter, in ways that research hasn’t yet made clear.
In 2009, Gallup’s Tom Rath and Barry Conchie published Strengths-Based Leadership. Gallup sorted StrengthsFinder’s 34 workplace strengths into four key management domains, and considered ways that leaders could use them to improve their teams. While nowhere near as comprehensive as Mumford’s model, Gallup’s strengths have strong connections to personality and judgment. That alone makes it a promising advance. Let’s look now at their model, and see how we can integrate it into a better model of management and eventually, of leadership as well.