10 Killer Leadership Skills: The Great Differentiators?

Last week at Hallmark I hosted a couple gentlemen from a partner company. During our return trip to the airport, I asked them to share their greatest business challenge. One of them paused for a moment, then answered with a simple word: TALENT. He went on to explain how there are many passionate, bright, technically adept candidates out there who are so close to “having it all”. Except for one thing.

They can’t write.

He then shared his belief that if someone can’t write clearly, he or she isn’t thinking clearly either. Which made me curious as to what the rest of you believe, because I’m not the best person to provide an unbiased opinion on whether writing is important.

I published my first (bad) poem when I was six years old, started at Hallmark as a greeting card writer (harder than it looks) 18 years ago, led the company’s writing and editorial disciplines for a few years (best job ever), and now spend much of my time weaving together facts, figures, and ideas to help others see a future they haven’t yet experienced. (Or is THIS the best job ever?)

I tell stories for a living, and so I obviously think it matters a great deal.

But is it the great differentiator? If not, what is? By the time you get past the “price of entry” leadership skills—drive for results, building effective teams, business acumen, organizational savvy—which skills REALLY make the best leaders stand out from the crowd?

Below are 10 Killer Leadership Skills that I believe set the high bar for greatness.

1. Empathy: Actively listening. Understanding yourself and others. Discerning a mutually beneficial path through a difficult issue. The most effective leaders are very emotionally intelligent, and make others feel not only understood and respected, but also empowered.

2. Vision: Imagining a preferred future. Projecting trends of all kinds—psychological, demographic, design, economic—and combining them with original thought to envision what could be. Whether it’s a new singular product idea or a new business, a strong vision outlines the big picture. Hard work fills it in.

3. Agility: Great leaders are able to re-examine goals and plans when new information becomes available. Sometimes what you thought was a good decision yesterday isn’t today. Great leaders can quickly change course without causing extraneous drama.

4. Story: Understanding context, creating a compelling point of view, and telling a memorable tale about it. Can you do it? Great storytellers get people to buy into their vision. Kind of how we NEED that new product after seeing a great ad for it. (Snickers, anyone? It really satisfies, you know.)

5. Strategy: Patterns. Patterns, patterns. Great leaders identify pertinent information and form related (and even seemingly unrelated) dots into opportunities. They see meaning where others don’t. And then they do something with it.

6. Inspiration: Do you inspire follow-ship? The best kind of leader is someone others willingly take personal risks for. They believe in what you stand for, and they want to be part of something greater than themselves. Great leaders appeal to the expansiveness in us!

7. Creative Problem Solving: “Thinking outside the box” is a dated term, because there are few boxes anymore. Business challenges are truly unique and our culture is so volatile. The ability to re-see a problem from a new angle, and experiment with multiple paths forward sharpens a team’s ability to uncover relevant solutions.

8. Presence: Call it poise, composure, command skills, or the “EF Hutton” effect. Whatever you call it, when great leaders walk into a room, you know it. When they speak up, people lean forward to listen. When they offer praise, others feel validated. Somehow the things they do, say, and think carry a gravity you can feel.

9. Authenticity: Great leaders are transparent in times of change, vulnerable in times of loss, and genuine at all times. They are relatable and trustworthy. Because of this, they can mobilize teams faster.

10. Courage: Great leaders ask tough questions, tell the truth, and expect the best of themselves and others. They question even their own assumptions. The bust up norms if it means securing the future of their company or their work. They are bold, and they inspire boldness in the people around them.
There you have it. Tara Jaye’s list of 10 Killer Leadership Skills, inspired by years of leader-watching, as well as years of leading…complete with a few of my own “learn the hard way” moments.

Of course, 10 is not a magic number–it’s just a clean one. What did I miss, friends? What would you add? Delete? Edit? Inquiring minds want to know.

This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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Tara Jaye Frank

Tara Jaye Frank is VP of Multicultural Strategy for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank and Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.

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