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ATD Blog

Top 5 Skills Every Leader Must Have


Tue Dec 18 2012


(From inc.) -- A few years ago, I saw a video by a Harvard professor on competences for adapting to a changing world. Frankly, it was embarrassing. It was the biggest load of pseudo-intellectual garbage I’d ever heard.



Still, the world is changing. It’s becoming a more complex place. I guess that’s always been the case, but the rate of change appears to be accelerating. Given that’s the case, then what are the real capabilities will people need to distinguish themselves--to become the leaders, the innovators, the success stories of a new age?


Fortunately, as a veteran of the high-tech industry, I’ve known and worked with some of the most capable and accomplished folks around. Here are five competences that not only set them apart, but are becoming more and more important all the time. No, they’re not new-age business school jargon. Some aren’t even new. But what’s important is that they work.


1. Drown out the noise.



We live and work in a world that’s so overloaded with information, communication, and gadgets that fighting that irresistible and constant tug to text, tweet, and check our email is becoming harder and harder all the time. That trend is not likely to change anytime soon.


Ability to focus and prioritize has always been critical to success in just about any field, but these days, managing distraction and not succumbing to its addictive qualities has become remarkably challenging for even the most disciplined among us.



Make no mistake. If you can’t focus, you can’t get things done. And if you can’t get things done, somebody else will.


2. Recognize the bullsh\*t.


When you question assumptions, claims, and viewpoints instead of just accepting them as gospel, as in "I saw it on the internet so it must be true," that's called critical thinking. It’s fundamental for smart decision-making. And that, in turn, is key to being successful at just about anything.


The concept dates back thousands of years to Socrates and Buddha's teachings. If you question conventional wisdom, challenge the status quo, and avoid collectivism and groupthink, you’re in good company. They’re all facets of the same concept. 


Here’s the thing. There’s so much garbage out there in the cloud, in social media, in blogs, on TV, in self-help books -- you name it -- that your ability to question what’s real and what isn’t, to reason logically and not generalize from a single data point, is more critical today than ever before.


And, in time, the world is only going to become more and more complex and, that’s right, full of stuff.  


3. Be more than an avatar.


It’s ironic that, with all the hoopla over personal branding, self-expression, and the “Me” generation, I find that people are becoming more and more like internet avatars every day. In other words, there’s a tendency to hide behind our own social media creations. To become sound bites personified.


More than ever, we need a sense of humility and self-awareness to remind us that we're flesh and blood humans. That we’re not always the insanely great business leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, partners, parents, whatever, that we hold ourselves out to be.

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