The 6 Fundamental Skills Every Leader Should Practice

By Ron Ashkenas & Brook Manville

There’s an old story about a tourist who asks a New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall and is told, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Our research and experience have shown us that the best way to develop proficiency in leadership is not just through reading books and going to training courses, but also through real experience and continual practice. Our research also pointed to six leadership skills where practice was particularly important. These are not mysterious and certainly aren’t new.

Aspiring leaders should focus on practicing these essential basics:

  • Shape a vision that is exciting and challenging for your team.
  • Translate that vision into a clear strategy about what actions to take, and what not to do.
  • Recruit, develop and reward a team of great people to carry out the strategy.
  • Focus on measurable results.
  • Foster innovation and learning to sustain your team and grow new leaders.
  • Lead yourself. Know yourself, improve yourself and manage the appropriate balance in your own life.

No matter where you are in your career, you can find opportunities to practice these six skills. You’ll have varying degrees of success, which is normal. But by reflecting on your successes and failures at every step, and getting feedback from colleagues and mentors, you’ll keep making positive adjustments and find more opportunities to learn.

Don’t wait for learning opportunities to be handed to you. Seek them out and volunteer to take them on. And if you don’t see the opportunities in your own organization, find them outside your professional work in a community group, a nonprofit or a religious organization, which are often hungry for leaders to step in and step up. Eventually, as you progress, you’ll reach a level of capability in these areas such that you’ll start seeing results. You’ll successfully make things happen through the people who work for you on your team, or in your division. You’ll have become a leader, capable of rallying an organization of people around a meaningful collective goal and delivering the results to reach it.

Ron Ashkenas is the coauthor of the Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook, and a partner emeritus at Schaffer Consulting. Brook Manville is Principal of Brook Manville Llc. and a coauthor of the Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook.


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