Effective leadership skills are not innate in a person, but need to be carefully nurtured and developed. And these skills are not just picked up at some leadership development program, but require deeper insights and life experience on the part of the manager. At any organization, there are likely to be dozens of people with leadership potential, but only a few will make it to the very top. What is it that distinguishes the management and leadership skills of these few from those of the rest? Adam Bryant, who writes the weekly column “The Corner Office” in the New York Times, interviewed dozens of CEO’s to try and arrive at some insights on this question.


Bryant distills his lessons down to five traits that are necessary for someone to be a successful leader. He describes these five traits at length in his book “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed”.  While leadership training programs may help you to hone these skills, in the end, these are developed through practice, self-discipline and attitude.


The Corner Office

What are leadership skills?


The five management and leadership skills that Bryant highlights are the following:


1. “Passionate Curiosity”: This refers to the quality of being inquisitive about why certain things work, why other things don’t work, and how to improve upon the things that don’t work well. Although CEO’s may present a very confident and knowing persona in public, away from the limelight they are constantly questioning the status quo. A CEO is not always the smartest person on the team, but he or she is always looking to learn from both successes and failures.


2. Confidence: This refers to the quality of a top CEO to remain confident even in times of adversity. Even if there are factors that they cannot control, top CEO’s tend to take ownership of the situation and work it to their advantage by influencing the things over which they do have control. This means not only having a positive attitude, but also the determination to see things through regardless of negative circumstances.


3. Team smarts: Although being a team player sounds like a management cliché, it involves a lot more than just sitting in some team building exercises in a leadership development course. Having team smarts means being able to play your role effectively within the team, and to do your bit well so others on the team can do theirs well. It does not necessarily mean being the best person on the team at a specific task, but rather, seamlessly integrating your efforts with others. For a leader, it also means being a good psychologist, i.e., being able to understand how people on the team interact and get on with one another - team dynamics.


4. Getting to the point: Top CEO’s value simplicity in communication. Even if the argument you are trying to make is very complex, CEO’s need to know the crux of the issue in order to make sense out of complex information that they can then use for decision making. A good CEO will insist that his or her staff present their ideas, challenges, updates and other issues succinctly, saving the details for follow-up explanation if needed. 


5. Fearlessness:  The ability to take risks is one of the top leadership and management skills that a CEO should have. This does not mean being reckless, but rather, striking out in bold and new directions in a calculated manner, after assessing all the pros and cons of their decisions. Sometimes rattling the status quo can be the best thing for the organization, as long as it is done in a thoughtful and strategic manner.


The above list of leadership skills will help any aspiring manager to find his or her way to the top of the corporate ladder. And because all these attributes can be learned through doing and observation, and enhanced through leadership training programs, most people can help their careers by paying attention to them.