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Three Key Attributes of Great Leaders, Part Two: Skills

There are countless ways to assess the leadership qualities we seek for business, politics, sports or our own communities. Recognizing an individual’s ability to assess leaders is an essential proficiency for leaders themselves. In this article, we’ll address the second—skills.

Skills Technical, financial, communications and other real skills form a critical foundation for leadership. Yet, true leaders do not emerge until we add proficiency for engaging the right assets – capital and people. Deploying these right assets requires additional strategic skills:

  • the foresight to see where the organization needs to move

  • the agility to make essential adjustments en route to the results

One must have an insatiable curiosity to understand “cause and effect,” to avoid rushes to judgment based only on the obvious. Dynamic environments require that new and unfamiliar circumstances be considered – not just observed but scrutinized and questioned.

Inquisitiveness drives insight, good strategy, and proactive execution. Proactivity is essential to leading. Catching up is not leading.

The skills to convey information and enthusiasm, and to generate a broad-based sense for the ownership of results, are honed by the input of others. Listen to what others say, to what they do not say and, most critically, understand what they mean. One’s knowledge is often informed by others!

A leader is focused on results and, regardless of results, holds him/herself accountable. One who blames others for shortfalls or claims all credit for success will eventually perish. Creeping “meatballism” (the intentional or accidental advancement of a wrong candidate) allows the less competent to rise…but only so far.

Easy access to (and rapid transmission of) abundant information will eventually expose the under-skilled.

Special thanks to Dr. Ed Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration at The University of Rhode Island, for his work on identifying a core leadership metrics “system”: attitude, skill and knowledge (A.S.K.), and to Stanley H. Davis, Standish Founding Principal, for contributions to this post.


Greg Mickelson is a principal of Standish Executive Search, LLC. Standish Executive Search advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.The firm recruits the right leaders who also fit and complement the company’s culture.

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