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The Most Important Leadership Skill

In Personal Strategies & Goal, Leadership, Strategy Insights by Steve Sliwa

People often ask me what I think the most important skill is for leaders. Without a doubt, my answer is creating followership. It is funny that people who want to become managers are not necessarily effective in the role. I find that those who already have a following are successful leaders, whether they have the title or not. It is natural to promote those people because they are currently doing the job.

When I promote people who have not already found ways of getting people to move in their direction, they become frustrated. They come to me, “Now that I’m the leader, they still aren’t following me.” It is not the title or the organizational chart that makes others follow someone. It is the skill of followership.

To create a following, four skills help – persuasion, teaching, understanding the currency of exchange, and storytelling.

Persuasion: The best leaders are those who can persuade and sell concepts, products, and ideas. They are always negotiating, finding commonality and a good answer for everyone.

Teaching: Teaching supports persuasion. One must teach people about what you are trying to accomplish. To create the followership, bonding in the organization, and mentoring and developing people, teaching is essential.

Currency of Exchange: Establishing a currency of exchange is also vital to being a leader. One needs to understand what is valuable to the people or group with whom they are working. Then, work out an exchange such that both achieve the objectives. The best leaders are the ones who understand how to make this happen. You cannot walk up to someone and ask, “What’s your currency of exchange?” Leaders must pull that information out, make an observation, and find the most important items for that person, group, or organization.

Storytelling: Storytelling helps build the culture, exchange information, and create the vision. Key leaders in organizations can tell stories about where the business has been and where it is going. They can talk about what is happening in the market and with key customers. Leaders use this to keep people motivated, happy, and energetic. They also use it to teach people.

These four skills are interconnected and are essential for creating a followership. I find that individuals who develop this skill set become effective leaders. 

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