Five skills every business leader should build

December 31, 2018

Bosses used to just tell people what to do.

“Fifteen or twenty years ago, most senior business leaders were experts in ‘keeping the trains moving on time,’” explains Cliff Butler, DBA, chair of the PhD program in the Capella School of Business. “They simply needed to keep things operating. Continuous improvement was not front of mind. The pace of change was much slower. Leaders were held accountable for doing what worked in the past.”

Oh, how times have changed.

“Today, and certainly in the future, successful business leaders need a whole new set of competencies that go far beyond just managing direct reports and maintaining status quo,” Butler continues. “The senior leaders of tomorrow will need to be critical thinkers. They will need to know how to harness ‘big data’ in real time. They will need to be deeply reflective. They will need to be coaches and mentors. And more than anything else, they will need to be visionaries than can translate vision into action.”

With the following, Butler expands on the five core competencies that every business leader should cultivate to help them successfully lead organizations into the future:

1. Critical thinking

           “If you are just relaying directives from on high to your team and calling it a day, you are not a leader of tomorrow,” Butler says. “First and foremost, senior leaders need to be critical thinkers. They need to be constantly evaluating and assessing every aspect of what they and their teams do. They need to be able to identify complex problems or opportunities and develop creative solutions. They need to be big picture thinkers who think way outside the box. That is a key to success in business leadership today and into the future.”

2. Data analysis

           Data today is ever-present and real-time, but can also be overwhelming. The leaders of tomorrow will need to be adept at analyzing and utilizing exactly the data they need to make smart business decisions. “Data was difficult to get in the past, and it often lagged behind when you needed to make a decision, so it wasn’t very useful,” Butler says. “Today, data is instant and accessible. Senior leaders are expected to digest and activate on it in real-time. Those leaders who know how to analyze and activate on the specific data points they need to move their organizations forward are the ones who will win. In essence, every senior leader needs to be a data analyst going forward.”

3. Coaching and mentoring

           Being a coach or a mentor is very different than just being someone’s boss, Butler explains. Coaching or mentoring is not about telling people what to do. It’s about listening and helping employees develop their own strengths and surface their own passions. “Coaching and mentoring skills are too often missing among senior leaders as schools never really taught or emphasized those skills in the past. It used to be that leaders were expected to give directions. Be in command. But now, they are expected to develop their staff in the most holistic of ways. That is fundamentally different, and it’s refreshing.”

4. Be visionary

           Not only do the business leaders of tomorrow need to have a vision of where they, their teams, and their organizations are headed, but they need to be able to translate that organization vision into action. “This goes beyond just developing an annual plan or establishing quarterly goals,” Butler explains. “This is much bigger. Being visionary is really about being aspirational, but also having the ability to turn those aspirations into action. If you can take a vision and translate it into a very specific roadmap that everyone understands, you can become a sought-after business leader.”

5. Self-reflection

           The ability to reflect is critically important, yet so often it’s underappreciated and underutilized, Butler says. “A good leader must make the time to regularly consider, ‘Am I the leader I need to be, both for my team and my organization? What are my weaknesses and how do I improve?’ Too many leaders don’t do that. The reason it doesn’t happen is rooted in ego, as it can be hard to dredge up one’s own shortcomings. A good leader overcomes that and digs into self-reflection on a regular basis.”

No one knows exactly what the future will bring. But in business, the most successful leaders will be those who have cultivated the competencies to tackle whatever may come.

Learn about Capella University’s PhD in Business Management and Doctor of Business Administration programs.

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