Leadership: the three core skills (plus the most relevant test question)

So you want to be a leader. How to become one? First, you need to know what leadership skills you need. As for a first step, a classic model of Katz states that you must be competent in three areas:

  • Technical: professional knowledge, thorough knowledge of products and operations, analytic capabilities, cognitive power.
  • Human: being able to see and attend to other people’s interests, to enthuse them, and ensure collaboration.
  • Conceptual: comfortable with larger perspectives, ideas, abstract concepts, and easily relating the abstract to the concrete.

Katz also made a distinction between strategic, tactical and operational management. With strategic, the conceptual becomes more important, with operational, the technical. The human skill is notably important on the tactical level, but it is in fact relevant at all levels.

After Katz, many other lists have been developed. I have summarized ten studies. Although they entail dozens of different terms for which skills leaders (should) have, everything can be summarized remarkably well in three core skills:

  • Knowledge: intelligence, performance related know-how, keen judgment.
  • Eye for people: being responsible, alert, social, honest, adaptive.
  • Drive: motivation, perseverance, (self) confidence, initiative, appropriate dominance.

This categorization is very similar to that of Katz. Only in the third item the difference is that Katz emphasizes the conceptual, while the many later authors emphasize the importance of drive. But this is perfectly complementary: in addition to knowledge and an eye for people, it is about “the drive to realize good ideas“.

So a leader has knowledge, an eye for people and drive to realize good ideas. The experts in the field of leadership are convinced that all this can be trained.

If you are about to judge yourself on these skills, the most important test question is whether others would score you above average on these skills. Because almost everyone has all these attributes to some extent (so it seems easy to tick them off), but the critical thing here is that you have these skills to an obvious degree, in the eyes of those for whom you are the leader. And then a convincing score on all three skills becomes a lot more difficult. But you can develop yourself here.

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