There was an interesting article in Inc. recently that highlighted what leadership skills were important in our next generation of astronauts. These leadership skills are typically referred to as “soft skills,” but are critical to success in business as well as in space.
A note about “soft skills” – which are explained as different from the qualifications and training that are required for the positions. I dislike the term because the underlying implication is that they are somehow not as important or that they are squishy and indefinable, or worse, they are emotional and therefore there is an inherent weakness within them. It’s time we did away with this interpretation and realized that what we are talking about are interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. In many ways, these skills are harder to find in leaders and can be harder to acquire. It’s important that we don’t diminish them.
The three characteristics in the article that are spot-on as leadership criteria we should all look for are:
- Ability to put aside one’s differences for the sake of the mission
This is the ability of a leader to cross over to those not “like” them to focus on the mission or purpose and achieve the goal. It means working across cultures, genders, ideologies and more to build a bridge towards the goal. It means working from areas of strength, not focusing on weaknesses. It means assigning tasks based on these strengths and eliminating ego from the entire equation. Diversity has always been available to us to use as a strength, but it has only been recently that organizations have realized how important this is to the successful accomplishments of goals and missions. One person does not make a successful team or achieve the teams’ goals. Only a team recognizing everyone’s abilities and contributions can achieve both.
- They are excellent communicators
In order to achieve #1, you must be an excellent communicator. This is the ability to be self-aware enough to engage with different audiences and get your message across. However, it’s important to remember that great communicators are first and foremost great listeners. By actively listening, these leaders will be able to know how to communicate with those constituencies. These leaders also know that communication is comprised of not just words but body language and tone as well. They understand that every communication as a leader has is part of one’s reputation. Those successful communicators will be remembered for how they communicate as well as what they communicate. Others will be forgotten.
- They know when it’s time to lead and when it’s time to follow
Great leaders know this – just because you’re a leader, doesn’t mean you always lead. Those who always lead will eventually have no followers. Leadership is a push-pull proposition and good leaders know when to do which one. The obvious benefit of this is that new leaders are always in training. As a leader, you are always giving leadership opportunities to those who follow. If you are not allowing others to lead, they will find somewhere else to get those chances.
If these leadership traits are good enough for our future astronauts, they are good enough for all of us. Take a self-assessment and see how much or how little you are using all three of these and consider making some adjustments as you start the year.