Leadership: Mindset not skillset

I often have trouble filling out applications to speak at leadership conferences. Often they ask for four or five measurable objectives for the day. That’s not the problem. The problem is the way they want those objectives to be framed. The examples that they provide generally focus on discrete, tactical skills. My workshops don’t provide people with discrete, tactical skills. My workshops help people become better leaders.  Great leadership is no more the result of a single course or book than a person’s health is a result of a single meal or single activity. So why do we try to force fit discrete, short term measures to a leadership workshop?

Leadership isn’t about discrete, tactical skills. Leadership isn’t about skills at all. Of course, a good leader does need knowledge and skills. However, when you look at most good leaders, their knowledge and skills aren’t that much different from anyone else. In fact, some of the best leaders aren’t the ones with the most knowledge or skill.

The key differentiator between good leaders and others is their mindset. Good leaders look at the world, their business, their people, and their problems in a different way. They assume more responsibility and ownership than do others. They aren’t afraid of failure or of taking calculated risks. They focus on results and the big picture. Finally, they break down barriers that prevent their people from succeeding.

None of these are skills. They all have to do with a leader’s mindset. The best leaders are able to mobilize their own and other people’s skills in unique ways.

I’m not suggesting that we not hold leadership training accountable for results. We just need to get better at understanding what those results look like. Good leadership isn’t about doing one new thing. It’s about bringing that new thing to everything that you do. It’s about combining that new thing with all of your old things.

We need to stop trying to break leadership into small, discrete parts. Otherwise, we will always miss the mark on what leadership is really about.

Brad Kolar is the President of Kolar Associates, a leadership consulting and workforce productivity consulting firm. He can be reached at brad.kolar@kolarassociates.com.

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