Recently, the Harvard Business Review was asked to perform an analysis of core competencies emerging business leaders need at various phases in their careers. The end client was operating under an assumption that people in leadership positions need to develop and exercise different skills, depending on where they are in their careers. In other words, the assumption is that someone emerging from lower management into the middle ranks needs different skills than someone in the upper executive levels.
However, the Harvard Business Review found that this underlying assumption was problematized by the expectation that a management professional continues to use and expand on previously learned skills as they move up the corporate chain, when in fact this does not appear to be the case. This seemed to imply that people in management positions, regardless of the actual level of management, may actually draw on the exact same skill set no matter where they might be in their careers.
To that end, the publication conducted an extensive poll of over 332,000 people at all levels to see which leadership skills were consistently identified as important. The poll found that at the supervisory, middle management and executive levels, the same skills were consistently cited as important.
Here are the skills that made the list, along with the percentage of respondents who identified them as important:
- Motivational and inspirational skills: 38 percent
- Honestly, transparency and integrity: 37 percent
- Analytic and problem-solving skills: 37 percent
- Focuses on generating results: 36 percent
- Good communication skills: 35 percent
- Displays and values collaborative and teamwork skills: 33 percent
- Fosters, maintains and builds positive relationships: 30 percent
- Possesses advanced technical or professional knowledge and expertise: 27 percent
- Displays strong strategic thinking skills: 24 percent
- Helps others develop their own skills: 21 percent
- Displays initiative and thought leadership: 19 percent
- Values innovation and alternative ways of thinking: 16 percent
- Supports and embraces change: 16 percent
- Values the relationship between the team/company and the external world: 12 percent
- Establishes and strives to achieve long-term goals: 10 percent
- Continues personal and professional self-development: 9 percent
Given the consistency with which these skills were cited, particularly at the top end of the spectrum, the authors of the Harvard Business Review concluded that the proficiencies an individual needs do not fundamentally change a great deal as their career continues to advance. Regardless of where he or she may be in the management chain, motivational skills, honesty, integrity, problem-solving skills and generating results tended to be the most important drivers of success.
Of the skills which earned high scores on the poll, there was only one which seemed to have a positive correlation with upper levels of career advancement: strategic thinking. According to the poll, strategic thinking skills were increasingly valued at successively higher levels of the management chain. This can be partially explained by the simple hierarchy of the average company: top-level executives conceive of strategies, while mid- and lower-level managers implement it.
If you’re intent on advancing your career and eventually entering the upper executive levels, it is well worth taking a close and careful look at the skills the study cited as important. Which of these skills do you have? Which of these skills do you lack? Which of these skills need further development? What can you do to close any gap between your current skill set and the skill set you’ll need to take your career to the next level?
It’s also important to note that displaying these skills is what tends to get a candidate noticed by his or her superiors. One of the best ways to put yourself in the running for a promotion is to consistently display the kinds of skills you’ll need to succeed at the next level.