Mar 28, 2003

Enhancing Your Leadership Skills

Leadership Image

You've been in the field now for five to seven years. You've
just hit your stride with a good title on your business card, a roster of
subordinates and a healthy paycheck.

You're good. You know it. Problem is that doesn't make you a
leader in the industry. That's going to take some more planning and work on
your part.

Obviously it's important to be considered a leader in your
present organization. That's what keeps you employed. It's also valuable in
your company's industry. In these days of consolidation, downsizing and mergers
and acquisitions, you need to be viewed as a person whose leadership qualities
transcend your present firm and gives you value in the marketplace.

We're not inferring you're looking for a new job. But in
today's climate of economic uncertainty you can be certain only of yourself.

The only people the CEO wants on his team are leaders or people
who are focused on being leaders. The same is true of executive recruiters and
prospective employers.

As a result, it's important to focus on improving in key
areas: vision, listening skills, education, personal public relations,
professional involvement and appearance.


The true leader possesses vision: the ability to see beyond
the short-term gain when choosing a solution. He can see with reasonable
certainty how something that is done today will impact success tomorrow. He
doesn't look for the easy answers but those that will reap long-term results
for the organization even if the firm moves in a totally new and more
profitable direction.

More importantly, a leader is able to communicate this
vision to executives and subordinates. He is able to empower subordinates to
work as a cohesive team. He has that unique ability to inspire the team to take
a project to even greater heights of achievement and make his people feel they
have true ownership in the success of their firm.

Listening Skills

A leader knows that it is just as important to listen to
subordinates as it is to talk to them. An executive who listens to employees'
professional and personal concerns and takes them to heart can keep
expectations and planning at realistic levels.

For example, some of the people on your staff are young and
ambitious. They enjoy, even thrive on, the late nights and weekends spent
pitching in to complete a project. At the same time you have employees who have
family responsibilities. Whether it is voiced or not, they resent these
schedules. They prefer long lead times where they can carry out the work within
the framework of their total lives.

Weigh the individuals' needs because it will help improve
employee retention, lower the resentment levels and build loyalty to the
company and to the executive. Building longevity with your team makes it easier
for projects, the company and you to succeed.

While it is important to remain accessible to your staff
members, a seasoned leader doesn't become one of the gang. He doesn't take part
in excessive gossip or outlandish entertainment.


The innovative and effective leader keeps his knowledge up
to date to ensure he stays one step ahead of the competition. The leader also expects/encourages
staff members to do the same. To make certain it happens, the leader hosts
in-house workshops or seeks out local educational venues. He also is a
voracious reader and clipper of print and online articles. He reads business,
trade and related field publications. He constantly clips and files articles
that will immediately help him or may possibly assist him in the future.

Follow these steps and you will grow to become a leader your
CEO wants on his team. You also will be the leader all of the best people want
to work for and with.

Personal PR

It is equally important to enhance your image and reputation
outside your organization. That means concentrating on your own personal public
relations program.

Position yourself as a solid and reliable resource for
local, regional and national media. In the public relations field, that means
knowing your company, your competition, related organizations, industry
facts/figures and industry resources inside and outside of firms. It also means
knowing how the industry's product cycles work from concept to customer support
as well as how related and potentially related companies, technologies and
products can impact your industry and your firm.

While many recruiters say job-hopping doesn't hurt your chances
for the next growth/leadership opportunity, firms still want people who show
some stability, which means keeping a job for at least a year, if not three. A
resume that is filled with job changes every eight months still puts you at a

Finally, your personal public relations program should
include the ability to extend yourself even when there's no short-term benefit
to your company or you. Members of the media have huge databases of company
contacts but relatively short lists of people they regularly contact. Be on
that short list.

If they contact you for information and assistance and it
can benefit your firm/client, follow thru immediately. Obviously you need to be
certain you have your facts straight before you speak to the press and that
you've properly briefed other executives before they speak to the media.

If they contact you and it can't help your client, point
them in the right direction or help them find the information.

Recently I was working with an industry technical analyst
and a client providing product, technical data and background material for her
project. She mentioned she still had some "holes" in related areas
she had to fill. I sent e-mails to people I knew in other firms, some of them
competitors, spelling out what the researcher needed and how they could
possibly get favorable coverage in the final research report.

Everyone won all the way around. The client received the
favorable coverage it wanted. The other firms knew we were on top of industry
activities. The analyst views us as more than just PR "flacks."

Professional Involvement

It also is important that you participate in professional
and industry associations and societies. In addition, it is important to
network in these organizations. Select your personal and professional
activities carefully. Choose those that you're not only interested in but those
that will benefit you in the long term.

Invest your time wisely to become a leader in the
organization(s). Volunteer to be a guest speaker at meetings and conferences.
Intelligently recommend members of your firm to speak on subjects and areas
where they are experts. If you're not a good speaker, take a public speaking
course to improve your performance. Whether it's you or a member of your
company make certain the presentation is one that reflects a clear view and
shows industry leadership.

As we move into the 21st century and video conferencing is
becoming an increasingly common form of one-on-one and one-to-many meetings, the
written word still is extremely powerful. Write great reports. Write great
presentations. Write great e-mails. Constantly work to develop, refine and
perfect all of your communications skills.


Now we come to the final, but equally as critical, area in
developing and maintaining your image as a professional leader. Granted it
should be enough that you are a visionary, have state-of-the-art/
state-of-the-industry expertise and keep your staff at peak performance and
loyal and are sought out by and quoted in the press, but unless you're one of
the very few, very rare true geniuses of the century, you also have to look the
part. It is still true that we never get a second chance to make a good first
impression. Like it or not, grooming and attire do quite a bit in shaping that
first impression.

While almost every organization has relaxed or eliminated
its dress code, and dressing down is commonly accepted, no one ever gets
laughed at for dressing up. Fortunately (for men) starched white shirts, black
pinstripe suits and rep ties have given way to a wider array of professional
attire. Women also have greater dress freedom including slacks. It's okay to
blend in with your staff, but casual doesn't mean sloppy. Being neat has never
gone out of style.

Develop your leadership skill roadmap using these guidelines
and you will earn the reputation you want and deserve as a true leader.

That's the person your boss wants on his team. It's the
person your firm's competition wants on their team. It's the person the
executive recruiter aggressively seeks and woos for the next big
opportunity/challenge you're going to want to consider.

About the author

G.A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. He may be reached at [email protected].