Great Managers Have These 4 Skills

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains the traits that consistently get people ahead.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.

So you want to be a leader, whether that means inspiring an entire organization or managing a small team. But do you know what it takes to succeed?

I’ve spent two decades working with researchers and workplace experts to identify the skills and traits that have gotten people ahead. Drawing from assessments of nearly 30,000 people at entry level, midlevel and C-suite, we compiled high-performance profiles that define what it takes to be great at each of these levels.

The best leaders have four key skills:

·       Adaptability: Being comfortable with unanticipated changes and diverse situations; being able to adjust to constraints and rebound from adversity.

·       Curiosity: Approaching problems in novel ways; seeing patterns and understanding how to synthesize complex information; having the desire to achieve a deep understanding of things.

·       Detail-oriented: Having the ability to systematically carry out tasks as assigned, with an understanding of the procedures and the importance of exactitude.

·       Tolerance of ambiguity: Being comfortable with uncertainty and willing to make decisions and plans in the face of incomplete information.

Being detail-oriented is key for entry-level managers.

The greater the focus on detail at entry-level, the more coworkers and bosses can count on assignments being completed thoroughly and accurately. In fact, detail orientation is so important, it is the “peak” for the high-performing entry-level employee.

Midlevel managers must focus on delegating.

For midlevel managers, detail orientation is less pronounced (a lower target to hit), but it remains an important aspect of being an effective leader.

However, high performance means successfully delegating to others. A midlevel or senior leader who gets personally bogged down in the details is ineffective and will not have the necessary mental bandwidth to focus on strategy.

From entry level to midlevel, excellence means ramping up in adaptability and tolerance of ambiguity, both of which come with experience, particularly involving decision-making and taking on greater responsibilities.

Where it all comes together.

At the C-suite level, high-performing leaders are extremely adaptable and tolerant of ambiguity. They not only react to change but also initiate it.

Finally, at all three levels, curiosity is a distinguishing trait — and key to the upward movement. Here’s how curiosity plays into each level:

·       Entry level: Curiosity goes beyond the normal learning curve and includes taking the initiative to soak up new experiences and build new skills.

·       Midlevel: Curiosity leads to competencies in new areas, such as taking on stretch assignments that are almost beyond their capabilities, or immersing themselves in the unfamiliar, such as working in a different country or region.

·       C-suite level: Curiosity prompts the engagement in lifelong learning, which is a prerequisite to greatness.