As we go along, I’ll write a great deal about community leadership skills – areas of ability or expertise that community leaders can and must master if they want to be effective. But to begin, I think these skills can be connected to five “core skills.” As you look down this list, you’ll probably see that you have two or three skills but not all five. Don’t despair. Most of us are better at some things than others. Only a few (to pick a historic figure, Abraham Lincoln) seem equally good at all five.
The key is to understand that all these skills are necessary at some point to move a community forward. So you have a choice: You can work to improve yourself in the skill areas you’re not as gifted in or you can find partners who are good at these skills. Actually, I’d encourage you to do both: Find partners, see how they do things and learn from them.
Here are the five core skills:
- The skills of empathy: These are the skills that allow you to understand the views and motivations of others, particularly those with whom you have the least in common – people with different life experiences, political views or ethnic backgrounds. At higher levels, empathy allows you to stand outside yourself and see how others view you, which is critical to being an effective leader.
- The skills of facilitation: These are the skills that help bring groups together to agree on common goals and strategies. Think of this as putting empathy to work. Once you understand how people see things, facilitation helps you bring different types together to find common ground.
- The skills of strategy: These are the skills that help you see the road – sometimes the only road – that will move good ideas forward. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is the ability to understand and deal effectively with power.
- The skills of learning: These are the skills that help you search for, find and recognize potential solutions, sometimes from unexpected sources. Think of these as the skills that great detectives use in solving their cases.
- The skills of motivation: These are the skills that help you engage others – and yourself – in your community’s work.
I placed motivation skills last for a reason: This is what many think of when they think about leadership. And motivating others (and, I would argue, motivating yourself) is important, but without the other four, it is not much more than a good trick. After all, once you have people riled up, the questions begin:
- Riled up to do what?
- With whom?
- Working together how?
- Overcoming which obstacles?
- In order to achieve which outcomes?
I don’t wish to diminish the importance of motivation, but some of the best community leaders I’ve met couldn’t make an coherent public speech if their lives depended on it. (It’s striking how many mayors fit this description.) But they compensate in other ways. Sometimes, they were the ones who knew how to bring warring factions together. Or they had an uncanny ability to find and introduce the right idea at the right time. Or they knew precisely when and how to move initiatives forward. Or while they weren’t great at public motivation, they had an abundance of personal motivation, so their energy level never flagged.
Again, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of speech making. Obviously, Barack Obama wouldn’t be in president if he couldn’t make a good speech. (Neither for that matter would Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy have been president.) But if we are to lead our communities to good places, we have to do more than talk. We have to listen, think, find and facilitate as well.
Photo by mtsofan licensed under Creative Commons.