Nine Skills to Elevate Your Leadership

Becoming a great leader is a process, and a lifetime journey and never a one-time workshop. Here are nine skills to help you elevate your leadership in 2019.

Skill #1 Make Clarity a Priority

If you focus on any one thing it should be to make clarity a priority. All drama is rooted in the lack of clarity. When employees don’t know what is expected of them they fail. When the rules are muddy, people slide down a slippery slope. There’s an old saying to help you get back to basics: A stich in time saves nine. Get clear about who is boss, what the rules are, how decisions are made and what values you are going to live by. Save time by taking the time to make clarity a priority. Nine hours of getting clear could save you nine weeks of rework.

Skill # 2 Speak to the Vision

Leaders often get into the habit of talking about the problem, the obstacles and the constraints. While it’s necessary to understand the barriers, put your focus on the outcome. An analogy I often use is “focus on the island not the shark.” The shark may be real, but the island has the treasure chest and delicious coconut juice. In other words, paint the picture of the desired outcome so that your team is motivated to face the real or perceived barriers.

Skill #3 Create Connection

Your people are either connected to you or they aren’t. Connection is the glue that bonds people together. Think about this, people only gossip negatively when they don’t feel a connection. An employee only treats a patient or a customer rudely when there’s no connection. People lose engagement and complain about their jobs when they feel disconnected. We can never deny the power of strong connection: Connection to the job, to the boss, to peers, and to the client.

Skill #4 Initiate Difficult Conversations

Most problems arise from either a lack of clarity, or a conversation that never happened. It’s normal to want to avoid unpleasant emotions, but you have to think of the bigger picture. Do yourself a favor and initiate the difficult conversation sooner rather than later. You don’t have to be comfortable and you don’t have to be perfect, but you owe it to yourself, the employee and the company to give honest feedback about expectations and performance.

No matter how difficult the conversation might be, there is no way to improve performance without a conversation. When it comes to the necessity of termination, a good conversation eliminates unnecessary shock and surprise.

Skill #5 Course Correct Quickly

When you make a mistake, own it and use the mistake as a learning experience. It goes like this: “Last week I made a decision, and I see that this decision was not well thought out. As a result I have to make a few changes….here’s what they are, and here’s what I’ve learned.” Your employees will have your back if you simply own the problem and then make a minor course-correction. What they will not so easily forgive is hiding your insecurities and flaws. The moment you realize you have been part of the problem, make a course-correction. The more you show your own humanity and ability to take responsibility the easier it is for employees to do the same.

Skill #6 Get the Facts

It’s easy to get drawn into employee drama and games of he-said-she-said. Instead, take a break from all those hurt feelings and get to the facts. Teach your employees to come to you with facts, not just feelings. Fact finding can dramatically change your business results and where you invest your time. Here’s one of my sayings: “Knowing your feelings won’t change the facts, but knowing the facts can change your feelings, and when you change your feelings, you change your experience, and when you change your experience you change your results.” Facts first, then check feelings.

Skill #7 Resolve Inner Conflict

As a leader you are going to have many conflicts of interest. You want them to like you but you also want to be driven by results. You want to eliminate the problem-employee but you feel sorry for their struggles. You want to listen to the inside-gossip but you also want to be perceived as fair.

Before making a difficult decision, or before playing referee, or before creating a new initiative, clear up your inner conflict first. Once you are clean and clear on the inside your decisions will be more aligned with your values and mission.

Skill #8 Stop Rescuing

When you feel resentful toward a colleague or employee it’s likely because you have allowed someone to cross your boundaries. Or it could be because you keep doing their work for them, whether it’s physical labor or emotional work. As a leader you have to become a coach instead of a rescuer. You have to teach a man to fish. If your man won’t cast his line or reel in the fish, and you keep struggling with the same poor results, here’s the harsh truth: It’s not them. It’s you. There’s nothing so frustrating than trying to change someone who is perfectly happy with the way things are. Break the pattern now and stop rescuing.

Skill # 9 Shape the Environment

Structure determines behavior. If you are a leader you have some control over the environment. You can adjust the lighting. You can make the workflow easier. You can cater in lunch. You can hold regular meetings in a way that is convenient and interesting. There are all kinds of ways to work with the environment to shape your culture. Structure determines behavior, so work with the structure to get the behaviors you want.  


The first skill, “Make Clarity a Priority” will be something you work on every day, every week and every month. The other eight can be divided up by focusing on two per quarter. Each quarter you can chart your progress on three skills using the matrix at the bottom.

We live our lives either by default or by design, and leadership is no different. When you consciously take charge of elevating your awareness, and you focus on changing your habits you can achieve your leadership potential.

Originally published on – January 2019

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018). Download “The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results.” Connect with Chism via LinkedInFacebook and Twitter and at

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