Developing the Mindset and Skill Set of a Great Leader

June 15, 2023 Ken Blanchard

Becoming a great leader requires the right mindset, combined with a good day-to-day skill set.

For me, identifying the right mindset boils down to answering one question: “Are you here to serve or to be served?” That's the mindset question.

If you are here to serve, the next question is “What's the best way to serve?” That’s the skill set question.

The Mindset

In our Servant Leadership Essentials program, we explore mindset across three different areas: thinking of others first, building community, and turning the pyramid upside down.

Think of Others First. It’s not about you. The best leaders think of their people first, rather than themselves. Effective leadership is all about we, not me. You are there to serve your team members.

Build Community. As a leader who’s focused on building community, you’re looking to share leadership and turn all of your people into servant leaders. Your message is: “I don't have all the answers. What do you think?” Now you have a community of people who know they can be vulnerable, give suggestions, and be part of the solution.

Turn the Pyramid Upside Down. When we say turn the pyramid upside down, we are talking about flipping the organizational hierarchy. As a servant leader, you set clear goals and direction. Once goals are set, you turn the pyramid upside down and focus on your people—to help them win and bring out their best.

The Skill Set

But mindset is only part of the equation. Good intentions don’t amount to much if they aren’t followed by matching behaviors. Our SLII® approach to performance management provides a great framework leaders can use to provide direction and support in a way that improves the quality of conversations between managers and team members.

The SLII® training program teaches a partnership approach to leadership that builds trust, improves listening, and increases feedback. At its core, SLII® shows leaders how to help people accomplish their goals. It includes three skill sets: setting clear goals, diagnosing development level, and providing a matching leadership style.

Set Clear Goals. If you want somebody to be a good performer, the first things they need to learn are what their goals are, what you are trying to accomplish, and what good behavior looks like.

This is more difficult than it seems. Most people do not have clearly defined, written goals that are used as a foundation for performance reviews. Others-focused leaders make sure goals are clear because it helps them choose the specific leadership style that will help a person achieve a specific goal.

Diagnose Development Level. In our SLII® program, we teach leaders how to become experts at diagnosing a team member’s development level on a specific goal or task. The development level has two components—competence and commitment. Competence is someone’s skill level on a task. Commitment is their confidence and motivation. Working one-on-one, an others-focused leader explores each person’s competence and commitment on each of their goals. This is why it’s so important to have the goals clearly defined. Is the team member an Enthusiastic Beginner; a Disillusioned Learner; a Capable, but Cautious, Contributor; or a Self-Reliant Achiever?

The goal of SLII® is to help people become Self-Reliant Achievers in as many of their goals as possible. But remember: it's a journey, not an announced destination. Once the development level is determined, the leader moves on to providing the appropriate leadership style.

Provide a Matching Leadership Style. If somebody is an Enthusiastic Beginner, they have a lot of enthusiasm but they lack skills. They need a directive leadership style. If the person has been doing something for a while and they get a little discouraged, they’ve moved into the Disillusioned Learner stage where they need both direction and support.

When a matching leadership style is consistently applied, the team member advances to the point where they are a Capable, but Cautious, Contributor, meaning they’ve got the skills but don't want to be left alone completely. From there, the leader provides a supportive leadership style until, eventually, the person is able to operate on their own as a Self-Reliant Achiever.

Leadership as a Partnership

Using the structured developmental approach we teach in SLII® improves trust, listening, and the ability to give and receive feedback. Leaders learn to build trust with people by listening more than they speak. They learn to ask rather than tell because they have built a community of people who can work together. And with an environment of listening and trusting each other, people are open to giving and receiving feedback.

It takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it. If you're the traditional leader and you think all the brains are in your office, that's an awful burden. But when you realize it's about we, not me, you can be part of the team. You become more of a facilitator than a one-person brain trust. That's really what's important for people to understand. When you’re in it together with your people, it’s a lot better than leading alone.

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Dr. Ken Blanchard is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Blanchard®, an international management training and consulting firm. Ken is the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

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