The one skill all good leaders share

One skill separates successful leaders from the rest

People are promoted based on their ability to wow leaders. Their skills at an individual contributor level is impressive enough to lead to a promotion. But success as an individual contributor does not guarantee success at the next level.

Within a hierarchy, people tend to be ‘promoted to their level of incompetence’. This is known as the ‘Peter principle’, a concept popularized in the late ‘60s and ‘70s by Laurence Peter. In my experience, those who struggle with leadership responsibilities may have the IQ it takes to do the role and their previous role, but lack the EQ, or Emotional Intelligence, that it takes to lead others.

Make no mistake, stepping into a leadership role requires intelligence and skill. But that’s just the entry fee one is expected to pay to be a leader. But EQ is the one skill that makes the most successful leaders stand out from the others.

Unsuccessful leaders may appear successful for a time. Being promoted based on their skills may mean that they are adept at managing expections of one’s leaders. This is not a bad skill to have. We should all strive to keep our leaders informed of our movements. But when this is the only skill one brings to the table, that will not lead to long term success.

It’s been said that we model the behaviors that we observe. Leaders tend to mimic the patterns of communication they themselves observe. If a leader is surrounded by positive examples, then they may make do with the skills they have, for a time.

A leader with high emotional intelligence, and specifically, high self-awareness, can sense the patterns they are following and can choose to follow a different path. Self-awarenss is crucial in understanding where one’s strengths and weaknesses truly lie. As one leads others, self-awareness is key in gauging one’s progress and improving. The world around you is giving you feedback on your performance and a person with high EQ and self-awareness can leverage that feedback to improve themselves much faster than any manager-lead feedback cycle.