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Transcript: The two most underrated leadership skills

You need to follow certain strategies as a leader, but you still need to let your own personality shine through.

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KARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak with [MIT Sloan School of Management Professor] Deborah Ancona.

Good morning, Deborah.

DEBORAH ANCONA: Good morning, Karl.

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KARL MOORE: Deborah, you have the Four Capabilities [leadership framework] model at MIT that you have been using for a while now – of the four, which two do you see as being the most important for today's world?

DEBORAH ANCONA: While the literature on leadership is dominated by really two of our capabilities – that is visioning, the charismatic leader who is able to present the vision that motivates everybody to move forward, and relating, the ability to listen, to empathize, to put yourself in someone else's shoes and to coach others – those two play an important role in our model.

Interestingly enough, the two biggest predictors in our latest data set and analysis of leadership effectiveness, are sense-making and inventing.

Now sense-making occurs in almost no leadership model that we have seen and yet it kind of makes sense that part of a leader's job, in this day and age when the world is moving so quickly and in so many ways that we cannot predict, that a key thing a leader can do is sense make – that is, make sense of the context in which an organization or a team is operating. So what is going on out there? That is the basic question that sense-making asks, and how can we map what is going on out there so we can act in this environment that is changing. So this mapping complexity, this sense-making component, is extraordinarily related to managerial rating of leadership effectiveness. So can we figure it out?

But as the people working in strategy will tell you it is not enough to figure it out. So even if you could map complexity, they talk about this notion of sensing and seizing – so it is not just understanding what opportunities exist and what is going on out there, but being able to move in that environment.

So this inventing component, the notion that you create the structures and processes to move the organization ahead, is the second component – is the aspect of inventing. So sensing and seizing, being able to understand complexity and then move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that you have seen in the environment. So, sense-making and inventing are the two capabilities that make the most difference.

KARL MOORE: When you look at MIT's approach to leadership, that you are very much involved in, you have the Four Capabilities but you have another part, which is your leadership signature. What is that?

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DEBORAH ANCONA: So the leadership signature, if you think of the four capabilities sitting in a diamond, is the centre of that. The leadership signature is your unique way of leading. We can watch videos of all kinds of different leaders but we can't be those people. So what we tell people, our students, is that leadership is personal. So leadership is personal means that the best leader you can be is based on your leadership signature: your values, your experiences, your skills – and what you need to develop is a voice or way of leading that builds on who you are.

A key component of that is your values set and the ways in which you behave – are you ethical or not ethical? Interestingly, as I said before, sense-making and inventing are now the two biggest predictors of leadership effectiveness; a third component that we find is the ability to build respect and trust with people that you are working with.

So those three components, sense-making and inventing – so you sense the opportunities in a rapidly changing world, you seize those opportunities and, because that is changing all the time, the stability comes from you as an individual and the fact that people can rely upon you to act ethically and therefore win the respect and trust of others.

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