Every List of “Top 10” Leadership Skills is Missing a Key Skill

Top 10 Lists

Have you ever read those lists of the 10 most important leadership qualities or skills? Every list includes honesty, integrity and the ability to motivate others. Beyond those expected leadership skills every list is different.

For example, Inc. Magazine published an article by Peter Economy in December 2014 citing the top 10 skills every great leader needs to succeed. The more interesting skills listed in Peter’s article included problem solving, building relationships, having a strategic perspective, etc.

Another example. Forbes published an article by Tanya Prive about the top 10 qualities that make a great leader. The more interesting qualities listed in Tanya’s article were sense of humor, creativity and confidence.

I reviewed more than thirty lists of “top,” “key,” “essential” and “important” leadership skills and qualities. Every list was missing a skill essential to leadership success. Before we get to that skill, let’s define leadership success. If leadership success is defined as helping followers improve their ability to perform and deliver results  Using that definition, every list is missing an essential skill. The missing skill is Critical Thinking.

Critical Thinking

According to Random House (2015), critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is informed by evidence.

It’s great if the leader has critical thinking. However, employee performance and organizational results don’t change if the leader KNOWS about critical thinking. The company only benefits when the leader helps employees develop critical thinking.

Why does every list miss critical thinking?

  • Maybe it’s assumed to be included in the leadership skill called developing people. But, “developing people” is vague. Developing them to do what specifically?
  • Maybe leaders avoid developing critical thinking in their employees because it requires them to become too tactical, too involved in the details.
  • Maybe leaders assume employees are already using critical thinking.


To gauge the level of critical thinking of your employees, try this experiment.

  1. Draw 2 rows of 3 boxes.  Across the top (left to right) label the boxes Thinking, Behaviors and Results.  Along the left edge, label the lower row as Current.  Label the top row as Desired.  So, our Thinking creates our Behaviors and our Behaviors create our Results.
  2. Document one employee’s current results. Then, together with that employee, document the employee’s current behaviors; the behaviors that they are doing to create their current results.
  3. Next, document this employees desired results.  Then, together with the employee, discuss what changes in behavior need to occur in order to move from current results to desired results.  Now, you might say that you already do this when you “coach” your employees.  However, Step 4 is where real behavior change takes place.
  4. While comparing the current behaviors/results to the desired behaviors/results, go one step further.  Ask the employee how an employee using desired behavior is thinking differently than an employee using current behavior.  How does the person with the desired behaviors and results think differently than the person with the current behaviors and results?

Now, step back and look at the 6 boxes and the conversation you just had with the employee.  Can this model be a powerful tool for holding employees accountable for achieving the results they said they want to achieve?  If so, you now have a simple model for much more effective coaching sessions with your employees (individually and as a team).

Your Critical Thinking

Now try critical thinking on yourself. Is there evidence that you develop critical thinking in your employees?  Yes or no?  If not, what behaviors do you have to change in order to do so? If you don’t develop critical thinking in your employees, why not? Is critical thinking not as important to you as other priorities? If so, why is that?

Remember, critical thinking is disciplined thinking informed by the evidence. The links between a person’s thinking, their behavior and their results are clear. Critically evaluating the differences between an employee’s current and desired thinking/behavior/results will create an immediate plan for improving employee performance.  If done across the company, company results will improve as well.

About Jim Connolly

Jim Connolly is Founder & CEO of OrgEx, Inc.  OrgEx, Inc. helps companies systematically apply principles of human behavior to improve operational performance and financial results.

Jim is a sought-after speaker who uses humor to challenge the thinking of his audiences.  Jim understands how people think and uses that knowledge to equip, cajole and inspire audiences.  He has spoken to audiences as large as 1,100 people.

In his consulting practice, Jim helps clients with their most pressing people challenges, including:

· Eliminating hiring mistakes
· Reducing employee turnover
· Underperforming teams – sales teams, project teams, leadership teams
· Leader performance challenges
· Resistance to organizational change efforts that are necessary to move the company forward
· Systematically building toward record-setting and industry-leading performance

Whether it’s a company-wide issue or working with a specific department or team, we know how human behavior works so we know how to improve organizational performance and financial results.  Find out more at www.OrgEx.com.  

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By | 2018-06-09T14:39:23+00:00 June 9th, 2018|