What Skills are Important for an Organizational Leader?

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If you think finding solutions within your function is fun, you might enjoy building and shaping entire organizations. Organizational leaders first develop a clear vision for the world, then assemble and manage the teams, products, and processes to make that vision a reality. The work is highly strategic, requires exceptional people skills, and requires constant learning and growth. Want to join an organization's leadership team? Begin developing in these areas.

Vision Strategy

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Organizational leaders are champions of a cause. You need to develop and refine a clear vision for how your organization will improve its customers' lives. You also need the communication skills to excite, attract and retain people who can help that vision become a reality. Are you a leader people want to follow?

Cross-Discipline Leadership

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As you rise through the leadership ranks, you have likely managed teams where you have domain expertise. You understand what the teams do, how they work, and the unique challenges they face. Organizational leaders are often asked to lead in areas where they lack domain knowledge. How can you effectively lead people when you lack first-hand knowledge of what they do or the unique challenges they face?

Business Development, Marketing, and Sales

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Organizations bring a vision to life by creating and marketing a set of products or services targeted to a specific customer group. Leaders make tough decisions about who to help and not help, how to build products people want, and how to stand out from the crowd of other products. How can you invest in the right products and sell or distribute them in the most profitable way?

Operations and Execution

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A critical factor in your organization's profitability, sustainability, and success is how it produces its product or delivers its service. What are its moving parts, and what resources are required? What are your organization's unique talents? How can it operate uniquely to create differentiation or competitive advantages?

Relationships and Partnerships

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No person or organization can do everything well. A critical role of organizational leaders is building and maintaining relationships inside and outside of the organization's walls. Good relationships and social capital help you find and retain employees, customers, vendors, partners, and co-champions for your cause. How well do you initiate and nurture relationships?


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Organizations can't survive or grow without a sound financial understanding and plan. What are the capital resources required to start or expand the organization? What sources of capital are available or make sense for the organization? How does money flow through the organization? What are the critical financial measures you should track that reveal your organization's health?

Legal and Governance

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Organizations exist in a world of rules and laws. In the case of international organizations, there are multiple sets of rules and laws. Sometimes these may limit or hamper an organization's ambitions, but sometimes opportunities are created. How well do you understand the limitations or opportunities created by rules and laws for organizations in your industry or location?

Thought Questions

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  • Does organizational leadership appeal to you? Why?
  • What organizational leaders do you know? Can you interview them to learn more about the role?
  • How would you rate your current knowledge and ability for these seven skills?
  • If you could only improve one skill in the next month, which one would it be, and what steps would you take?
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