How many of your New Year's resolutions came in pairs?
Have you, for instance, vowed to get more exercise and eat less this year to become physically fitter? I wouldn't be surprised if many of your other resolutions came in pairs as well: engaging more in acts of service and kindness for spirituality; pursuing new hobbies and carving out more family time for renewal; and reading more and watching less TV for intellectual growth. We choose more than one way to reach our goals because we intuitively understand that the interaction between different approaches will give us a greater chance of success. The same is true with leadership resolutions.
Say your goal is to improve your technical expertise so that you can contribute to a product development initiative. Just reading or learning about more technical ideas isn't nearly as effective as combining your new technical knowledge with improved communication skills. Improving your ability to communicate won't make you more technically savvy but it can help you bring those technical ideas to life and to share them with peers.
If that sounds unlikely, in many ways, that's the point. If you think about it, there's no necessary or obvious relationship between diet and exercise — or between running and weight training, a common cross-training combination But they work better together than alone to improve overall fitness and conditioning. The same is true in developing your leadership skills. Some skills are particularly powerful magnifiers of other leadership skills.
Which combinations are most powerful? Ultimately, the answer is "that depends." You won't shore up a weakness by bolstering it with another. So you have to start with yourself — with your own particular strengths. Still, if you're looking to bolster a strength, some combinations work far, far better than others. Here's a list of some of the most powerful pairs I've seen, both in research with Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, as well as in practice:
1. If you want to become even more effective in reaching stretch goals, work on your ability to inspire and motivate others: Inspiring and motivating is itself the most powerful competency for extraordinary leaders. When people are inspired and motivated to achieve a result that seems beyond their grasp, the likelihood of achieving that stretch goal is far greater.
2. If you want to take your ability to think strategically to new heights, work on your communication skills: Do you know of any organizations with a good strategy that no one really understands? Or worse, one with a great strategy that no one knows about? Neither do I.
3. Make more of your ability to be customer focused by becoming more proficient in connecting your group to the outside: Exposure to varied experiences, new metaphors, and different ways of thinking helps you conceive of additional applications for your company's offerings that may help you chart a more effective strategic plan.
4. Take your ability to solve problems further by strengthening your approach to fostering diversity and inclusion. Leaders who can understand the experience of different parties can make more-informed decisions.
5. If you want to become even more effective an innovator, work on your ability to champion change: There's not as much value in innovation when the objective is to maintain the status quo. Put these two together and you have a recipe for great ideas that propel organizations in a new direction.
6. Make your natural process orientation more effective by improving your interpersonal skills: If you can infuse your quest to implement efficiencies with higher levels of commitment from your staff, you will raise the likelihood that people will actually stick to those processes and make them work.
7. Bolster your efforts to create a safe environment by learning to be more assertive: Safety continues to be a top priority for many organizations. Safety-conscious leaders who learn to be more assertive will have the courage to speak up or push back when they need to in order to keep people safe.
You may have noticed that many of these pairs combine some kind of technical expertise with an interpersonal skill. That's not a coincidence. It frequently is our interpersonal skills that allow our more technical abilities to spring to life. And since January 1st has just past, now might be the perfect time to consider what leadership combinations will help you achieve your 2012 goals.
Scott Edinger is the founder of Edinger Consulting Group. He is a coauthor of the October 2011 HBR article, "Making Yourself Indispensable." Connect with Scott at Twitter.com/ScottKEdinger.