The second characteristic of great leaders is good sense. Along with good character, great leaders must also have good sense: Knowledge. Such leaders don’t have to be the smartest people in the room but must have knowledge in a variety several specific areas. I call these areas of knowledge the 5 K’s. Thus, great leaders must:
1. Know themselves: In one of his older cowboy movies, Clint Eastwood once said, “A man [or woman] has to know his limitations.” As leaders knowing what we’re good at and what we’re challenged by is equally important. It’s sometimes startling how often leaders lack a full sense of self awareness—which often becomes a major detailer in their careers. Take time to look deep into the mirror for your strengths and challenges.
2. Know others: Understanding how others think and what their strengths and challenges are is likewise critical. In a study of what employees most wanted—to be appreciated, to be in the know what’s going on, and to be supported in their professional and personal lives—it was eye opening that managers also surveyed had identified none of those as most likely wanted by employees. Again, knowing others is critical to leaders.
3. Know stuff: Sounds easy, but leaders have to know the substance of their professions. So, if you’re managing lawyers, you have to be a competent lawyer. You don’t have to be the best litigator or probate attorney in the group, but you have to be competent or no one will respect or follow you.
4. Know how to learn: In a world that changes so rapidly, if leaders have not learned how to keep up by programming in learning time, falling behind is easy and remaining relevant difficult at best. New learning systems are developing all the time from blogs, to webinars, to online courses—and the list grows. Taking time to learn the technology is not just a luxury anymore but critical.
5. Know how to teach: One of a leader’s primary functions is to ensure a successful future for the team. That can only be done by training and mentoring others to move into, up, and even out of the organization. It’s fascinating to see how many companies have recognized and developed “alumni associations” to preserve and perpetuate knowledge.