Author: Elena Galletti
Four leadership skills in space sector are generally identified as essential to effectively cover a leadership position, namely self-awareness, communication, influence and learning agility. In the following a brief description of the four competences is included, together with the main practices to develop them and act on them.
Self-awareness consists in being conscious and understanding our behaviour, our strengths and weaknesses, and their impact on others and on the environment where we live or work. Gaining self-awareness is a continuous process and an exercise that lasts a lifetime. In general, one can develop these skills with a mindful attitude and by analysing the causes and effects of his or her actions throughout the variety of situations that life presents us with. Besides, there is a number of practices that can help performing this type of analysis and improving self-awareness.
Firstly, one can reflect on his or her circle of concern, comprising all the things we are concerned about, and circle of control, comprising all the things we can control. By focusing on what we can control, we can work on making the circle of control wider and the circle of concern smaller, thus getting a more proactive and positive attitude. Another useful exercise consists in assessing periodically how we are doing with respect to a number of skills that we value or consider relevant for our work and life.
For instance, we could include more social skills such as communication and empathy as well as more professional skills such as time management and organization. An instrument such as a wheel can help to periodically evaluate how we perceive we are performing in each field, and which ones need more work and improvement. A further tool that can increase self-awareness is SWOT analysis, consisting of assessing our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. On top of those mentioned, there exist a variety of practices that are equally valid to increase awareness and attention to our behaviour, impact and progress, and to live and work according to a mindful attitude.
Good communication skills are crucial to effectively inspire and convey vision as well as establish a climate of constructive discussion, exchange and trust. It goes from writing and speaking clearly to communicate information to practicing active listening and connecting with the people around you. One key aspect of powerful communication is proactive language. It features the use of active sentences expressing acceptance of responsibility, taking control and initiative, declaring intentions and proposing actions.
Another way of making your communication more effective is through the use of assertive language, in opposition to aggressive and passive language. Assertive language is characterised by saying things in a direct and honest manner, with confidence and self control. Besides these general communication methods such as proactive and assertive language, there are several more specific techniques that can help to better communication.
A very well know one is the sandwich technique, which consists of presenting the main point one wants to make, which can be a statement or a request and can possibly generate a negative or defensive reaction in the interlocutor, after a validation sentence (expressing understanding and acknowledgement of the situation) and a proposal for an action plan. This favours the creation of a constructive and collaborative solution to the issue.
Influence refers to the ability of inspiring, coaching and driving others. It starts with a purpose or a vision that is the focus of the influencing. In order to influence people, a leader must be able to communicate this vision and persuade them to contribute to it by building commitment on different levels and in different ways. Influence consists in engaging not only team members and co-workers, but also people over whom you have no authority. Some practices than enable influencing are related to communication, such as active listening.
Connecting with the people you want to influence is essential to understand how they can be motivated or engaged. For this purpose, one can use cognitive empathy, based on taking into account the reasoning and point of view of the other person, or emotional empathy, based on taking into account his or her emotions.
Finally, learning agility is the ability to be continuously change and adapt to the situation, embracing the changes and learning timely how to deal with them. Active learners are able to identify which new skills and behaviors are required and when, and to take initiative to learn or adopt them. Learning agility is composed of two key elements.
On the one side one must possess learning abilities, thus have the cognitive intelligence and tools to learn new things. On the other side, one must have learning orientation, a pro-learning attitude that covers several different aspects such as inquisitiveness and curiosity, open mindedness, perseverance, systematic learning approach, etc. Some of the practices useful to cultivate learning agility are listed here.
Focus on innovation, by asking yourself insightful questions, questioning the status quo, identifying opportunities to grow and learn and taking advantage of them. Exercise your mind to the learning process, by setting continuously new learning goals and work on a systematic approach to achieve them. Work on exposure to uncertainty and risk, by attempting solutions that might not be successful, responding to failure if that happens, learning from mistakes and being open to feedback.
Clearly, the four core leadership skills in space are strongly interconnected, and the practices to improve them might overlap. A fair competence level in the four domains is imperative for a successful leader.