What a Real Leader Knows

Developing Fundamental Leadership Skills

Decision making is a key leadership skill.

© iStockphoto/kutaytanir

What distinguishes effective leaders from mediocre ones?

Is it their ability to make good decisions, their charismatic persuasiveness, or the clarity of their vision? And do the best leaders have these qualities naturally, or were they acquired at college?

The good news is that you can learn to be a leader, just as long as you take time to learn fundamental leadership skills. However, your effectiveness depends on how you apply these skills.

So, what do you have to learn if you want to be a better leader? And do you need to go business school to learn these things, or can you learn them on the job?

J. Sterling Livingston, a professor at Harvard Business School, attempted to answer these questions by studying the connection between formal education and successful leadership. In 1971, he published "The Myth of the Well-Educated Manager" in the Harvard Business Review.

One of Livingston's conclusions was that a formal business education, such as an MBA, was not a good predictor of long-term leadership success. This finding is much less surprising today than it was back in the early 1970s. However, his other main observation is as relevant today as it was back then – namely, that four key skills define successful leadership:

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