The 3 Essential Tools of Leadership



Studies in leadership have repeatedly revealed that leadership is more art than science. Too much has been written about leadership and yet too little of it is evident in our society today. Many arguments have been made with mountains of compelling empirical evidence that leadership can be learned and yet too many people act like they are born with it with no need to learn. Effective leaders are life-long learners. Remember also that leadership is NOT the exclusive territory of chosen few individuals who are endowed with some rare and special gifts. We are all expected to lead something at sometime, somewhere in our lives. Therefore, we all ought to learn the life-skill of leadership if we are to be effective in our leading. Are you ready?


Effective leaders know the value of personal development, learning and ‘sharpening the saw’. Lifelong learning and continuous improvement are the two central pillars of effective leadership. I am often asked about the essential tools of leadership by learners of leadership who want to hone their skills in leading families, teams, departments, organisations and businesses. Let me offer three practical tools and techniques every effective leader needs to have in order to build the necessary skills. These are by no means an exhaustive list but according to my studies and practice, these have proved time and again as the essential ingredients.


  1. 1.       Vision


Vision is the positive image of what the status could become, and the path towards that destination. In the quest to create vision, the leader must show hunger for new ideas and different ways of doing things and have the ability to spot great ideas. A leader must have the ability to articulate and craft those ideas into a compelling image of the future without the ‘unnecessary disturbing noises’. S/he must skillfully craft these ideas into stories that capture the heart and mind of the team or organisation. These stories must be intriguing, meaningful, intellectually stimulating and realizable. Visioning is a collaborative process led by a leader.


  1. 2.       Inspiration


Inspiration is what moves people to action. Inspiration places a demand on the leaders interpersonal skills to excite the people. They display a high level of interpersonal intelligence – the ability to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people and to consequently work well with them. Effective leaders connect with their people at a level that inspires them to action. As a leader you must help your team to see how they can benefit from the journey and the arrival. That is inspiration!


  1. 3.       Momentum


Momentum is what carries the team, business or organisation through a set of action to its desired destination. Effective leaders know how to keep the mission on course by using their problem-solving skills, conflict management, influence, team-working, collaborating skills and intuition. They are emotionally self-aware and emotionally resilient. They form an emotional bond that helps them stay focused even in the midst of profound change and uncertainty. They are attuned to the people’s feelings and are able to adapt and move them in a positive direction. This connection makes work more meaningful.


Effective leaders create substantial amounts of Vision, Inspiration and Momentum in their organisations, teams, churches, communities, businesses and schools. Now, how do you start developing these leadership competencies for your own effectiveness?


A Process for Developing a Competency


a)    Recognise that you need to develop that specific competence.

b)    Understand what those specific competencies entail. Check your understanding against literature and best practice. Read up on it. Observe those who have developed the habit. Observe best practice. Ask questions to check your understanding.

c)    Ask for anonymous feedback from others on how you are doing on that competence. Do a self-assessment and test your view against the views of others. This will give you a good reality check.

d)    Draw a personal development plan and start experimenting with that competence. Be patient with yourself as you try it out. You might fail hopelessly at first. But don’t give up. Continuously improve as you experiment.

e)    Practice the competence in the real life situation. Be consistent. Develop it into a habit over time. Accept feedback and use it to improve.

f)     Apply your learning for betterment. Do what works and be an effective leader.


Ntate Sello Helepi is a Fellow of African Leadership Initiative (ALI-SA) and a Member of the Aspen Global Leadership (AGLN). He is a leadership researcher, entrepreneur and conference speaker.




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