Insights on business,
life, and leadership —
right in your inbox!

Real Life Leadership Skills

October 31, 2023

I was the first person in my family to graduate from college.

Although I’m grateful for my degree and proud to be a college graduate, I can confidently say that I learned more from experiences outside of the classroom than from my academic work. It wasn’t that the academics weren’t important or challenging; it’s that the things most valuable to me now are the real life leadership skills I learned from involvement in organizations working alongside others. 

There are some great books about habits that effective people embody, theories about laws of leadership, and even essential exchanges that leaders should make. But when you boil it all down, I believe the three most essential skills that every leader needs are communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.  

1) Communication
In order to work well with a group of people, the lines of communication have to be open and clear. To communicate well, you need to have empathy for other people. Communication isn’t as much about what’s being said as what’s being heard.  And you can’t downplay the importance of persuasion.  If you want to get people behind a goal, you must convince people that it’s worth achieving in the first place. Former President Gerald Ford once said that if he would have gone back to college he would have focused on two things: how to write and how to speak before an audience. President Ford understood that to be a leader, you must learn to communicate effectively. 

2) Collaboration

No project of significance can be completed alone.

My experiences in college helped me learn to work with people who think differently, believe differently, and work differently than I do. A team full of Kevins is a bad team, but if I can learn to work alongside a diverse group of people and leverage the unique strengths of individuals to achieve a common goal, we can accomplish anything. Some of my favorite colleagues are those with vastly different skill sets than me. When we can put aside our egos, our pride, and our desire to have complete control, it’s amazing what we can accomplish. 

3) Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is crucial to problem-solving and overcoming obstacles. Are you able to see what’s not working? Once you know, are you able to come up with new ideas and then persist until you’ve accomplished your mission? While it’s true that everyone has leadership potential, if you don’t possess the ability to think critically, your leadership will be limited. 

I’ve now been out of college for more than 15 years, and these three skills help me in any endeavor. 

They are the underpinning of Chick-fil-A Leader Academy, the leadership program we’ve co-created with Chick-fil-A. Don’t misunderstand me; there are certainly other philosophies and processes that matter in leadership, but these are the practical pieces every leader must master: communication, collaboration, and critical-thinking. Proficiency in these three areas will be the greatest contributors to your success and ability to succeed in any job, within any role, and at any organization. 


Insights on business,
life, and leadership —
right in your inbox!