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Last week I thoroughly enjoyed facilitating a Leadership program with 40 leaders and managers from Hawkesbury Council. Many of them are highly-experienced and highly-accomplished leaders and so it was a real joy to see their desire to address the ‘few gaps’ they have in their leadership skill sets rather than simply reverting to their ‘many leadership strengths’ and remaining in a comfortable position because ‘you can’t be good at everything.’

In fact, it is this continuous improvement of yourself that future-proofs your career and inspires your team. That desire and ability to continue to learn well beyond your university or technical qualifications.

Interestingly, the ‘gaps’ are rarely the hard skills, in spite of the rapid progression of technology.

Rather the ‘gaps’ are on the ‘people side’, in definite recognition of the pendulum nature of working with people. There is much excitement and satisfaction to be gained from working with people, and at the opposite end of the pendulum swing, working with people can also be frustrating and difficult.


The Four Cs

This focus on the ‘people side’ is not limited to business. It applies to every level of education and development – from school, through to leadership development and executive coaching. We could learn much by implementing the ‘4 Cs’ identified by the ‘Partnership for 21st Century Skills’.

The CEDA (Committee for Economic Development in Australia) estimates that more than five million (or 40 per cent) of Australian jobs have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10–15 years.

This means that one in three children who started school this year will grow up to pursue careers that don’t yet exist, and to support them in this, we need them to be able to flourish in a culture of innovation, self-reliance and change. In 2002 the ‘Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ identified a set of four essential skills students will need to be successful beyond school. The ‘4 Cs’ are critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.


1. Critical Thinking

Leading to better concentration, deeper analytical abilities and improved thought processing, critical thinking has always been a much-respected skill in high-achieving roles.

In our information-driven world where you must sift through huge quantities of information to make decisions and find solutions, critical thinking is a vital skill. The jobs least likely to be outsourced or automated are those roles that require critical thinking, complex communication and expert thinking.


2. Creativity

If we look at the big picture, creativity is the very foundation for progression. Without it, there would be no medical breakthroughs, no space missions, no smartphones (can you imagine that?!).

To promote creativity, we must provide a learning culture that values and promotes creative behaviours. One that values risk-taking to help people overcome their reluctance to try new things, especially those things at which they might not initially excel.


3. Collaboration

Due to globalisation and the rise of technology, collaboration has become critical to 21st-century success. Where traditional roles saw individuals working alone, much of today’s significant work is achieved through teamwork, in many cases global teams, where we ‘use the wisdom of crowds’.

As author James Surowiecki stated, “A large group of diverse individuals will come up with better and more robust forecasts and make more intelligent decisions than even the most skilled ‘decision maker.’”

Learning to build on one another’s knowledge and expertise involves respect, listening, and contributing. Collaborating well requires us to ask more questions and make fewer statements, to listen for meaning, to truly value diversity and not simply play lip service to it.


4. Communication

Effective communication skills have always been highly valued. However, with the changing nature of literacy, being able to share thoughts, questions, ideas, and solutions in ways others can understand is now essential to 21st-century life.

In a world where customer relationships are critical and immediate, communication is far more complex, requiring negotiation across many platforms. Employees need to be able to understand, listen, empathise and communicate in different languages and across several continents, using different communication modes.


What are the ‘few gaps’ that you have as a leader? How well do you perform in the Four Cs? What impact do these ‘gaps’ have on your reputation and on your performance?  And what will you choose to do about these ‘gaps’?