What’s Missing From Your Leadership ToolKit?

From our MD, Cath Nolan

Despite the individuality of the path to leadership, there is undeniably a central set of skills that need to be acquired if you want to be considered for The Big Chair. At Gender Gap Gone our conversations with aspiring leaders place a great deal of emphasis on Executive Presence. It incorporates credibility and being heard. Success is impossible without both.


Today I want to talk with you about the capabilities required for credibility. What are the must-have skills for a leadership toolkit? Not all who are great at their job will be selected for promotion. Credibility speaks not only to your area of specialisation, but also to a small number of skills that are big on importance for leadership. Here are the essentials.


People Management – Not all of your roles need to at the helm of large teams. Two things are important here. If you’re a large-complex-organisation type of person, then you’ll need to quickly work toward leading large teams if you’re headed for the top. Otherwise the size of team isn’t necessarily the biggest issue. The best people management ability is created in difficult circumstances. Having tough performance conversations with people and equally identifying future starts and helping them rise. Those who master these two people management skills will far outperform the people manager who has always had “lovely teams” with never a conflict to speak of.

Next time you’re dealing with a tricky people management issue, count your lucky stars: you’re having a great, skill-building career day. You don’t lead any people who stretch you? Find a few! Mentoring an employee elsewhere in the organisation is a low-risk, high potential reward scenario if you’re at a loss.

Next time you’re dealing with a tricky people management issue, count your lucky stars: you’re having a great, skill-building career day.

Communication – So you can string a sentence together? You haven’t earned a tick in this box yet. Do you actively communicate with your team? And the one-below team? What about the one-up leaders? Your internal network?

Poor communication is frequently highlighted in exit surveys. Either because the leader (immediate or senior team) hasn’t communicated direction, or because they’re seen as disconnected from the worker bees, or because the workers don’t believe that the organisation can offer them the opportunities that frequently do exist, if only managers were actively engaged in unafraid, two-way conversation with their employees.

You may feel the need to speak more or even to speak less with your team members. I’d like to challenge you to narrow your focus. Improve the quality of questions you ask. Great questions lead to great insight. Without it any talking you do may be missing the mark entirely.

better questions

What can you do, right now, to improve the quality of your questions?

Influence – The ability to influence will help get you into a role and render you far more effective once you’re there. How influential are you? Let’s break it down. Here are three components you can work on.

Preparedness | Communication | Confidence

How do you measure on these? What can you do to stretch yourself on these?

You’re already strong here? Who can you bring along with you?

Strategic Orientation – This one requires an excellent read on your environment. For some it means you’re able to think big and come up with a long-term, broad-based plan. In many organisations though, it means you’re able to follow the boss’ lead and translate a corporate policy into specific, actionable plans. Sometimes a rapidly changing corporate policy!

Here’s a story I’ve been close to on many occasions. An impressive, capable individual takes a “strategic leadership” role within a business claiming to want a new direction, a fresh perspective to reach uncharted heights. The brief is to challenge the status quo. The enthusiastic new leader takes stock, completes some analysis on the organisation, the market, the global trends. Then they deliver their recommendations. The board curls up their collective toes: “We’re not ready for THAT!”

Read your environment. Understand when to introduce innovation in strategy direction and when your input should be confined to (perhaps innovative) approaches to delivering on pre-set strategic plans.

Knowing the difference and investing accordingly will bring a great deal more success and job satisfaction for you.

Financial Acumen – I’ve written about this one before. If you’re heading for a senior role, there is no avoiding the need for sound understanding of the financials. 

You don’t have it? Who can explain it to you? What course can you sign up to?

How will you present it to your boss, so it’s paid for?

You do have it? Who do you know that’s in need of some basic skills in this area and how can you help while limiting your time commitment?

Cross – Functional Awareness – The age of the CEO who started as the accountant and progressed through narrow, financial channels is for the most part very long gone. Many organisations struggle with overly siloed cultures, where divisional leaders have competing KPI’s, competing priorities. Being able to demonstrate partnerships beyond your specialisation is essential for those pursuing leadership progression.

Client Experience – A service orientation is highly favourable at junior levels. At senior levels, it’s important to be able to demonstrate that you’re able to achieve win-win outcomes. That is, you can balance the organisation’s needs with keeping your internal / external client base in a state of advocacy. The more senior the role, the less hands-on your experience will be. Rather, you’ll need to have experience engendering a culture of service, cross-functional interaction, open communication and so on.


If you’re a high-achiever you’ll probably be all over this list of potential developmental gaps you can close.

Take a moment to reflect on your strengths. What do you want to be known for? What are you passionate about? What do you want to make a difference in? How can you have an impact on your team /workplace / industry?

Then what experiences might help you get there? Greater exposure? Training to formalise what you naturally do well? Coaching others to also be strong in your areas of expertise or passion, perhaps?


Each industry has it’s own unique hurdles: the qualifications or capabilities that are valued highly. If you’re not sure what they are in your space, find a mentor or three, do some research and work it out. The fundamental mistake that many aspiring leaders make at this point is to assume they know. Years in the space can cloud your judgement about what’s around the corner. Emergent businesses are impacting whole industries by doing things differently. Look at Uber and AirBNB. What emerging technologies or emerging business trends globally could be impacting the way your industry operates?

How will you do a check on the market trends affecting your industry?

How can you be prepared for those trends?


An MBA may be essential in your market. Or it might not be. If an MBA supports your experience, it’s a big positive. On it’s own it’s not worth much. When undertaking post-graduate studies, be sure that you’re interested in the content and not purely the piece of paper. The paper itself is not a guarantee of success, but if you choose wisely the learning may well be.

Not everyone has the time or resources to allocate to significant leadership programs though.

What alternatives can you consider? Are there leadership programs that interest you, or conferences that broaden your network and introduce you to new concepts?

Yet make no mistake: some paths demand a certain qualification. If that’s you, make it a priority and get it behind you.


We might politely talk about ways to get around the business structures that hinder promotion opportunities. In reality there are women who have navigated that path before you. Others are doing it right now. The female executives I’ve met have these above skills in spades. They are highly respected, highly effective and apparently effortlessly successful.

Understand that you have the power to make it too. Tap into mentors or even Gapgone.com.au resources to help you navigate internal barriers.

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Download the eBook here.

If the skills you have are not recognised by your organisation, find a way to be heard. If they simply don’t value the same behaviours that you do, find a new direction. But perhaps get a second opinion on them first.

If it can be avoided you don’t want to throw away time invested and a brilliant opportunity if it really just comes down to one dodgy boss.



Cath Nolan is the MD & Founder at Gender Gap Gone  as well as Director of CN Consulting. An Executive Coach with a strong background in all areas of individual and organisational development, Catherine is passionate about the impact of individual empowerment in seeing the Gender Gap Gone. Subscribe to hear the latest free resources and upcoming programs, or follow us on Instagram / Twitter / Facebook for resources and inspiration.

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