Effective Management

Building Blocks of Effective Leadership: 3 Foundational Skills

Effective Management
July 18, 2023
4 min read

In today's fast-paced world, strong leadership is essential for guiding teams and organizations toward success. While leadership encompasses a wide range of skills and qualities, there are three foundational skills that serve as building blocks. In this post, we will explore these three crucial skills and discuss how managers can incorporate them into their daily workflow.

We’ve developed these skills through deep thinking and integration of various bodies of research related to leadership effectiveness and culture change. Being effective at these skills is a crucial distinction between a great leader and a good one.

1. Set the Stage - encourage participation

Setting the stage is all about creating the conditions that set people up for engagement and participation in working towards a shared purpose or a meaningful goal.

This leadership skill involves taking a compassionate approach towards people, especially in challenging circumstances. It involves calling out and normalizing things that are hard, but don’t normally get discussed.

This includes helping employees understand why something is important, framing challenges as a learning problem, and reinforcing that failure is inevitable and necessary for learning, growth, and success. 

Why Set The Stage?

Today’s world is filled with complexity and uncertainty. Solving modern challenges requires an enormous amount of collaboration. Yet 85% of people have something to share of value to the organization that they are not comfortable or motivated to share (source).

The path to success in solving complex and challenging problems requires trial and error, making mistakes, and approaching things with a learning mindset. However, our leadership mindsets are outdated: many organizations are still working off of an industrial paradigm mindset where the good worker keeps their head down and honors the hierarchy.

Employees holding back information are much less likely to be engaged than those participating. To get people to open up, leaders need to create the right conditions for participation. 

That’s where the leadership skill of setting the stage comes in.  

Here are three steps to practice setting the stage: 

  1. Articulate why something is important to the mission.
  2. Name what makes the task at hand challenging. 
  3. Share your own genuine feelings. 

For a deeper dive into setting the stage, read The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson.

2. Humble Inquiry - stay curious

At its core, humble inquiry is about encouraging participation from various members in a team.

This skill requires an attitude of deep humility. Embracing the reality that irrespective of how much power and status a leader has, they can’t attain the mission on their own. When leaders fully internalize the importance of their team’s wisdom and perspective, embracing an attitude of humility becomes obvious. 

In addition to an attitude of humility, leaders must also practice curiosity. This includes asking meaningful questions, listening deeply, and enabling various voices to be heard. 

It is important to note that using this skill doesn’t mean agreeing with everything everyone says. Humble Inquiry is about allowing diverse perspectives to emerge so that better, more informed decisions can be made.

Why Humble Inquiry?

All leaders are human beings with biases, blindspots, and limits to their knowledge. They can’t know everything from every angle. Therefore, in order to succeed, they need their team members to actively participate in conversations.

When diverse perspectives are heard and valued, it improves the overall functioning of the team with more effective communication, collaboration, problem solving, decision making, and better interpersonal relationships.

Here are three steps to practice humble inquiry:

  1. Ask open ended questions to better understand a situation.
  2. Actively listen without judgment or criticism.
  3. Collaboratively explore the best way to move forward.

For a deeper dive into humble inquiry, read Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schein.

3. Autonomy Support - become an enabler

In essence, Autonomy Support is about understanding other people’s perspectives, desires, and motivations and enabling them to make independent, meaningful choices about how they want to move forward on mutually agreed upon priorities.

Why Autonomy Support?

Extensive research has shown that a lack of autonomy support reduces motivation. You probably know this from your own experience: most people don’t like being told what to do and how. By allowing people to work in a way that fits their style (and life circumstances) you open up the door for more productivity and passion.

Watch out for the impulse to jump in and do it yourself. This is a trap that many managers fall into in order to get things done faster. The bottom line is this isn’t sustainable in the long term, and the work you put in now to enable your team members to become autonomous will pay off in the long run!

Here are three steps to practice autonomy support:

  1. Understand what people truly want (builds on Humble Inquiry). 
  2. Create clear agreements about the mutually agreed upon outcomes.
  3. Give freedom of choice about how to achieve the outcomes. 

For a deeper dive into Autonomy support, read Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci.


Remember, leadership is a journey of continuous growth and learning. By focusing on developing these foundational skills, you will be able to cultivate your own effectiveness and positively impact both your team and organization.

Let us help you embrace these 3 building blocks of effective leadership and embark on a journey of growth, inspiration, and success! Drumbeat’s people + platform approach to manager development enables your people and business to grow faster, together. 

About us

We’ve created a platform designed specifically for managers which provides them with the live support and practical tools they need to grow their leadership skills, take evidence-based action, measure their progress, and continuously refine their approach. We blend research in positive psychology and organizational science with an engaging, fun process designed to foster deep team connections.

Learning happens by doing. Each manager participates in group coaching sessions with like-minded managers and gets real-time advice and coaching on-demand via our digital platform between live sessions to enable immediate and effective action.

See what our clients are saying and book your personalized demo today!

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