The Matrix for Leadership Skills

Acquiring the Skills to Grow your Sphere of Influence

Twenty years ago, the science fiction movie The Matrix kicked off endless conversations, not only with its ground-breaking special effects but also with its perspective-bending concepts of reality and existence.

In the film, the main character, Neo, is completely transformed. He began as a cog in the machine, both in his Matrix life as cubicle-dweller and in his actual existence as a human battery supplying electricity to the computers that run the Matrix. But by the end of the movie, he has become the leader of a revolution.

To put Neo’s journey into business terms, he went from “individual contributor” to “leader.” And his sphere of influence grew from a small network of hackers to eventually encompass every free human being. The steps of his journey can give us a matrix to understand the three domains of leadership skills.

3 Skill Domains: Doing, Thinking, and Being

In the last two decades, top companies have begun using the concept of competency models to identify which skills are needed for different jobs. A competency model may include technical skills (hard skills) such as math or software proficiency and people skills (soft skills) such as negotiation or conflict resolution. But it is widely understood that in leadership roles, soft skills are much more important than hard skills.

Many lists of leadership skills, or competencies, are available on the Internet. We recommend and use a list of 25 competencies that were researched and developed by TTISI. I have seen comprehensive lists that run as high as 70 different skills, which can be a little overwhelming. To make these lists more manageable, we overlay a matrix of three domains: Doing, Thinking, and Being.

Doing skills

In the movie, Neo begins his journey by acquiring a laundry-list of basic skills he will need to survive inside the Matrix. Unlike us, Neo has a computer port in the back of his head, so he can download skills like Judo and Karate.

Leaders don’t need martial arts, but they are required to do things that individual contributors don’t have to worry about, such as managing interpersonal conflicts and coaching or developing other employees. Aspiring leaders need to acquire these basic “doing” skills to manage their new responsibilities.

Thinking skills

As Neo progresses in his training, he is challenged to not only do things differently but also to think differently. He must unlearn old habits: breathing is not necessary inside a computer simulation, and the rules of gravity can be bent.

The second domain of leadership skills follows a similar pattern and includes learning to think futuristically, conceptually, and strategically. Aspiring leaders must learn how to become more aware of their total environment (not just the area where they work). This is also where leaders begin to factor in complex human variables like emotion and motivation.

Being skills

Neo is challenged by his training in the first two domains, and he fails several times before succeeding. But in the end, that training is not enough. All of his fighting and thinking skills cannot stop bullets. To complete his transformation into a leader, Neo has to believe in and embrace his new identity. This change occurs at the deepest level of “being,” and it results in a resurrection. On the other side, Neo is a new person. He is confident, assured, and does not even need to fight—and he can fly!

The third domain of leadership skills is where aspiring leaders learn to re-conceive their core identity. It includes resiliency, influence, and personal accountability for all that happens on their watch.

When the core self is reframed, leaders are able to “hold the space” for others to grow and develop under them. They are no longer afraid of failure or threatened by mistakes, and they can free others to perform at their best.

Free your mind to lead

Take a moment to review the list of 25 leadership competencies. Then, invest some time to build your own competency model for your current position or your next role. Different roles will require different skills, and not every competency is equally important.

As you build your model, consider how you need to grow in Doing, Thinking, and Being. And then think about the most effective way to learn these skills (hint: Neo had a mentor/coach to guide him).

Over the next several months, we will be releasing weekly articles on each of the 25 competencies to support your leadership journey. I invite you to subscribe to our blog so you won’t miss any of them. Along the way, we hope you will take the opportunity to sharpen your skills and grow your own sphere of influence.

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