Conceptual SkillWhat is Conceptual Skill?Conceptual skills allow you to think through and work with ideas. Leader with higherlevels of conceptual skills are good at thinking through the ideas that form an organization andits vision for the future, expressing these ideas in verbal and written forms, and understandingand expressing the economic principles underlying their organization’s effectiveness. Theseleaders are comfortable asking “what if” or hypothetical questions and working with abstractideas. Conceptual skills allow leaders to give abstract ideas meaning and to make sense ofabstract ideas for their superior, peers, and subordinates. This skill is most important for topmanagers, less important for middle managers, and least important for supervisory managers(Northouse, 2010). We could offer one caveat. While conceptual skills are less important at lowerlevels of management, to be promoted to higher levels of management, it is important to developand demonstrate the skill at all levels of management (Yukl, 2006).3
Why is conceptual skill more important for top managers than for supervisors?VisionA common leadership trait among top managers is their vision. They have minds thatconstantly look ahead toward an end goal or company objective. This vision is whatprovides the framework for the structure and actions of a company. Within a company,top managers normally develop long-term vision and set the course for the company,while supervisors carry out directives in leading their employees on that course.Strategic PlanningStrategic planning is the periodic process of reviewing company plans of action andupdating them when necessary. For instance, a company may have a growth strategy ofdiversifying its business by adding new product lines and services. Top managersnormally lead in the strategic planning process and then convey the tasks required to frontline supervisors. They then carry out directives with their employees by delegating tasksto each.Broad ThinkingA major crossroads in business conception is taking big picture goals and strategies andoutlining how each functional department in the organization participates. This is acritical element of conceptual skills that makes good top managers successful. They caneffectively communicate vision and strategy to get supervisors on board, and then explainhow each functional department participates in the process. For instance, top managersoften involve human resource professionals in strategic workforce development to ensurethe company meets its talent needs to carry out its goals and strategies.Stability4
A major reason top managers need conceptual skills more than supervisors is that thisscenario gives the company more stability. Rather than waffling around with new goals,strategies and task roles, conceptually-skilled managers can keep the organization on theright track and make minor tweaks in strategy and tasks as needed. Employees have morefaith in their business when top managers project a good sense of the big picture and thedetails of the operations. Supervisors are looked to more for task direction and motivationof employees in completing their specific job functions.