Imagine starting a company where no one is given a title or particular duties. Who would emerge as a leader and why? What leadership skills do they have that gets people working on achieving the same mission?
This article is about the tools that enable an entrepreneur or executive to be a positive influence in people’s lives, build strong relationships, and multiply other leaders. Fulfilling a CEO and founder’s vision is no simple feat. For any vision to become a reality, a team of people working toward the same collective goal is required. Leadership skills are what’s inside a leader’s war chest. These skills keep the business and its people on track by preventing dysfunction, unproductiveness, and burnout.
The great news is that when a person dedicates themselves to advancing their leadership skills, their ability to effectively guide others increases over time. Learn more about what every leader needs to guide their team and develop long-lasting connections with customers and clients. Find the top six qualities below.
What are Leadership Skills?
Leadership skills are made from a combination of soft skills that equip a person to positively interact with others. According to the Collins English Dictionary, soft skills are “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”
This definition doesn’t entirely cover a leader’s responsibilities, though. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal which is worthwhile.” While a person might have natural leadership qualities, a true leader dedicates a portion of their schedule to further developing and improving their strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, one of today’s best leadership teachers, John C. Maxwell defines leadership skills as, “finding ways to add value to others, focusing on growth and learning, doing the right thing, and staying disciplined.” In terms of leadership, this provides a better understanding of what is required to succeed.
To be a leader, a person must be influential. Think about famous historical leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr. (or more modern ones like Mary Barra and Sheryl Sandberg). Every one of these people has one thing in common—they’re highly influential. As best-selling author John C. Maxwell explains in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “If you can’t influence people, then they will not follow you. And if people won’t follow, you are not a leader.”
Influence is something that’s demonstrated, not demanded. For this reason, people won’t follow a person they don’t believe is worthy of being followed. To reach the top tier of influence, a leader must be in alignment with their vision, mission, purpose, and values. This type of influence is what Maxwell calls “Level 5.” It means people follow you because of who you are and what you represent.
Here’s a few ways to grow influence among others:
- Explain your vision through captivating storytelling.
- Express your passion.
- Focus on a common purpose.
- Ask questions that demonstrate good listening skills.
- Find similarities and shared beliefs.
- Get to know people on a first-name basis.
- Build strong personal relationships.
- Acknowledge and recognize others’ ideas, thoughts, feelings, and contributions.
- Be complimentary and genuinely kind.
- Have a positive, collaborative attitude, even in the face of conflict.
- Live the values that guide your life.
- Practice servant leadership.
Emotional intelligence (EI) covers a variety of leadership qualities essential for establishing and maintaining strong relationships. There are four components of EI: self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. As Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the study of emotional intelligence writes, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Those in leadership must think, behave, and speak with emotional intelligence. It’s the glue that holds trusting teams together. EI is also a foundational leadership skill in building any type of relationship, no matter if it’s with customers or employees. Thankfully, it’s a type of intelligence that can increase with practice and dedication.
When developing EI, try:
- Recognizing and addressing emotional triggers when they happen.
- Starting mornings with a mindfulness or meditation practice.
- Problem-solving instead of spiraling into negative thinking.
- Doing breath work during stressful situations.
- Communicating clear intentions and expectations.
- Setting firm boundaries.
- Actively listening and inviting feedback.
- Dedicating time to goal setting each week.
- Expanding outside your typical social network to develop more empathy.
- Feeling with someone sad, upset, or hurting, rather than feeling sorry for them.
- Managing conflict and not avoiding tough conversations.
- Showing up in small moments over time. Growing trust and confidence isn’t done in one day.
Excellence cannot exist without focus—it’s the rocket that launches a business outside the perimeters of the ordinary and into the stratosphere of success. Without focus, an organization begins crumbling before it can break any barriers. For example, this might look like leaders spending hours putting out fires, doing other people’s work, and micromanaging. An executive’s most precious asset is time. When it’s spent on low-priority jobs, there’s little to no room left for strategizing for the future, tending to work only you can do, or spending quality time with family and friends.
Focus is learning where to best spend your time and avoiding the things that prevent you from achieving your priorities. Steve Jobs put this into perspective at the 1997 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) by saying: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” When a person says “yes” to everything, valuable time slips away. Focusing where time is spent is the best way to ensure top goals get met.
Getting more focused requires:
- Creating a list of your three to five top priorities.
- Doing only work that accomplishes these objectives.
- Delegating tasks and jobs outside of your focus.
- Practicing time management skills.
- Setting goals that are clearly visualized.
- Reverse engineering achievements.
- Writing down the various phases of successfully obtaining a goal.
- Using planning days to schedule time for making progress.
- Only saying “yes” to the things you can’t afford to say “no” to.
- Stepping into each day with determined intention.
Most people in leadership positions would say a leader must be brave and courageous, especially in the face of challenging times. At least, this is what world-famous researcher and best-selling author Brené Brown found when writing Dare to Lead. It was the number one skill the 150 executives she interviewed said businesses need. But, as Brown found in her seven-year study, bravery can’t exist without vulnerability. Neither can trust, which is imperative for relationship-building.
In her book, Brown explains vulnerability is “the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” While some view vulnerability as a weakness, real leaders like Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Stricklin know it’s crucial. “There’s this gap between where we are, and where we want to be, and shame lives in that gap . . . The only way to have a successful career, marriage, and family life, is to be vulnerable. You can’t grow in any of those categories if you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable,” she comments in an article about the U.S. Army’s Resiliency Leaders Development Forum.
Here’s a few strategies for becoming more vulnerable as a leader:
- Identify and solve problems as they arise instead of avoiding them or handling them unconstructively.
- Act with curiosity, generosity, and genuine listening.
- Create and live by a set of two core values.
- Develop self-trust—you can’t build trust with someone else if you don’t first have it within yourself.
- Teach ways to build trust, provide strategies, and work together.
- Set clear boundaries and accountability for adhering to them.
- Be nonjudgemental toward others.
- Ask for help.
- Assume the best in people and be generous in your interpretation of their motives, behaviors, and actions.
- Equip team members with the skills to get back up when they fall.
John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Adaptability is how change is successfully handled. It’s a universal truth that those who don’t adapt to their environment or circumstances will die, and it’s no different in business. A person with this leadership skill has a greater level of visibility, which allows them to see what’s on the horizon. When a leader looks at the bigger picture, they can direct those on the ground away from trouble and toward the path that achieves the mission’s defined end goal.
The most powerful examples of innovation in modern business come from adaptable leaders. For example, Apple, Google, Virgin, Amazon all started at the very bottom of their industry’s food chain. In fact, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs both famously started their companies in their garage. The founders of these companies weren’t superheroes—they were adaptable, and that’s what’s made them wildly successful.
Strategies for being more open to adaptability include:
- Scheduling strategy days.
- Shifting into a growth mindset, instead of having a fixed one centered on what you already know.
- Asking for feedback from customers, clients, employees, and other important stakeholders in the business.
- Listening carefully so you can find areas needing improvement.
- Creating an organizational attitude of adaptability and innovation by admitting your own mistakes.
- Setting meetings designated for coming up with creative ideas and solutions.
- Working on developing your next Purple Cow by investing money into the research and development of another remarkable product or service.
- Managing change in a sustainable way.
One of the best leadership skills involves mentorship. When leaders model effective leadership and work to develop these skills in others, they create more leaders. Everything a leader does to work on themselves will benefit those they serve. If you aren’t working to build a network of other leaders, you’re missing an important aspect of leadership.
In addition to mentoring others, receiving mentorship as a business owner is beneficial. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found nearly half of all new businesses fail. Yet, a survey conducted by The UPS Store found: “70 percent of mentored businesses survive more than five years . . . double the rate of businesses who choose not to have a mentor.” This research shows that mentorship can be paramount to increasing the survival and stability of your company.
To get more involved with mentorship:
- Find a mentor through your professional network or online.
- Walk into a mentorship experience with humility.
- Join a mastermind.
- Be open to receiving constructive feedback when learning how to strengthen your leadership skills.
- Dedicate a certain amount of time each week to mentoring others within the company.
- Develop a mentorship program at work that grows leaders at every level.
- Start a book club where the team can meet and discuss one leadership book a quarter.
- Allow employees time each week to grow their own leadership skills.
- Regularly communicate with them about what they’re learning and how it’s affecting their life.
- Be a servant leader—teach leadership by modeling it for your team.
Furthering the Growth of Leadership Skills
The first step to ensuring your leadership abilities increase is to dedicate time to continued learning. While knowledge is power, it isn’t the only requirement for developing leadership skills. Also key is applying what you’ve learned to form habitual, consistent practices. Whether diving into a leadership book, attending a conference, or listening to a leadership podcast, look for realistic ways to apply what you’re learning.
To do this:
- Write down at least three ways in which this information can be used in guiding your team.
- Next, set an immediate goal that puts this new skill to work. For example, this might look like, “For the next week, practice being vulnerable at least once a day.”
- Write this goal in your planner.
- Apply your new skill.
- Keep the process going with a different leadership skill each week.
While a person can organically develop leadership abilities through experience, the trial and error method isn’t always an effective way of leading a team. Set yourself and the people you serve up for success by making it a point to become the greatest version of yourself