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When looking at the vital role of a leader, one can quickly become overwhelmed at the responsibility and importance of their position. To handle the task, you need to gain valuable leadership skills that will not only elevate you but also everyone around you. However, gaining those skills is anything but easy, especially since many organizations leave their leaders unprepared. For example, a report from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found that around 50% of people said their leadership bench lacks strength. Additionally, 47% said they expect a leadership skills gap in the years to come.
It’s clear that businesses need to develop leadership skills among their current employees. When leadership skills aren’t present, organizations lack direction and fail to help others. Just imagine being put into a leadership role without the skills you need to succeed. You’ll flounder and likely grow frustrated. That’s a major reason why millennial workers leave their jobs. According to Gallup, 59% of millennials say that the opportunity to learn and grow is “extremely important” to them as they look for a new job.
Leadership skills make great leadership possible. They represent the strategies, behaviors, and tools behind an effective leader. Without them, you won’t reach your potential as a leader. Thankfully, neuroplasticity is a real thing, and when you have the right growth mindset, anyone can grow these skills and leadership abilities over time.
- 59% of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are “extremely important.”
- Only 20% of workers indicate their organizations are good at making decisions.
- Leaders become great when they use their leadership skills to help others.
- Emotional intelligence helps leaders understand other people.
- Communication skills encompass more than just verbal communication.
What Are Leadership Skills?
Leadership skills are the abilities, tools, and qualities needed to guide and influence others in a positive way. John C. Maxwell, one of the top leadership experts in the world, defines effective leadership skills as “finding ways to add value to others, focusing on growth and learning, doing the right thing, and staying disciplined.”
A successful business depends on the effective use of leadership skills since they are what guide employees to fulfill the vision and purpose of the company. An individual doesn’t need to possess every leadership skill out there, but the more they have, the better leader they will be.
Examples of the Top Leadership Skills in the Workplace
Think of leadership skills as an arsenal a good leader can draw from at a moment’s notice. Like any effective arsenal, you can add to it over time while improving what you already have. Through the right training and development, you can create a collection of leadership skills you can use throughout your career.
Some of the best leadership skills for the workplace include the following:
- Emotional intelligence
- Time management
- Personnel management
- Innovative thinking
- Strategic thinking
- Active listening
- Persuasion skills
- Communication skills
- Assessment skills
- Honesty and integrity
- Critical thinking skills
- Personal accountability
- Teaching skills
- Planning skills
- Conflict resolution
Understanding the Definition of a Good Leader
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”John C. Maxwell
When you picture the good leaders you’ve seen in your life, they are bound to have many of the traits in the leadership skills list above. But it’s about more than just the skills someone possesses—it’s about what they do with them. Good leaders are aware of the leadership skills they have and how they can help others. The skills of a great leader aren’t meant to sit idle, but rather they are meant to be put to work intentionally.
Of course, some may ask, “Are leaders born or made?” While that question has many layers to it, leadership skills are traits that anyone can gain over the course of their lives. That means, for the most part, anyone can become an effective leader. As famed football coach 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.”
It doesn’t matter your background, title, or position. Anyone with the right determination can rise up and become a great leader. After all, we are all called to lead in some way or another in life.
How great leaders behave and act:
- Cast a positive vision of the future people can believe in.
- Provide help and guidance to those who need it.
- Spend their time listening to others so they can gain a better understanding of problems and issues.
- Devour books about a variety of different subjects to increase their knowledge.
- Work hard to develop and gain additional leadership skills.
- Serve others at all times.
- Prepare people to become leaders as well.
- Set an example for other people to follow.
- Hold themselves accountable to the same standard that they do everyone else.
Learn more about how to become a CEO.
How to Cultivate 8 of the Most Important Leadership Skills
Lists of important leadership skills can go on and on. Just looking at them can make anyone feel overwhelmed. Instead of looking at the number of skills, focus on the most important ones that you need to gain. Take time out of every day to develop them and measure your progress. As you cultivate the qualities of a leader, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how important leadership roles are. The following are the skills you should begin with.
1. Emotional Intelligence
“There is no separation of mind and emotions; emotions, thinking, and learning is all linked.”eric Jensen
Emotional intelligence (EI) is a crucial part of leadership development, as it 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 roles must think, behave, and speak with emotional intelligence. It’s the glue that holds team members together. EI is also a foundational leadership skill in building any type of relationship. Thankfully, it’s a type of intelligence that increases with practice and dedication.
How to develop emotional intelligence:
- Recognize and address emotional triggers when they happen.
- Start mornings with a mindfulness or meditation practice.
- Problem-solve instead of spiraling into negative thinking.
- Do breath work during stressful situations.
- Communicate clear intentions and expectations.
- Set firm boundaries.
- Expand outside your typical social network to develop more empathy.
- Feel with someone sad, upset, or hurting, rather than feeling sorry for them.
- Show up in small moments over time.
“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”John F. Kennedy
Adaptability is how change is successfully handled. Leaders who can adapt have 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, and 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 part of what made them wildly successful.
How to be more open to adaptability:
- Schedule strategy days.
- Shift into a growth mindset, instead of having a fixed one centered on what you already know.
- Ask for feedback from everyone around you.
- Listen carefully so you can find areas needing improvement.
- Create an organizational attitude of adaptability and innovation by admitting your own mistakes.
3. Teaching Skills
“If you understand it as I do, mentoring becomes your true legacy. It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others.”John Wooden
Teaching skills often show up in the form of mentorship. When leaders model effective leadership and work to develop these skills in others, they create more good leaders. Everything a leader does to work on themselves will benefit those they serve.
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% 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 is paramount to increasing the survival and stability of your company.
How 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 have effective leadership skills.
- Dedicate a certain amount of time each week to mentoring others.
- Allow employees time each week to grow their own leadership skills.
- Work on open communication skills so employees feel comfortable discussing what they’re learning.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”Brené Brown
Most people in leadership positions would say a good 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, good 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 commented in an article on the U.S. Army’s Resiliency Leaders Development Forum.
How to become more vulnerable as a leader:
- Identify and solve problems as they arise instead of avoiding them.
- Act with curiosity, generosity, and genuine listening.
- 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.
- 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.
5. Communication Skills
“Communication is one of the most important skills you require for a successful life.”Catherine Pulsifer
When people think of great leaders, they usually associate them with skilled oration. However, there’s far more to communication skills than the ability to speak well. Essentially, communication is all about how you convey information and share messages.
Much of this is done through verbal communication, but it also includes writing, nonverbal gestures and expressions, visual displays, and more. Some of the often-overlooked communication skills you can develop include listening and directiveness. Listening shows you’re willing to take the time to understand others. Directiveness involves being clear in your meaning and making sure others understand you.
How to develop better communication skills:
- Repeat back what people say to you in different words to ensure understanding.
- Create an environment where people feel comfortable voicing their opinions.
- Look for nonverbal cues from others, not just what they say.
- Keep everything you communicate consistent.
- Have a key message in mind whenever you communicate with someone.
- Consider how your communications will affect others.
6. Conflict Resolution
“In case of dissension, never dare to judge till you’ve heard the other side.”Euripides
Unfortunately, conflict is an all too common occurrence in the workplace. One study discovered that 85% of employees experience conflict where they work. Leaders must develop conflict resolution skills if they hope to help people overcome this challenge. When a leader shows they can resolve conflict with their team leadership, that means team members trust them to handle difficult situations. As a result, people will be more likely to go to them for help. It also means that conflicts won’t escalate. Conflict resolution seeks compromise and understanding between all parties involved.
How to practice conflict resolution skills:
- Ask thoughtful questions that get to the root of the problem.
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- Encourage collaboration and cooperation.
- Remain objective at all times.
- Build a team culture that encourages trust and thoughtfulness.
- Show forgiveness when necessary.
- Be patient.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”Amelia Earhart
Decision-making is a skill that seems to be lacking among business leaders. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, only 20% of workers said the organizations they work for were good at making decisions. That means the vast majority of companies out there fail when it comes to decision-making.
To be clear, it’s not always easy to be decisive. With so much riding on a leader’s decisions, some may try to delay for another time. A truly decisive leader will have confidence in their choices. This will instill confidence in others, and everyone can move closer to their goals.
How to improve your decision-making:
- Be willing to consider other opinions.
- Stay humble and understand you don’t know everything.
- Take an objective stance when looking at your options.
- Don’t let emotions influence you.
- Weigh all the pros and cons.
- Seek help and guidance from people you trust.
“If you delegate tasks, you create followers. If you delegate authority, you create leaders.”Craig Groeschel
No leader can do it alone. While it might be difficult, leaders need to be willing to delegate responsibilities to others if they want to help people and experience more success. A general unwillingness to delegate may stem from a lack of trust in others’ abilities. If so, leaders need to overcome this issue by learning to trust their team.
As you delegate, you’ll notice that people will step up to the challenge. They’ll also start developing additional skills that will turn them into leaders in the future. A lack of delegation means depriving others of the opportunity to grow and gain valuable experience.
How to get better at delegating:
- Determine which tasks are good fits for other people.
- Learn how to maximize your time.
- Discover what other people’s talents are.
- Create clear objectives that anyone can follow.
- Build up others and provide training opportunities when needed.
- Instill a sense of ownership in other people.
3 Examples of Strong Leadership Skills
Steve Jobs was always at the forefront of innovative thinking. He put forth a clear vision of the future and inspired others to achieve more. His leadership skills were on display in more subtle ways behind the scenes. He was quick to delegate, focusing on hiring the right people to take on responsibilities. As he said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Jobs also developed empathetic leadership over time, taking his own struggles and learning from them so he could understand others more.
Part of Sara Blakely’s success comes from her excellent problem-solving skills. Blakely created SPANX as a result of her and other women’s frustrations with clothing. She wanted to create a seamless illusion underneath regular clothing, and her product helped solve that clear problem. Her example is one that can inspire others to recognize problems and provide a solution that will make others’ lives better. As she explained, “I always say, sell the problem you’re solving, not the product. People are far more emotional about that.”
Throughout her career, Melanie Perkins has demonstrated numerous leadership skills, especially when it came to starting Canva. Not only did she show problem-solving abilities, but she also kept a positive attitude despite many rejections. She kept her eyes on the goal and showed true determination in the face of opposition. As she described it, “Rejection hurts a lot, but failure was never an option . . . For better or worse, when I set my mind to something I don’t give up very easily at all.”
Practice Different Leadership Styles to Increase Your Leadership Skills
As you follow these leadership examples, you’ll likely notice a variety of leadership styles. These leadership styles are essentially the dominant way you lead. That includes the things you’re doing to lead and how you’re behaving. As you take on leadership roles, your personal leadership style will indicate what type of leader you are.
That doesn’t mean you have to stick to one style the entire time. Developing leadership characteristics will give you the opportunity to grow and practice many different styles.
To find your dominant leadership style:
- Note where your strengths are.
- Write down your core values.
- Define your short-term and long-term goals.
- Think about what kind of team you would like to lead.
- Experiment with different styles to see what suits you best.
- Ask trusted people what they think your style should be.
- Lead authentically by remaining true to who you are.
Find out more about several leadership styles by reading the following article:
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- Rigoni, Amy. “Millennials Want Jobs to Be Development Opportunities.” Gallup, 30 June 2016, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236438/millennials-jobs-development-opportunities.aspx.
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- “Daniel Goleman and His Theory on Emotional Intelligence.” Exploring Your Mind, 27 Dec. 2017, https://exploringyourmind.com/daniel-goleman-and-his-theory-on-emotional-intelligence/.
- “National Mentoring Month for Small Businesses.” The UPS Store Logo, 9 Jan. 2014, https://www.theupsstore.com/about/pressroom/small-business-mentoring-month-2014.
- “Dare to Lead.” Brené Brown, https://brenebrown.com/book/dare-to-lead/.
- De Smet, Aaron. “Decision Making in the Age of Urgency.” McKinsey & Company, https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/decision-making-in-the-age-of-urgency.
- Gross, Elana. “Spanx Founder Sara Blakely Shares Her Best Advice For Entrepreneurs At The Forbes Next 1000 Summit.” Forbes, 29 Nov. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/elanagross/2021/11/29/spanx-founder-sara-blakely-shares-her-best-advice-for-entrepreneurs-at-the-forbes-next-1000-summit/.
- “Melanie Perkins Keynote (Canva), Sunrise North Island.” YouTube, 15 Dec. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yn0LNYt25PM.
- Soldiers. (n.d.). www.army.mil. https://www.army.mil/article/182966/soldiers_dare_greatly_to_be_vulnerable_ready_during_resiliency_day