As the scholar and lauded organizational consultant Warren Gamaliel Bennis once observed, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Though this is one of the most succinct definitions of leadership, unpacking the concept yields dozens of questions about what leadership means in practical terms.
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There are many obvious benefits that come from good leadership. From positively affecting an organization’s overall performance and improving its financial gains to honing product quality and improving employee morale — leadership is the backbone of success.
And, with good leadership comes great skills. But what are those skills, and how are they acquired? Let’s find out!
What Are Leadership Skills?
Simply put, leadership skills are the collection of innate and acquired knowledge fundamental to leading a team of people to meet collective goals.
Leadership includes a variety of skills, not all of which may come naturally to any particular individual. The good news? These skills can be learned and cultivated over time with training and hands-on experience.
Leadership and Good Communication Skills Go Hand in Hand
Chief among the skills leaders need to develop is their ability to communicate. They must know not only what to say but how to say it in a manner that authentically conveys their message.
This means leaders must be honest and sincere in what they’re expressing. Tone down the corporate talk that tends to turn employees off. Be someone that people naturally want to follow. Having people follow you through thick and thin is a result of this authenticity.
Being present is an important part of good communication too. Be available when employees want to talk.
Predictability and reliability draw employees in as well. Learn to listen effectively and actively by asking questions when engaging with your team.
Top 10 Must-Have Leadership Skill List
Leadership skills evolve over time. Here’s our top 10 leadership skill list to keep in mind if you want to be a better leader:
1. Actively Listen
You spend a lot of time talking and listening to your team as a leader. You will earn the respect of your colleagues and teammates if it’s evident you are actively listening and taking their thoughts into consideration.
Pro tip: There’s a lot you can learn from frontline workers. Remember to always make time to listen to your team – no matter if they’re working on the production line or sit in an office.
2. Communicate Clearly
Both verbal and nonverbal communication are your two most valuable tools as a leader. Take the time to clearly express what you are looking for. And, be conscientious of your body language.
3. Strive to Be Your Best
Demonstrate a work ethic that your employees can both admire and aspire to. Continually look for ways to improve your skills and gain more experience.
4. Be Responsible
Good leaders take responsibility for both their successes and failures. Be proactive in finding ways to improve the systems you have in place to ensure you’re improving, evolving, and succeeding.
5. Be Inclusive
Include your whole team in meetings, projects, and important decisions. Look for strengths in others and embrace diversity.
6. Be Authentic
When you first identify your own core values, it’s easier to create goals and visions for your team. Design a corporate culture where you encourage others to do their best work because you are inspiring.
7. Be a Thought Leader
Show your team that you have a strategic vision for the future of your company. Be open to cutting-edge advancements and share them with your team.
8. Continue to Train
Seek out management training to continue improving your skills. Make a list of areas you’d like to focus on and work on them. Keep growing and evolving.
9. Make Peer Connections
Stay in touch with others in your position to share ideas and motivation. Look for leaders whose work you admire and reach out to them. Many a strategic alliance was born from mutual admiration.
10. Find and Emulate a Role Model
When looking for a role model, think about where you see yourself in a decade or two. This role model could be within or outside your industry. But look for someone who has the skills and qualities you need or want to master.
The Strongest Leadership Skills Are Emotional
Emotional Intelligence, or your “Emotional Quotient” a.k.a., “E.Q.,” describes the ability of individuals to recognize and discern between their own emotions and others.
Empathizing with employees is key – and one of the strongest leadership skills you can develop. Anyone can do this by listening and openly ascertaining what’s behind someone’s emotions and reactions. What motivates them? For that matter what motivates you? Being able to understand and answer these questions honestly will help you find alignments withIn your team. When we know we want the same things, it’s easier to empathize with each other and also strategize to achieve our mutual goals.
P.S. Don’t worry if this doesn’t come naturally to you at first. Emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and exercised.
You can develop your emotional intelligence first by observing yourself. Become aware of your own emotions and how they affect your behavior. This will help you begin to understand others and your ability to empathize with them.
Also, don’t make assumptions about other people’s behavior. Instead, try to look at the big picture. An interesting exercise to practice is thinking of five reasons why people act the way they do in any particular situation.
Developing Leadership Skills
As management consultant, educator, and author Peter F. Drucker once observed,
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
But how, as a leader, do you know you’re doing the right things? It starts with developing your core leadership skill set.
Here are six specific ways you can foster your core leadership skills:
1. Cultivate Relationships With Your Team
There are a few key things you can do as a leader to develop a good relationship with your team.
- Pay attention to their concerns. This involves actively listening to what’s on their minds and giving them the space to express their concerns. You’ll go a long way with your employees if they feel heard.
- Celebrate victories along the way. Overpraise when things go well and if your team reaches a goal, make a big deal out of it.
- Hold yourself accountable for your own actions and decisions. Your team will notice this and trust you even more.
2. Conflict Management
One of the most important things to do when you are working through conflicts with your team is to manage your own emotions. Make sure you control yourself first. Watch your body language and use active listening skills to find out what the problem is.
Be observant enough to notice what started the conflict. Then, work to be as fair as possible in your decision on how to handle the conflict. Remember to keep your personal biases out of this decision.
3. Decision-Making Skills
You will make plenty of decisions as a leader every single day. Understanding how critical a decision is helps you determine how much time to spend on making it. If the fallout is small and the tasks are high, perhaps the decision can be made immediately.
You also have to consider the pros and cons of each option. Learn how the impact of your decision will affect your team. Finally, use this list to come up with viable options for the questions you have to answer.
4. Delegate Tasks
You need to focus your time on your most important responsibilities. That means delegating tasks will become a big part of your day-to-day work life.
Using this skill involves being adaptable. Not only do you need to know and adapt to your team’s skill set, but each project will vary too. When you do delegate, trust that person to follow through.
In other words, don’t micromanage. Set clear expectations of what you require and how they should follow up.
Just like with self-awareness and emotional intelligence, self-reflection plays a big role in becoming a good leader. This involves examining your own actions.
What are your motivations? Where could you have improved on an interaction you had with an employee? Think about those situations that challenge you and identify what you did right and what you did wrong.
After you’ve reflected on the situation, apply what you learned to future interactions.
6. Take Responsibility
Look at failures as opportunities to grow. Also, think about the other parties involved and how they perceive what happened. Put yourself in their shoes and address the situation from that perspective.
Acknowledging where you can improve is not a failure. It’ss a platform for future success.
Examples Of Good Leadership Skills
What makes a good leader is a complex combination of competencies and a willingness to go the distance into new territories.
Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company, once told Forbes magazine:
“Leadership is about learning and teaching. Why waste getting old if you can’t get wise? We have no mistakes here, we have learning moments.”
Ridge believes in coaching his employees, investing in their development, and providing feedback as part of everyday conversation.
What skills should a leader develop in themselves and their teams?
The Top 10 Skills Of A Leader-In-Training
Developing the core skills of a leader can be a natural process. But, for others, it’s helpful to have a go-to list of skills someone can work on to become a better leader for their team.
Here is our top 10 skills of a leader-in-training list:
1. Be Creative
Let yourself be a daydreamer. Leaders get so busy that they can become excessively task oriented.
You must give yourself time to just sit down and have a good “think session” without interruptions. Set goals for your team and yourself during this time.
And, don’t forget to consider other people’s opinions in your creative ideas.
2. Manage Conflict
In order to be a good leader, you must get to know your team and their personalities. When you know what motivates people, you can better manage conflict within your team.
Not sure how to get started here? Consider administering personality tests through your HR department.
3. Think Critically
Using your brain to think critically involves being highly analytical and rational. Leaders make a lot of decisions and must be able to stand by them.
Critical thinkers research and are objective with considering all possible outcomes. This helps the team and company avoid disasters.
4. Focus Your Focus
A typical leader has to deal with a lot of issues at once. Being able to put “first things first” is a vital quality. There are tools available to help you determine what is the most important issue or task to tackle next.
5. Manage Your Time
Time is money, and you’ll save your company’s bottom line if you are good at managing your time.
Interruptions are common for leaders, so you must learn to prioritize as workloads increase. It also helps you from getting burned out.
6. Nurture Your Cultural Intelligence
Social media has made cultural intelligence more important than ever. Good leaders work effectively within and across cultures.
The ability to communicate and empathize with anyone from all parts of the globe is a highly marketable leadership skill.
7. Be Self-Aware
No one is perfect and being a good leader means knowing where you need to improve. Maybe you have no patience and that is your downfall. Or, maybe you slip into arrogance, which is all-too common when power is involved.
Your career as a leader may live or die by your ability to know when to check yourself and put the value on your team instead of yourself.
8. Get Organized
One way to set a goal and obtain it is through being organized. Managing workflows, and helping your team do the same, is the hallmark of a good leader. It’s about building systems that work and seeking help to work on this quality if you don’t naturally have it.
9. Act with Integrity
Perhaps one of the most important qualities for a leader is honesty and integrity. It’s hard to train this one.
Employees work harder if they are inspired by and trust their leadership. Remember to consistently keep to your word and follow through to lead effectively.
10. Devote Time to Team-Building
Cohesiveness drives a successful organization. Finding common interests among your employees and motivating them to work together is the centerpiece of building solid teams. It also helps retain employees,which saves the company money.
Examples of Great Leaders
Great leaders come from all walks of life. And, they typically bring many lessons based on their own personal experiences and exposures.
Here are two leaders who faced enormous challenges early in their tenures helming their respective companies. Each managed their teams through challenging transitions that resulted in positive impacts on not only their business but the shape of work in general.
Let their work be an inspiration as you continue on your own leadership journey.
Cheryl Bachelder – Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, was placed in charge of her company in 2007 when sales were down and the brand was stagnant. Franchise owners were not happy.
She jumped in and turned Popeyes into a place where employees felt respected and empowered to challenge excellence. Popeyes made this turnaround by asking questions of their owners and listening to their answers.
She recently stepped down from her position as the brand was sold to the company that owns Burger King and Tim Hortons.
Kristen Hadeed – Student Maid
Kristen Hadeed, founder and CEO of Student Maid, learned to be a leader when she had 75%of her staff quit when she first started her Millennial-employed cleaning business. That’s when she adopted the motto, “Leadership isn’t a privilege to do less. Leadership is a responsibility to do more.”
Under Hadeed’s direction, they began to give back to the community by offering free cleanings to cancer patients among other efforts. This proved successful in bolstering the brand’s goodwill and inspired better employee retention.
Leading From All Seats
As the Baby Boomers phase into retirement, companies have the opportunity to see new leadership take the helm. However, it’s more evident than ever that new leadership needs to be cultivated, inspired, and empowered. Otherwise skilled leaders will be in short supply.
It’s high time to start thinking about the future of our companies from the C-suite to the frontline. Leaders can be found at every level of an organization — perhaps you’re one of them.
As a leader, connecting with your employees is more important than ever. We believe that the rise of the frontline worker is here and that digitally enabling these essential employees will be the single greatest competitive advantage for businesses as we move forward in our economic recovery.