The opportunity to step up into a leadership role is one of life's most exciting transitions, but developing leadership skills to fulfill that role can be daunting. There are countless leadership training resources, including books, podcasts, and other media. So, where does a person begin to develop their leadership ability?
To help you start your leadership development journey, we have compiled a few essential management skills for effective leaders in any industry.
11 Critical Leadership Skills for Any Successful Leader
There are many leadership styles, and no one right way to lead. However, good leaders work to constantly develop their strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, mentorship, and interpersonal skills, among many other things.
Below are some of the most important skills and qualities for any leader to succeed: managers, captains, or Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).
1. Interpersonal Communication
As a leader, you must be able to communicate effectively in a variety of ways. One of your core responsibilities is coordinating people, events, and solutions. Without the ability to communicate effectively, you will likely fail before you begin.
Communication can mean various things in different contexts, including:
- One-on-one verbal communication
- Written correspondence through email, text, etc.
- Conveying information to a large group (announcements, memos, presentations)
- Mentoring and giving constructive feedback
- Non-verbal communication, such as your body language and attitude
Leading is all about relationships, and much of what you do as a leader revolves around communication.
The ability to exchange information with others is essential to being an effective leader. Many other skills we'll discuss here are based on communication.
2. Empathy and Compassion
Great leaders are in touch with the emotions of the people around them. They consider others' feelings to support their teams better when making decisions.
A happy team is a successful team. When people feel safe, content, and recognized for their work, they are set up to collaborate effectively and deliver far better results. Therefore, perceiving and understanding people's needs and pain points is a crucial management skill.
Social awareness, active listening, and patience all contribute to a leader's ability to support their team in this way. When you create an environment of empathy and compassion for others' needs, you create an environment where a team can thrive.
3. Positive Thinking
Leaders set the tone for others to follow, whether they do it consciously or unconsciously. One of the clearest examples of this is their attitude toward their work.
If the person leading the charge frequently complains, points out problems, and has a negative attitude, others will follow that example. Unfortunately, people, whether leaders or subordinates are far less likely to succeed when they focus entirely on adverse circumstances.
A good leader needs to have a can-do attitude. That means focusing on positives over negatives whenever possible, showing optimism about future possibilities, and even maintaining a positive attitude in negative circumstances.
Transformational leadership is only possible for those with a positive attitude. Optimistic leaders build stronger relationships, find better solutions to complex problems, and more readily earn the faith and trust of those they lead.
4. Strategic Planning
One of the primary reasons leaders exist is that orchestrating solutions to large-scale problems works best when a few people create a plan for a larger number of people to follow. If everyone tried to make big decisions simultaneously, you'd have conflict, confusion, and chaos.
Therefore, strategic planning is one of any leader's necessary core competencies. Strategic planning combines many separate sub-skills, such as:
- Identifying primary objectives
- Breaking complex problems down into components
- Utilizing available skills and resources
- Anticipating outcomes, obstacles, and needs
Good planners know it is impossible to prepare for every eventuality. They do their best to create effective strategies, communicate them to the relevant parties, and jump in, ready to adapt.
5. Domain Skills
Not every organization or leadership style requires a high level of expertise in the underlying work, but understanding your team's core functions is almost always a beneficial leadership trait.
In some industries, such as food service or retail, a manager needs to have at least some proficiency in every frontline role in case they need to step in and temporarily fill those roles.
This type of hands-on leadership is not always necessary or even possible in some leadership roles, but strong domain knowledge is one mark of a great leader. It improves their empathy for their team members, enables them to better plan and anticipate issues, and is also a great way to earn respect from the people they lead.
6. Servant Leadership
Many leaders and non-leaders view leadership as a position of explicit authority over others. However, this is only half the picture. Being a leader usually does give a person some power to direct the actions of others, but only insofar as it helps the organization achieve its collective goals.
In reality, leadership, like any other role, is a position of service to the rest of the team. While an individual contributor may serve the group by creating designs, testing solutions, or interacting with customers, a leader does so by coordinating and empowering the team.
In this light, there are no “subordinates” or “superiors.” The best leaders understand that they are not above those who work with them. They serve the group by eliminating obstacles and orchestrating solutions.
Delegating is something most new leaders struggle with. Unfortunately, delegation takes considerable effort to master because it requires a delicate balance.
If you, like many others, rose into a managerial role through expertise and achievement in your field, assigning work to others you could do yourself may feel uncomfortable. This discomfort compounds when watching others struggling or still learning something that you could do with relative ease.
No organization can thrive when its members are not utilizing their potential. When you take up a task that would be better to delegate, you misuse your time, resources, and staff.
Conversely, over-delegating can also be problematic. Passing off work that should be your responsibility also misuses your team members' time. If this situation persists, it can create an impression of laziness and cost you the respect of your coworkers.
8. Accountability and Ownership
Leadership tends to come with an increase in visibility compared to other roles. New leaders often find themselves suddenly interacting more with external teams, clients, and other leaders in the organization. They act as the team's liaison to these external stakeholders in many ways.
This change in visibility comes with a heavy responsibility: accountability for the team's success and outcomes.
Effective leadership necessitates honesty and accountability. That means proactively owning the outcome when the team cannot meet its goals and taking charge of the solutions and next steps. It also means resisting the urge to soak up the spotlight of your team's successes and remembering to share praise and recognition as much as possible.
9. Managing Up
Speaking of a leader's responsibility as a liaison, managing up is one of the most challenging leadership skills for many people to attain.
Unless you are your company's CEO or sole owner, someone will always be above you in the hierarchy. As an individual contributor, fulfilling your job function and working well with your boss are most of what you have to worry about.
However, once you move up into management and leadership positions, you may find that your team's agenda is at odds with your boss's. That can be difficult to navigate. Unfortunately, many inexperienced managers fall into the trap of serving the latter entirely, often to the former's detriment.
Managing up means remembering you are a two-way street between your staff and upper leadership as a liaison. Both have needs, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. In an intermediary role, one of your most sacred responsibilities is to create a balance between these parties and find solutions that benefit the organization as a whole.
10. Inspiring and Motivating Others
Earlier on this list, we discussed how good leadership involves consciously setting the tone for your team. Similarly, it falls to a leader to inspire the rest of the group to follow through on collective goals.
Influencing through motivation is a valuable leadership skill because someone who can lift morale and get people on board with a collective mission can fuel teamwork and drive success.
There will always be poor leaders who attempt to extract outcomes from their people by driving them hard and demanding results. However, charismatic leaders know how to rally their team to a cause, connect them with a “why” and a motivational vision, and inspire them to keep showing up and work toward supporting the collective goal.
Unfortunately, arrogance is all too common among leaders. In a leadership position, it is easy to let the authority go to your head and view yourself as your team's superior rather than their colleague. For this reason, humility is one of the most important and underrated leadership traits.
Self-awareness and a calm, confident sense of self are traits you may not think of as strong leadership skills, but they are. These are qualities of a person who can lead consciously and selflessly.
Humility allows you to get out of your way as a supervisor. By extension, this enables you to get out of your team's way, build credibility, and allow them to do their best work.
Starting Your Leadership Skills Training
Every person has leadership potential. The difference between that potential and greatness is an honest intention to develop the qualities of a good leader.
The best leaders have excellent soft skills. They motivate their teams to be successful and don't hesitate to listen. But, most importantly, they make a continuous effort to develop leadership skills and keep learning.
If you have this one commitment, you have everything you need to be successful, and you are well on your way to outstanding leadership.
This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks.
Sam is the founder of the personal finance and self-improvement blog Smarter and Harder. His mission is to start exciting new conversations that empower people to improve their work, lives, and money, and hopefully have a fantastic time doing it. In all things, he strives to lead with positivity, understanding, and more than a bit of enthusiasm.