Are leaders born, or can leadership skills be developed? Some may say that it takes innate talent to be a leader and that leaders are born with a natural ability to lead. You will never be a great leader if you weren’t born a leader.
I disagree with that. You can learn leadership skills and develop into an iconic leader even if you don’t feel you have it in you right now.
Here are ten skills that will help you become a great leader.
What is the Most Important Skill of a Leader?
Throughout history, debates have raged over the number one skill it takes to be a great leader. Is it decisiveness? Integrity? Honor?
Different cultures value different things in a leader. Making a decision and following through is excellent for a wartime leader. Integrity is a needed trait for political leaders.
However, there is one skill, a skill that anyone can develop, that will make you a great leader in nearly all situations.
Empathy is a leader’s most critical skill, though it’s often not considered a top leadership skill. Fortunately, schools of thought on leadership are changing. Empathy and emotional intelligence are starting to be taught at various leadership schools, including government schools and in Linked in Learning classes on leadership.
What is Empathy and Why Does it Matter?
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand a problem from their perspective. Empathy is vital as a leadership skill because it’s the key to understanding the viewpoints of the people you lead.
Leading with empathy ensures that you consider the thoughts and feelings of every team member. It makes your team members feel heard and respected, motivating them to follow you. Empathetic leaders lead with compassion and build trust amongst their team.
An essential part of empathy is understanding an employee’s viewpoints doesn’t always mean you have to go with their ideas. As a leader, the end decision is still yours. However, being an empathetic leader will help you understand how each decision will affect each person on your team and will help you make better decisions while keeping these often unintended side effects in mind.
Linked in Learning has a few outstanding classes on empathy. Take one of these courses to fully understand how to be more empathetic and why this skill is essential to successful leadership.
10 Essential Leadership Skills You Can Master
Learning empathy is an excellent start to becoming a masterful leader. However, it’s not the only skill you need to master. Learn these ten additional leadership skills and become a great leader that people rely on.
Communication is essential to leadership. As a leader, you must learn how to communicate with your staff clearly, concisely, and in ways they will understand.
Poor leaders often give vague or misleading instructions, then get angry at their teams for producing inadequate work. While it’s true that leaders can’t always provide step-by-step instructions, employees must be appropriately trained and know what to expect when receiving directions. Is there a specific way this project needs to be done, or is there room for creativity and interpretation? A great leader will make sure their employees know when something needs to be completed a certain way and when the employees have the freedom to do things their way.
Communicating these expectations, not just at the outset of a specific task but as a cultural standard, will help you become a fantastic leader.
Here is a sampling of online courses you can take to learn both written and oral communication skills:
When in a leadership position, you must listen to your employees. Active listening is about being present when someone is speaking to you. In our world of constantly being on the go, it’s challenging to stop multi-tasking and focus all of your attention on one person, but it’s essential.
Active listening is the act of listening for understanding. Often, when we listen, we only do so to wait for our turn to speak. You may find yourself zoning out or crafting a response while the other person is still talking. Active listening is ensuring you completely understand what the other person is saying.
Learn Active Listening:
Here are some courses you can take to improve your active listening skills:
The mark of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
A great leader must be willing and able to break that mold and try new things. They must think outside the “this is the way it’s always been done” box and develop solutions to modern problems.
Thinking creatively isn’t only about developing solutions. Sometimes, the answer is already there. It’s already been discussed by team members and subordinates. As a leader, it’s your job to see the solution and to have the courage to implement it.
Creativity is one of the more difficult skills to learn, especially in business and leadership. However, this is an area where transferable skills may come in handy. Start your journey into creativity with creative writing exercises, then take some classes that might help you become a more innovative leader.
One big mistake that supervisors and bosses make is focusing solely on the mission and forget about the people that complete the mission. As a true leader, your most important job is to develop the people you lead.
Mentorship is the act of coaching and developing people. In a formal mentoring relationship, the mentees are not traditionally direct reports. However, as a leader, you must regularly provide mentorship and guidance to your employees, not just about their current tasks and roles, but about their future, career goals, hopes, and dreams. Mentoring your employees will inspire them to achieve greatness, whether in their current position or future roles.
You can learn how to be a great mentor. I took a learning program on Linkedin learning that expanded my understanding of mentorship and helped me understand the skills required to help others succeed. Check it out.
We’ve all had that leader who micromanages. These experiences likely taught us that micromanagers create toxic work environments.
As a leader, learning how to delegate is immensely important. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t expect to. There’s a reason why you have employees, and that’s to do the work. Give them the work to do. Let them do it their way. Trust them to do the jobs that they were hired to do.
Learning to delegate can be difficult. We’ve all had those group learning experiences where half the team didn’t do the work. There have been times when we felt that if we didn’t do the job, it wouldn’t get done, or it wouldn’t get done correctly. However, in your leadership role, you must learn to let go and trust your employees.
When you show employees you trust, they will likely respond by achieving the mission.
Learn to Delegate
There aren’t many classes you can take on learning to delegate. However, check out these courses on learning to let go, which may help you understand why you feel the need to control everything.
You likely are scratching your head, wondering why positivity is listed as one of the top 10 leadership skills. What about being goal-oriented, driven, and decisive?
The truth is that leading with positivity is a key to accomplishing those goals. Study after study has shown that positive leaders who create a culture of inclusion and a positive work atmosphere achieve better results.
It makes sense if you think about it. Are you more likely to put in your best effort for an overbearing, impossible-to-please boss that makes you miserable for eight hours a day or for an optimistic, supportive, caring boss that makes your office life enjoyable?
Learn to Be More Positive
There’s no class you can take to be more positive. However, there are things you can do to embrace a positive mindset in your life. You could practice gratitude, set daily affirmations embracing positivity, meditate, or practice mindfulness to cultivate a more positive attitude overall.
Great leaders are dependable. Employees should know exactly what to expect when they come to you. They should know how you will react given the circumstances, and they should also know that they can count on you to support them.
There’s a reason why the trust fall exercise is so commonly used in corporate team-building efforts. Being able to trust and rely on your coworkers and leaders is essential. However, it can’t just happen at a team-building practice event. A leader must create a culture of trust and dependability.
To do this, prove to employees that they can count on you to have their back. Fight for them to get raises, promotions, time off, and recognition. Build them up to managers, and give credit where credit is due. Listen to their concerns, and do anything in your power to alleviate them. When employees know they can depend on you, they will be more willing to put in the extra effort for you.
Dependability isn’t taught in class. However, consider these courses on advocating for yourself and others. This may help you learn how to support your employees, which will, in turn, make you someone they can rely on when they have concerns in the office.
Do you understand the impact that your words and actions have on those around you? Have you ever made a poorly timed joke or said something that fell flat in a crowd?
When you aren’t a leader, getting feedback on your words and actions is easy. Coworkers, friends, and family members will often tell you the joke wasn’t funny, or what you said could be taken differently by different people.
Leaders don’t always have the luxury of people telling them these things. Often, employees will laugh at their employer’s horrible jokes and say everything is great even when it’s not. Some may fear reprisal, others may have a cultural reason to always agree with leaders, and others may not want to cause any waves.
Unfortunately, this aspect of human nature can make it difficult for leaders to know if they are really getting their message across or not. To be an effective leader, you need to be aware of what you say and how the things you say may come across to others.
The best way to learn self-awareness is to become curious about yourself and your feelings. Use a journal to reflect on your thoughts and emotions. Ask close friends and family members how you appear to others. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.
Diplomacy goes hand in hand with self-awareness. Knowing what you are saying and how it affects people is essential. Diplomacy takes that a step forward and helps leaders craft a message that helps appease all sides of an argument.
There will be personality conflicts whenever you have a group of people together. Workers don’t have to be friends with each other. They just need to get along, be civil, and do the job. A great leader recognizes this and refuses to take sides in personality clashes. Instead, a good leader must be empathetic toward all sides of an issue and develop a diplomatic solution.
Diplomacy is about more than compromise. It’s about understanding that different people have different backgrounds, cultures, and opinions and ensuring that those are all considered with potential solutions. Diplomatic leaders respect their employees and ensure that proposed solutions create desired outcomes for all involved.
Another critical skill is being able to speak diplomatically. Although some double speak is involved, where people think that a diplomatic answer is generally a non-answer, it’s an essential skill for a leader to develop. You don’t always need to give your personal opinion on a subject. Sometimes, your opinion differs from the opinion of your organization and your employees. There is nothing wrong with that. Diplomacy helps you separate your personal opinion from your work and give an answer based on facts or your company’s perspective. It’s a great skill to develop.
You can learn to be more diplomatic by learning to recognize your thoughts and emotional biases. These online classes may help you learn to be more tactful in speaking and become more diplomatic overall.
Being a leader is about guiding employees to a specific outcome. Leaders must consider the end goals and make a plan to achieve those goals. Strategic thinking is identifying short-term and long-term goals for the team and the organization.
Great leaders need to think strategically about what needs to be accomplished next week, next quarter, and next year to keep the business on the right path. Employees want to work for someone who has a plan and can steer the boat. They want to be moving forward with the team. If, as a leader, you can motivate your employees to believe in your strategic goals, you will have a solid team that will blow those goals out of the water. However, you have to be able to see the goals to get everyone else on board. As a leader, you must be able to do the work of developing these long-term plans and make decisions on the best way to achieve desired outcomes.
Learn Strategic Thinking
Some online courses will help you learn how to think more strategically.
Importance of Leadership Skills
The importance of these leadership traits can’t be overstated, even if you aren’t a leader yet. You may have noticed that at least half of these skills are about being a great team member and a good person. Traits like dependability, empathy, and creativity are essential for everyone, regardless of whether they are leaders or followers.
Strong leadership skills are essential outside of work, just as they are inside of work. Leadership skills build trust, friendships, and accountability. They can be used to inspire, motivate, or even to listen to a friend in need.
Mastering these leadership skills will give you the tools you need to lead at work and in your community.
How to Develop Leadership Skills
At the beginning of this post, we asked if leaders are born or if they are developed. Although some people may have an innate talent for these skills, the vast majority do not. Leadership skills are learned.
Don’t give up if you lack any of these skills. You can still be a great leader. Like any skill, it takes time and practice.
The first step is to take courses in the skills you most need to develop. A class will give you a baseline, someplace to start. The next step is to put the skills you learn into practice. It doesn’t have to be at work. Practice your communication skills by joining a toastmasters club, exercise those active listening muscles with friends and family, and master mentorship by volunteering with kids. There are numerous ways you can put these skills to work outside of a typical job.
You will soon realize that these skills weren’t that hard to develop. They take time and effort, but with practice, anyone can be a great leader.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.