17 Essential Leadership Skills You Need To Master

Some say great leaders are born with natural abilities the rest of us can’t hope to cultivate. 

That’s not true. Anyone can learn leadership skills and become a trusted captain of their team. 

What Are Leadership Skills?

Leadership skills are qualities that help you take charge and get the job done. But there’s a drastic difference between leading a team and being an authoritative dictator driving workers through fear and intimidation. 

A leader uses emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to foster growth, respect, teamwork, communication, and trust. 

They achieve the mission by making people want to follow them, not forcing them to. 

If you’re ready to take on leadership, you must learn the essential skills to cultivate an unstoppable team. 

17 Crucial Leadership Skills You Must Master

If you want to be a great leader, you must master these 17 essential skills:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Creativity
  • Flexibility
  • Mentorship
  • Delegation
  • Deciviness
  • Positivity
  • Dependability
  • Time Management
  • Self Awareness
  • Diplomacy
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Change Management


Throughout history, debates have raged over the number one skill to be a great leader. Is it decisiveness? Integrity? Honor?

Unique situations require distinct leadership qualities. Wartime leaders must excel at decision-making and follow through, while political leaders must maintain integrity.

However, there is one 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. Leadership schools across the country are starting to discuss empathy and emotional intelligence. 

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. It’s 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 employees feel heard and respected, motivating them to follow you. 

Empathetic leaders lead with compassion and build trust among their team.

An essential part of empathy is understanding that understanding an employee’s viewpoints doesn’t always mean you have to agree with their ideas. As a leader, the final decision is still yours. 

However, being an empathetic leader will help you understand how each decision affects each person on your team, which will help you make better decisions while keeping these often unintended side effects in mind.


Poor leaders often give vague or misleading instructions and get angry when their teams produce inadequate work. As a leader, you must learn how to communicate with your staff clearly and concisely so they understand.

While leaders can’t always provide step-by-step instructions, they should ensure employees have the training to do the job and know what to expect when receiving directions. 

A great leader will ensure their employees know when something needs to be completed a specific way and when they 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.


“It’s not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself” – Eleanor Roosevelt. 

The best leaders are part of the team. They don’t sit behind a desk barking orders; they get up and do the work with their staff. 

Employees respect leaders who get down in the trenches with them. 

Learn what your employees do. Be willing to fill in and do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if that means doing the grunt work occasionally. You’ll build team cohesion and respect when you show willingness to get your hands dirty. 

Active Listening

When in a leadership position, you must listen to your employees. Active listening is about being present when someone speaks to you. In our world of constantly being on the go, it’s challenging to stop multitasking and focus all 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 involves completely understanding what the other person is saying. It’s a vital skill for leaders because it helps employees feel heard, which in turn motivates them to give their best. 


“The mark of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

-Albert Einstein

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. Team members and subordinates brought it up. As a leader, it’s your job to see the solution and to have the courage to implement it.


A good leader knows how to set priorities, but a great leader knows priorities shift. 

To excel at leadership, you must be able to adjust when things change. You can’t be so rigid in your rules and expectations that you fail your team and company. 

Flexibility also applies to performance management. Bad managers set strict rules for timeliness and behavior, refusing to budge when employees have legitimate reasons for their actions. Yes, employees should be on time, but you don’t need to berate a worker who is late due to a traffic accident. 

Flexibility means treating your team like humans first, even if it means slightly bending the rules. 


Supervisors and bosses often focus solely on the mission and forget about the people who do the work. Mission-focused supervisors make a giant mistake.

 Your most important job as a leader is to develop the people around you.

In a formal mentoring relationship, mentees are not typically direct reports. However, as a leader, you must regularly provide mentorship and guidance to your team members, not just about their current tasks and roles but also their future career goals, hopes, and dreams. 

Mentoring your employees will inspire them to achieve greatness in their current positions and future roles. That new intern could become the head of the company someday with your guidance. 

Conflict Management

People won’t always get along. As a leader, part of your job is identifying and mitigating the personal drama damaging the team. 

Fostering a culture of teamwork will prevent interpersonal conflicts from seeping into the workplace, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Good leaders will act as mediators when these problems arise in the workplace, and help affected workers reach a compromise, allowing them to work together civilly. 

Managing other people’s interpersonal drama may not be what you signed up for, but every leader has to do it at some point to ensure a cohesive team. 


We’ve all had that leader who micromanages. These experiences taught us that micromanagers create toxic work environments.

Delegation is crucial. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t expect to. There’s a reason why you have employees: to do the work. Give it to them, let them do it their way, and trust them to do the jobs you hired them 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.


Sometimes, you need to act.

We don’t always have the luxury to analyze each decision. Things pop up, emergencies happen, priorities shift, and the leader needs to take decisive action to move the team forward. 

Decisiveness is also crucial in non-emergency situations. A great leader knows that there’s time for discussion and time for action. They don’t get so wrapped up in the details and possibilities that they can’t decide. 


You are likely scratching your head and wondering why positivity appears as a leadership skill. What about being goal-oriented, driven, and decisive?

Leading with positivity is the 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 who makes you miserable for eight hours a day or for an optimistic, supportive, caring boss who makes your office life enjoyable?

Positivity is more vital than drive because it creates drive in employees. 


Workers need a boss they can rely on. 

Your team should know exactly what to expect when they come to you. They should know how you will react in any situation and believe they can count on you to support them.

There’s a reason corporate team-building exercises overuse the trust-fall exercise. Trusting and relying 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 backs. 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.

Time Management

Time is limited. A good leader must understand that and manage time wisely. 

But they don’t just manage their own schedules. Leaders must delicately balance their employee’s workloads, knowing how to give just enough for optimal productivity without overworking people or cutting into work-life balance. 


Have you ever made a poorly timed joke or said something that fell flat in a crowd? Do you understand how your words and actions impact those around you?

Getting feedback on your words and actions is easy when you aren’t a leader. Coworkers, friends, and family members often tell you the joke wasn’t funny or that individuals could take your words differently.

Leaders don’t always have the luxury of people telling them these things. Employees often 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 getting their message across. To be an effective leader, you must understand what you say and how it may come across to others.


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 appeases 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 empathize with all sides of an issue and develop a diplomatic solution.

Diplomacy is about more than compromise. It’s about understanding that individuals have unique backgrounds, cultures, and opinions and ensuring they 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 that 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.

Strategic Thinking

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 identifies short-term and long-term goals for the team and the organization.

Great leaders must think strategically about the next week, quarter, and year to keep the business on the right path. 

Employees want to work for someone with a plan who 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 develop these long-term plans and make decisions about the best way to achieve desired outcomes.

Change Management

We can’t stop change. It’s coming, whether we’re ready or not. 

Change brings stress and uncertainty, which hinder productivity. Employees working through a business transformation may fear layoffs, salary cuts, or benefit reductions. 

A great leader embraces change and the challenges it brings. They fight for their employees, ensuring a minimal impact on the work environment, but also promote change as a net benefit for everyone involved. 

An effective leader makes employees feel good about the changes, creating an optimistic vision for the future. 

Importance of Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are vital, even if you aren’t in a leadership position yet. 

Half the essential leadership skills relate to teamwork and interpersonal skills rather than specifically to leading a team. Traits like dependability, empathy, and creativity are necessary 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. They build trust, friendships, and accountability. People with these skills inspire and motivate others. They help friends through hard times and serve as pillars in their communities. 

Mastering these leadership skills will give you the tools to lead everywhere in your life. 

How to Develop Leadership Skills

Although some people may have an innate talent for these skills, most do not. 

Great leaders learn leadership skills. 

Here’s where to start. 

Online Courses

Numerous online learning platforms have excellent courses in leadership fundamentals and specific courses in many of the skills discussed. 

LinkedIn Learning offers classes on empathy, emotional intelligence, mentoring, time management, and leadership development. Explore the offerings for the competencies you would like to strengthen. 


Journaling can help us develop self-awareness, positivity, and creativity. Use a journal to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Write with curiosity to discover why you react in certain ways. Draw to enhance your curiosity. Explore your shadow self. Start a gratitude practice. 

These journaling techniques will help you learn more about your inner workings, which will make you a better person and leader. 

Get a Coach/Mentor

No one expects you to do it all on your own. A coach or trusted mentor can help you identify the areas you need the most help with and work with you to improve those skills. 

Ask a respected leader in your industry to mentor you. You’ll gain expert advice from someone who knows what it takes to excel. 

If that’s not available, hire a coach to guide you through your journey. Life and business coaches can help you determine your strengths and develop your weaknesses. 


Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. When these skills don’t come naturally, you’ll mess up, and that’s okay. 

Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to make mistakes as you develop into the fantastic leader you know you will be. 

Finding ways to practice leadership in your daily life will enhance your skills and prepare you for a leadership role in your organization. Exercise your skills when you’re a team member, at home, and in your community. Join organizations like Toastmasters to boost your communication skills, or volunteer at a nursing home to improve active listening. 

You Can Become a Great Leader

Anyone can learn leadership and become someone others look up to. 

Start enhancing your skills today to become tomorrow’s great leader.