8 essential leadership skills to master for success

8 essential leadership skills to master for success
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 15 August, 2023
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U.S. President John Quincy Adams once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."

Leadership is more than the ability to lead a group. It's about influencing individuals to work together towards a common goal. While some may think being in leadership is a privilege, it's more of a social duty to inspire positive change in the world.

What are leadership skills?

Leadership skills are abilities you use to bring people together to work for the same goal. Effective leaders motivate employees to do their best and work well with others, delivering better results than the sum of a company's parts.

You can gain a lot from having strong leadership skills. You can take more control over your life and reach goals you once thought were impossible. Read on to learn how to develop leadership skills for success in every aspect of life.

Leadership Styles

Not all leaders are the same. Different types of leaders bring about different kinds of results. They can also adapt to the style that would be the most effective in a given situation. Let's look at the different leadership styles :

Transformational leadership

Transformational leaders are great motivators. They inspire you to change your outlook, and you perform beyond your own expectations. This kind of leadership style works for organisations that will undergo big changes. A company with many new employees benefits from it as well.

Delegative leadership

Delegative leaders emphasise trust. They give you a lot of autonomy by letting you make decisions. This style is passive and considered a hands-off leadership style. As they put a high value on trust, they don't micromanage. This is best when independent contributors and specialists are working together.

Authoritative leadership

Authoritative leaders are well-suited for high-stakes scenarios. Think about military operations, emergency situations, or chaotic teams. These kinds of leaders provide direction to their teams. They encourage members to follow their lead. As opposed to delegative leadership, authoritative leadership is very hands-on.

Transactional leadership

Transactional leaders will give you a system of reward and punishment. This type of leader rewards employees who perform at a certain level. They punish those who do not perform based on set standards. They also use hierarchy a lot, a system of who reports to whom.

Participative leadership

Participative leaders focus on teamwork and solidarity. They involve team members in decision-making and encourage the exchange of feedback. This type of leadership holds people more accountable than the other types. Members identify and solve problems as a team. They are also expected to take the initiative to contribute more to the team.

Servant leadership

Servant leaders put the needs of others before their own. They focus on the collective, relying on ethical decision-making. This means decisions are made based on what is good for everyone on the team. This type of leadership fosters an empowered team. They give everyone a chance to make their voices heard. This style improves communication within the team and provides transparency.

Characteristics of good leaders

Among most of the world's population, which consists primarily of followers, leaders are few and far between. Think about that boss or coach that showed you what a good leader was. When you get a chance to work with them, they make a lasting impression. You feel motivated and perform better. What is it that makes an effective leader?

The biggest quality that a leader can have is self-awareness. Self-aware individuals understand what they bring and its effect on others. With self-awareness, you can leverage the following characteristics to bring out the best performance and boost morale in your team.

Ability to influence others

There is a marked difference when successful leaders give orders. They give the "why" of following their lead, inspiring you to exceed expectations. These kinds of leaders become more well-liked, building loyalty among followers.

Transparency

To follow leaders, you expect them to be trustworthy. A transparent leader is upfront about their expectations of you. You'll also know what you can expect from them. They get you involved in the company by giving you updates about the organisation. Even during difficult conversations, you can count on them to be encouraging but honest.

Risk-taking and innovation

Great leaders have the impetus to experiment and innovate. They are more eager to challenge themselves, take risks to try something new, and learn in the process. This creates a working environment where employees feel safe to do the same as well. This leadership trait can empower employees to persevere and see mistakes as a learning opportunity to innovate.

Integrity and accountability

Leaders earn the respect of those around them when they do what they say and practise what they preach. You will see that they uphold the same standards for the team and set an example for others. What makes a leader worth their salt is being able to strike a balance between power and integrity. Because of this, you are confident that they have your best interests at heart.

Decision-making and action

Leaders make things happen. You can count on them to have a good strategy, a better plan, and the best goals for your team. They understand that a good strategy is crucial in leading a team. They plan long-term but also see the value of short-term actions to achieve bigger goals.

Resilience

When employee morale goes down, it is up to the leader to motivate everyone to keep working towards a goal. Leaders are more effective when they lead by example. When you persevere through tough times, your team learns how to carry on and find solutions.

Demonstrating effective leadership skills

Effective leaders adjust their style to fit the needs of their team. To be effective, they use soft skills like the ones below:

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses

No leader is perfect. If you want to be a good leader, be more self-aware. Discover what you are good at and see how your weaknesses can help you. Doing this will make it easy for you to do the same for your team.

Goal setting

To lead, you must know where you want to go and how to take people with you. An effective leader can establish order and what tasks must be accomplished to reach the team's goal. They see the big picture. And what's even more important, they can let their team see their respective roles for the common goal. They can also make necessary adjustments to stay on track.

Being a lifelong learner

Leaders must steer clear of complacency. They're aware that they need to remain relevant. They need to find ways to improve themselves. Upgrading their skills and seeing learning opportunities are always welcome.

Knowing yourself, what needs to be done, and what you need to do to keep improving make for a good foundation to develop these key leadership skills.

Leadership Skills

1. Communication skills

A group of people communicating with each other

A great leader possesses excellent communication skills. You must be able to bring the message you want to convey to both your subordinates and superiors.

The 2020 Singapore Employee Engagement Index revealed that only 50% of employees in Singapore feel that their leaders are effective communicators. We're only halfway there, and it challenges all leaders to continue to sharpen their communication abilities.

Effective communication is vital to getting things done. As a leader, you must communicate expectations and feedback and mitigate conflict. You have to find ways to make others see your point of view. Leaders often bridge the communication gap where other team members cannot. When you can do this, you can unify a team and contribute better to the organisation.

Strong communication skills are not just limited to speaking. Other factors include reading, writing, and, most importantly, listening. When you practise active listening, you will understand people better. This, in turn, will make your work process flow better.

Once people are confident that you are actively listening to them, they are more likely to be transparent with you. Not only will you have the information you need, but you also gain their respect.

What people don't say is just as important as what they do say. Studies have suggested that most of what we communicate is through nonverbal communication. This refers to people's facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Being able to interpret nonverbal cues gives you an advantage as a leader. You can understand what people are really trying to say, which helps you know the best way to respond.

You should also be aware of how you use your own nonverbal communication. Do you maintain eye contact when one of your subordinates comes to you with an idea? Do you convey a welcoming posture during meetings? When you're attuned to nonverbal communication, it's easier to understand what people need.

An example of good leadership communication skills is storytelling. Storytelling creates context around a team's tasks and makes it personal. When leaders use storytelling to communicate their vision, they can give employees a sense of unity and purpose.

2. Emotional intelligence

Leading with emotional intelligence means recognising that all your team members are individuals. They each have their own thoughts and emotions. But it's not just about sensing other people's emotions. According to expert Daniel Goleman, it is also how well you can manage your own emotions and knowing how to act for everyone's well-being.

One of the components of emotional intelligence is empathy. Being able to sense and relate to other people's emotions is critical when you're relating to people, more so when you're managing them. You need to understand what each member needs from you and how best to support them.

Empathy builds relationships. A leader who can empathise finds a more motivated team. When people know you care for their well-being, they'll be more willing to take on challenging work. Empathy is also the foundation of being an effective mediator at work. To get things done as a leader, you need your team to get along. Ironing out conflicts is easier when you maintain good working relationships with everyone involved.

Being emotionally aware of others is as important as being self-aware of your own emotions. Goleman says there is a direct connection between your feelings and your ability to lead. He defines emotional self-awareness as understanding your emotions and their effects on your performance.

Knowledge of how you feel and why helps you regulate your emotions. This skill leads to better decision-making and impartial judgment of others. Emotional self-awareness provides perspective on how you come across to others. Thus, you'll know if your message is coming across as you intended.

How do you know if you're providing emotional intelligence leadership in the workplace? Facilitate a space for employees to provide you with open and honest feedback. The most evident indicator that a leader possesses this important skill is when the workplace environment has respectful communication and employees have good working relationships.

3. Decision-making

A group of male professionals discussing at work

As a strong leader, you need to have effective decision-making skills. This means you need to balance your duties to meet the company's needs and the working relationships with everyone involved.

This balancing act can be achieved with analytical and critical thinking skills. Leaders need analytical skills to break down the logical cause and effect of a decision step-by-step. Critical thinking is also necessary to see the abstract implications of a decision against the big picture. Here's how you can apply these skills in various decision-making methods:

Decision-making models

MIT Human Resources lists five decision-making models that aid the process and make its mechanics clear to team members. Transparency in decision-making guides the team's actions towards achieving goals and builds support for the decisions made.

  • The team leader decides and informs the team.

    ⁠This is the most authoritative model of decision-making. Being the leader, you assume complete control over selecting options and considering the team's needs. You also don't open the decision to feedback.

    ⁠Sometimes, the willpower to exercise authority is one of the most crucial team leadership skills. It gives the team a clear idea of who is in charge. There are clear commands given, which are helpful during critical tasks and stressful situations.
  • The team leader gathers input and then decides.
    ⁠This happens when a decision significantly affects team members or if they are experts in the case. Thus, it's most efficient to gather feedback before making the decision.
  • Consensus decisions
    ⁠Reaching a unanimous agreement is not always possible. If this is the case, everyone's interests are considered, and a consensus is reached to decide what's best for the team.
  • Consensus with a fallback
    ⁠This is usually used when two top options are vying for the decision. A consensus with a fallback keeps a second option to implement should the first decision be changed.
  • Setting constraints and delegating decisions to team members.
    ⁠This is a “majority rules” type of decision-making. Team members discuss all factors involved and put the decision to a vote.
    ⁠You can apply excellent decision-making skills in action, for example, when you need to implement a system for hybrid work. You can implement policies for everyone to follow, allowing each team member a range of choices in their schedules without bias.

4. Time management

If you're running a team, everyone runs on your schedule. You demonstrate strategic skills and discipline when you are organised and efficient with your time and theirs. Leadership by example inspires the whole team to follow suit.

⁠Time management revolves around goal setting. Thus, planning the team's agenda and scheduling around the results you want to achieve is essential.

⁠A real-world example of this is seen in project management. The success of a project depends on you delegating tasks within a time frame to meet requirements and deadlines.

⁠According to Forbes, here are four strategies for effective time management:

  • Know your priorities

    ⁠In this fast-paced world, it can be too easy to take a reactionary approach and address new changes as they come. Whatever life throws at your team, stick to your goal and prioritise the most crucial ones.
    ⁠⁠
  • Stay organised
    ⁠Goals and tasks are accomplished when you have a plan and stick to it. There are many tools available these days. You have project management software, productivity apps, calendars, and to-do lists. Update these in real-time to track progress.
  • Learn how to delegate
    ⁠You cannot, and should not, do everything on your own! Delegating tasks as a leader is not only a professional responsibility to the team, but to yourself. You have to make sure that the best people on your team do the job so that you can do the best job of supporting them.
  • Lead with accountability
    ⁠Saying what you mean and doing what you say sets an example for the team to be responsible for their tasks. This means you have to set clear expectations from the start and provide timely feedback. It shows your team that you have their back, which helps motivate them to do their best.

5. Adaptability

With the many rapid changes reshaping today's workforce, adaptability is a must-have skill for a leader. According to Human Resources Online, the three most coveted adaptability skills in Singapore are practical communication, teamwork, and strong leadership skills.

This means that leaders would do well to capitalise upon constantly developing their leadership skills to keep up with the changes in the workforce. But what is adaptability from a leadership perspective?

Adaptability is adjusting to new circumstances and situations to solve problems. Resilience, the ability to overcome setbacks and improve from them, makes this possible.

When you are adaptable, you can see perceived obstacles as challenges for growth. You can employ creativity and innovation to develop new solutions with better results. Problem-solving skills are also under the adaptability skill set. It enables you to analyse and create new solutions to complex challenges within the workforce.

You can see great examples of adaptability in the career journeys of entrepreneurs. They find new solutions to problems, adapting them into valuable business ideas to benefit others.

6. Conflict resolution

Disagreements and misunderstandings are inevitable in an organisation. Still, with the proper conflict resolution skills, leaders can turn disagreements into opportunities for cooperation.

Leaders must also take on the responsibility of identifying and resolving conflicts in the workplace. As such, you have to mediate between team members and work together to find a solution.

To resolve disputes before they escalate, you must employ communication and analytical skills. You need to listen and understand where each side of the conflict is coming from. Is there a way to meet the primary needs of all parties?

Negotiation and collaboration can help conflicting parties find common ground and agree on a mutually beneficial solution. For example, suppose two team members with different approaches to a problem find themselves in an argument. In that case, a leader can practise active listening and empathy to show both individuals they are being heard. You have to provide a method for putting their ideas together to come up with a better solution than previously proposed.

7. Strategic thinking

The best leaders make the plans and implement them. With that, strategic thinking is key to nearly all work processes in leadership and life. This interpersonal leadership skill allows a leader to weigh all factors concerning everyone involved.

Having good strategic abilities means thinking long-term and seeing the big picture. You can use the SWOT framework, a matrix to see both internal (strengths and weaknesses) and external (opportunities and threats) factors that may affect your organisation.

Seeing all aspects that can affect the company will give you a vantage point for better strategic planning. This skill is key to achieving goals as a leader in your career and personal life.

An example of this key leadership skill in action is a business executive who wants to expand their company's market share. They will need to think strategically about all components within their company. Industry trends and competitors also need to be identified.

With this information, the business executive can use their strategic skills to create a long-term strategy that factors developing new products, expanding distribution channels, and benchmarking competitors' marketing campaigns to come up with better ones.

8. Delegation

A crucial characteristic of being a leader is being aware of your team members' capabilities. This is practised in effective delegation. As a leader, you have to be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team. You also need to know how to leverage them to achieve goals. Doing this is one of the best ways to empower your team members.

Your knowledge and trust in your team will allow you to assign the right tasks to the right people at the right time. It makes team members feel trusted. They will likely give their best when assigned tasks aligned with their strengths and interests.

Successful delegation is paired with support and feedback. Communicating with your team lets them know they're on the right track and can ask for help when needed.

When you delegate effectively, you can focus on the higher-level tasks you are in the best position to do. Letting others do their job helps you to do a good job, which benefits everyone on the team.

For example, project managers can delegate tasks based on the skills and strengths of each team member. They can give analytical and organisational tasks to their planner team members, while delegating communication and negotiation to their articulate team members. This way, the jobs get done well by the best people to do it, and you can focus on the overall progress of the project in line with the goals of the organisation, making sure that everyone involved achieves your shared goal.

Summary

Leadership is about mastering soft skills over time and experience that can bring people to work together toward a common goal. Mastering soft skills takes a heightened self-awareness. And to be an effective leader, you must see leadership as a lifelong learning journey.

FAQs

  1. What are the most important leadership skills?
    Key leadership skills include communication, emotional intelligence, decision-making, time management, adaptability, conflict resolution, strategic thinking, and delegation.⁠
  2. What is the importance of good leadership skills in the workplace?
    Leadership skills are crucial in the workplace as they help managers and team leaders to effectively motivate, guide and manage their teams to achieve their goals. It also promotes a positive work environment, enhances employee morale and job satisfaction, and drives overall productivity and success for the organisation.
  3. How can you develop leadership skills? Or are the leadership skills innate?
    While some individuals may be born leaders, effective leadership skills can be developed through training, practice, and experience. Developing leadership skills requires a growth mindset and a willingness to learn and improve.
  4. What are some examples to improve leadership skills?
    Some ways to improve leadership skills include seeking mentorship and guidance from successful leaders, and participating in leadership development programs. You can also seek feedback from team members and colleagues and read books and articles on leadership.
  5. How can I identify my own strengths and weaknesses as a leader?
    ⁠To identify your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, you can ask for feedback from team members and colleagues. You can also conduct self-assessments and take personality and leadership skills assessments. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a leader can help you to focus on areas that need improvement and leverage your strengths for greater success.
  6. How can I demonstrate leadership skills in my personal life?
    Great leadership skills can also be applied in your personal life. For example, effective communication, empathy, and adaptability can be valuable skills when leading a community project or volunteer initiative.
  7. How can I improve my leadership communication skills?
    Start with developing your listening skills. Work on giving clear instructions. Learn how to give regular feedback and proper recognition to motivate your team.
  8. What is emotional intelligence, and why is it important for leadership soft skills?
    Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify, understand, and manage one's own emotions, as well as the feelings of others. It's important for business leaders because it allows them to better understand and connect with their team members, communicate effectively, and handle conflicts and challenges in a constructive manner.
  9. How can I motivate my team with interpersonal leadership skills?
    You can motivate your team by setting clear goals and expectations. Providing feedback and giving recognition help foster a positive work environment. Leaders can offer professional development opportunities, and lead by example, too.
  10. What are some common team leadership mistakes to avoid?
    There are five common leadership mistakes to avoid. Lack of communication and ignoring feedback top the list of five common leadership mistakes. Micromanaging, blaming others for mistakes, and failing to recognise successes complete this list.

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