There is a limited amount of time your can spend honing the leadership skills that will help you succeed. If you aspire to not only lead, but to be an effective leader whose vision inspires employees and managers alike, here are 15 leadership skills to focus on:
This is truly a gateway skill. I’ve seen the inability to delegate to other employees stall more careers at the individual contributor level than just about any other skill. I had a mentor once describe delegation as “the ability to score without touching the ball.” Learning to accomplish things through others is an imperative part of effective leadership.
People have written entire books on effective leadership and effective communication, have spent their entire careers helping leaders and managers hone their communication skills. In reality, communication is one word for a whole host of skills: listening, creating clarity, body language and non-verbal cues, vocal tone and inflection, messaging and more.
I’m not talking about having blue hair and wearing cool shoes here. Creativity in a leadership role is about seeing people and situations through multiple lenses. A great leader has many strengths - among them being able to creatively approach problem identification and solving, inventiveness, brainstorming, and making connections.
4. Coaching & Development
The fundamental role of a great leader is developing more leaders. When you ask people to describe the best leader they’ve ever worked for, you hear a lot about how that person believed in them and made them feel valued as a team member, gave them tough and candid feedback, put them in stretch assignments. They invested in their development and coached them to the next level.
5. Decision Making
On good days the choices you make as a leader are easy. Most of the time, though? There are going to be tough calls to make, data to wade through, crises that pop up and unpopular decisions that need to be made. Learning how to make decisions quickly and confidently will serve you well.
6. Teamwork & Collaboration
If you’re rowing the boat in the same direction, you’ll get there a lot faster. Leadership is about bringing out the best in a group and creating an environment where each individual team member can share and create something great, together.
I coach new leaders that their goal is to be respected, not liked. Accountability comes from creating clarity about what needs to be accomplished, by whom, and measuring progress against those goals. And when someone gets off track and misses their targets (and they will), giving fair but firm feedback. If you’re not taking care of underperforming team members, your high performers will start making a beeline for another opportunity.
No matter what your leadership style is, you’ve got to want to succeed in a challenging role. The desire to achieve something great and the ability to sustain that desire over a long period of time is a career maker. Status quo is not for leaders; the drive for excellence is.
Things will never go as planned and will take twice as long as you expect. People will take longer to catch on to things than you anticipate. The ability to move things along when you can and understand when you can’t is a much-needed leadership talent. Patience, Grasshopper.
Your leadership style may differ from your boss’s, but good leadership is always about authenticity. My career really took off when I stopped trying to act like a middle-aged white guy, and instead showed up as me. People can smell a fake, can see if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Do you. It allows your team to do the same, and diverse and inclusive teams have more commitment, creativity and fun than those where people are pretending to be someone they’re not.
11. Change Management
There are so many zigs and zags that happen in the course of a year that it’s hard to keep up. Leading change is at its heart helping people to let go of what was, adapt and keep moving forward. Good leadership entails understanding why people resist change and the predictable stages of change you and your team will be better off for it.
12. Stress Management
We’ve all worked with the person who flips out under pressure or can’t stop whining when their work-life balance is temporarily thrown off. That’s simply not a luxury that good leaders have. Emotions are contagious and great leaders are grace under fire. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, so managing the ongoing demands of leadership is a must. Good leaders are able to roll with the stress and use it as a positive force instead of a source for burnout.
13. Strategic Thinking
There’s lots of chatter about strategic planning, but that’s just an outcome driven by strategic thinking. The ability to ask the right questions, pay attention to market forces and see the bigger picture of the strategic moves that can be made is an invaluable skill to hone. I’ve had a lot of leaders tell me that one of their secret weapons is simply taking regular time to think strategically about their business.
Whether you’re a natural at the front of the room or your strengths lie in being the person who quietly instills confidence, being able to keep your team enthusiastically pursuing long-term goals is a leadership must. You’ve got to be the person who can fan the flames of your team through both the easy and hard times.
15. Humor and a Thick Skin
In any leadership role, you’re going to mess up. Along with your success, you’ll take some unfounded, harsh criticism. Leaders have to make tough calls in high-pressure situations. The power of laughter is truly phenomenal and the ability to let things roll off your back will sustain you through rough times. Never take yourself or your critics too seriously.
Mo is the Founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and peer mentoring organization for companies who want to recruit, develop, promote and retain women and create inclusive workplaces. She’s an advisor to CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing companies and is the founder 5 successful businesses. She also been known to sing loudly, dance badly and curse like a sailor.
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