Leadership Skills

Whether you own or run a business or have ambitions to climb up the ladder in your career, knowing the difference between being a manager and a leader is important.

Many qualities of good leadership are crucial skills you can use in everyday life too. They are personal attributes that can be highly useful for everything from organizing social events with a mixed bunch of friends to briefing a law firm when buying property or making sure your gardening crew does a great job.

That’s because authentic leaders have strong ‘people’ and organizational skills.

Let’s break that down in more detail, including what are modern leadership skills and why being a successful leader is such an advantage in so many different situations. There are also answers to whether leadership is a natural or acquired talent and something only possible if you are outgoing.

Managers vs. Leaders

Managers have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The best management skills involve being organized and working towards your goals in a strategic way. That includes keeping your team on track and on task.

What turns a manager into a leader?

The most common answer is that you need the ability to keep other people working effectively, but you achieve this by guiding, mentoring, inspiring, and motivating them. So, a manager can take pride in a job well done, while someone with leadership skills would take pride in supporting colleagues to achieve great things.

Being a source of motivation and inspiration can be particularly vital when you are under pressure at work. Your team is more likely to go the extra mile, and cope with the stress if it knows you have ‘got their back’.

This often involves sharing a business or project vision with your team and giving them the support and training to achieve that vision.

It also helps when they see you as a role model and know that you are always ready to roll up your sleeves to work with them, not just to manage them.

Important leadership skills are centered on getting the best out of other people. Authentic leaders drive positive change largely by being ethical, nurturing, and powerful motivators. For that, you need emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

This term is regularly applied to the qualities of good leadership, and it has the potential to bring positive effects for businesses. What does it mean?

It involves investing time and energy into looking beyond the practical to what lies beneath. That includes your own emotional ‘landscape’ and the motivations and behaviors of others.

A good example of an emotionally intelligent leader is someone who considers their own normal and instinctive reactions when they are faced with high-pressure situations. Do you get irritable, stressed, withdrawn, or a bit aggressive with people who try your patience?

None of these are particularly helpful, and you risk alienating colleagues when you would benefit most from their full support.

A good leader knows their own triggers and weaknesses and works to remain calm, focused, and supportive, no matter what happens around them. They can also be honest and admit to their own concerns when that is relevant and helpful.

Flip that around, and what does emotional intelligence look like as a leadership quality for getting the best out of business teams?

The biggest sign you are an emotionally intelligent leader is the ability to show empathy. That word means understanding someone else’s feelings, not showing pity or favoritism.

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For instance, if your workplace is facing intense change, and emotions are running high, checking in with the team and listening to their concerns would be a valuable leadership attribute.

Now that so many people work remotely or in hybrid situations, empathy can break down feelings of being isolated and ‘neglected’. If you check in with individuals regularly and show interest, you will create a more cohesive and unified remote team.

If you always show empathy and understanding, not just when the going gets tough, you are the sort of leader who develops a stronger team around you anyway. If everyone feels generally listened to, appreciated, and well-motivated, they are more likely to follow you into ‘battle’ too.

‘Appreciated’ is the key word in that last sentence. That’s because emotional intelligence is also about knowing when to use recognition and reward to motivate your team.

Even the simple words ‘thank you’ can go a long way to keeping people feeling positive and appreciated. When you give others the credit they deserve, and praise special effort, it says a lot about whether you are a manager or a leader.

Developing your ability to be emotionally intelligent – and emotionally resilient – is bound to be something you can apply to a lot of everyday situations. That includes the occasions when things go wrong, and you need to coax others to pull out all the stops.

Communication, including active listening

This is another quality of good leadership that brings success in business but also in life.

It is common sense when you think about it. The only way to get the best out of other people, and show empathy and appreciation, is by being an effective communicator. That involves keeping everyone informed of what they need and want to know and being transparent and accountable.

Is good communication in leadership a two-way process? It is actually a four-way process. Communication in leadership needs to go up, down, across, and outwards.

It comes down to considering who needs to know what, and when and making that happen consistently and reliably. It also involves developing active listening skills.

Steve Jobs is globally admired as a visionary and leader, taking Apple to a $1 trillion business. One especially significant attribute was his ability to listen.

“If Jobs hadn’t surrounded himself with people who knew how to change his mind, he might not have changed the world.” That’s according to an organizational psychologist in an article published in Harvard Business Review, which also focused on Steve Jobs’ incredible skills of persuasion and inspiration.

Being good at active listening involves creating the right environment for others to give you their honest opinions and to ask questions. That often means purposefully creating situations where others feel encouraged to speak freely.

The benefits of this can include gathering ideas for innovations and improvements that may otherwise pass you by.

Showing good leadership listening skills also ensures people will bring problems to you more readily. When someone alerts you to issues, without fear of ‘blame or shame’, it gives you a chance to nip problems in the bud.

The alternative is colleagues or business contacts too fearful or embarrassed to mention things. These issues can then escalate and worsen. Or people will sit on suggestions that could save your business money or improve productivity, for example.

Getting the right kind of feedback is vital if you are the sort of leader who successfully involves your team in creating strong business growth. How will you know what training to put in place for yourself and others if you don’t get an honest evaluation? This feedback needs to include where you are now and where you need to be in the future.

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Empowerment skills

Effective communication – including active listening – is one of the so called ‘soft-skills’ people talk about. Another expression used to describe them is empowerment skills.

These attributes and abilities are not tied in with technical or professional abilities. Instead, they are focused on your personal development. A good leader would understand the need to invest not only in their own personal development, but also in their team members’ soft skills.

Communication is clearly one important example, but empowerment skills also include managing your time effectively, being an agile problem solver, and using critical thinking. This skill set also incorporates being good at creating strong networks of contacts and using creativity in business situations.

One of the most important soft skills, however, is self-awareness. Doing courses and tasks to build your resilience and resourcefulness will increase your ability to be a confident decision-maker.

Leadership and conflict resolution

A great example of leadership skills in action during your working day would be showing empathy and using clear communication to diffuse a potential conflict.

Let’s face it, even the smoothest running ship gets affected by storms sometimes, and every organization can find itself dealing with an unhappy customer, unreliable supplier, or workforce dispute. Being able to take a minute, calm your own emotions, and then proceed carefully can be the difference between the heat rising or getting a successful resolution in no time.

Take, for instance, when an employee is really ticking you off, and your instinct is to fire them on the spot. However, you are bound by labor laws, and there is a proper way to deal with this.

You could even end up facing a charge of willfully ignoring the Fair Labor Standards Act, which brings a hefty fine and potentially a criminal prosecution. That certainly makes strong leadership a better prospect.

Ethical leadership

Making confident and quick decisions has to run alongside making the right decisions. That can mean reviewing different ethical dilemmas, issues, and your organization’s official standpoint.

Having powerful ethical leadership abilities can be especially important during crisis management situations. It is also a vital attribute when you are formulating business plans and ways to practice social responsibility.

An illustration of this would be knowing how to balance the need to make a profit with your obligations to the environment and investing in sustainable solutions and good waste management.

Developing the skills to be an ethical leader is a wise investment of time and money. You are more likely to inspire your colleagues and customers to ‘follow’ you. It also enables you to manage people and processes from a position of trust and makes it easier to recruit new staff and retain your existing workforce.

Crucially, your customers are increasingly making buying decisions based on whether yours is an ethical organization they can have faith in.

To show just how important ethical leadership is, research suggests that companies considered ethical generally outperform the alternatives by as much as 40 percent.

Data and leadership

This may seem a strange pairing, to mention technology and data analytics, in relationship to the best leadership attributes and business success.

It is highly significant, however, as being comfortable and confident with technology is no longer confined to your IT department. This is particularly true if you manage remote project teams or you need to make confident decisions about business development and growth.

Don’t think of this as being simply well-versed in the latest devices, software options, and cyber threats. That could well still be your IT department’s remit. (Though making sure your team understands basic cyber security is important for all leaders.)

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However, to be an effective leader in the modern era, you would certainly need fundamental data analysis skills. That includes the ability to look at data:

  • Forensically – such as what went right and what didn’t work well enough.
  • In real time – including keeping a close eye on performance and any emerging issues.
  • Predictively – which involves being able to use verified and relevant data to make key decisions on a firm foundation.

You could even say that one of the key qualities of leadership is the ability to take risks, but only after careful consideration and research, using data and honest feedback from others.

Leadership skills and career progression

Much of what has been discussed so far is how to develop leadership skills and apply them to business success. It’s important to loop back to ways those same skills can be used in everyday situations, especially in how you advance in your career.

Are you currently looking for a new job or working towards a promotion? This is when working on your leadership skills is going to be a valuable investment of your time. Showing excellent leadership abilities makes you far more attractive to employers, and the skills are highly transferrable.

A business and tech website published some starting information that “every leader should know,” including that 80% of organizations report they don’t have enough leaders. Interestingly, the same research suggests that only 10% of people are natural leaders.

That takes us to an important question; are the best leaders born or made?

How to develop leadership skills

Do you need to be a naturally confident and socially active person to be a leader in life and business? The answer is an emphatic no!

Most people who are successful in leadership acquire the necessary skills by investing in their professional and personal development. Alongside this, they get their employer to support their learning and work experience to pursue this path.

If you are already in a management or supervisory role and want to advance your career, an excellent option would be to do a Doctorate in Leadership & Organizational Innovation with Marymount University. This flexible online program enables you to enhance and grow your leadership skills while still meeting existing commitments.

Can you build leadership skills if you are a quiet, reserved individual?

Again, the good news is that there is evidence to suggest around 50% of the most respected business leaders describe themselves as introverts. Don’t forget that quieter people are often great listeners and patient, empathetic individuals. That can be more important than being the life and soul of every situation.

Investing in your team’s leadership skills

Finally, having covered a lot of the qualities of good leadership, it’s worth taking a closer look at the positive effects on a business. These effects are why you would encourage your supervisors and managers to take online courses in leadership and organizational skills, for instance.

Providing opportunities for leadership development ensures that your senior staff is better able to get the best out of themselves, staying calm and focused even under intense pressure. They would also be able to get the best out of others, including spotting problems early and motivating their colleagues to move forwards in a positive way.

A lot of this comes down to creating what’s known as a nurturing corporate culture. That means a business that practices genuine diversity and equality and listens to and appreciates its workforce.

In other words, investing in strong leaders in your business creates a happier work environment and job satisfaction. This, in turn, improves your productivity, agility, and ability to manage change effectively.

A happier and better-supported workforce – under effective leaders – is also more likely to stay loyal. That reduces absenteeism, staff churn, and all the costs associated with constantly filling vacancies at your organization.

It all shows why the most successful organizations have assured and effective leaders.

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