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Leadership Skills Primer

It seems simple enough: Leadership skills are skills that help you lead, right? True, but that's just the beginning.

Ilya Breyman
November 9, 2018

Are you hoping to be put in a position of power? Or are you already in that position? Whichever the case, learning leadership skills is an absolutely vital part of the equation. From how to motivate your team to remaining humble throughout your successes or failures, these are skills that any executive, manager, or team leader can't be without.

What are leadership skills?

It seems simple enough: Leadership skills are skills that help you lead, right? True, but that's just the beginning. Leadership skills are a diverse collection of knowledge and practical know-how that will help bring you and those you are leading to the goal, whatever it might be, that has been set. This includes some obvious skills, such as communication and responsibility, as well as some that some don't consider, such as humility. These are both the traits of successful leaders, and those who aspire to be leaders in their field.

Why Learn Leadership Skills?

There are many reasons for someone to learn leadership skills. If you're already in a leadership position, then learning how to lead effectively is a must. But what if you're only aspiring to lead, or simply think you might find yourself in such a position in the future? Definitely add this to your to-do list. For anyone in a management or executive role, they can only be a positive. You'll be able to lead effectively, because you'll know the ins and outs of leadership. Knowing how to take the reins before doing so ensures that you start off on the right foot, and will keep you in stride.

Who Benefits?

In short? Absolutely everyone! Learning leadership skills is, of course, immediately beneficial to yourself, boosting your potential in a leadership role. But it will also help your company or business to succeed, since the person in charge will know how to lead properly. These benefits also spread to those being lead. When they have a good leader at the helm, those being lead tend to do better and more efficient work. No matter at what level you find yourself at, those above and below will see a boost from having a great leader.

Skills

Communication

Communication is a huge part of effective leadership. Without it, the rest of the leadership skills below would fall flat. When assuming a leadership role, you should be familiar with communication of all kinds. This includes person-to-person communication, as well as mass communication between entire departments or staff, whether in person or electronically. This makes sure that what you say is clearly understood and not ambiguous.

The biggest step to take in learning how to communicate is taking the time to listen. Actively listening is perhaps the most important communication skill, but it is one that many in positions of power never take the time to learn. Your employees will feel better understood, and you can address their concerns or comments more effectively.

Delegating

This is something that many leaders realize they need to do, but most see as a sign of weakness. But delegating tasks is not a weakness and, if you learn how to delegate properly, is sure to be one of your biggest strengths. To ensure that you're making the proper decisions about what to assign to whom, you need to learn to evaluate the best person for the task. Who has the right skill set? Who can do it in the allotted time?

Delegating also means learning how to react towards the work being done for you. Before assigning anything, you should make sure that your expectations are clear. During the task and afterwards, evaluate the employee's performance. And always make sure to accept feedback from your employees; it will give you an idea if you're going in the right direction.

Motivation Perhaps the most vital skill that truly great leaders have is motivation. Motivation is what will convince your employees to put in extra effort and truly work to make the business a success. Should their motivation flag, you'll find yourself noticing the ill effects. And a paycheck normally isn't enough; money will only go so far in inspiring people.

How do you go about keeping motivation up? The trick is to keep your employees interested, while also allowing them to be heard and recognized. Make sure that the work you assign them is a good fit for them, and make it challenging enough to keep them occupied. Listen to what your employees say, and recognize them. Mentor those that need it. And, as always, say thank you.

Positivity

Nobody likes being around someone who is negative all of the time. Negativity tends to spread like a virus, infecting anyone it comes in contact with. Thankfully, positivity does the same. If the person in control can remain positive, even in the face of challenges or setbacks, then the rest will likely follow suit.

So, what does being positive mean? It doesn't simply mean being happy all the time. Instead, it means pushing forward through the bad with the best attitude possible. Being able to laugh at mistakes that you've made, helping others that need it, and encouraging those feeling discouraged are all ways to keep everyone feeling positive. Caring, diplomacy, and respect will take you far.

Trustworthiness

To have a good working relationship, those who work for you need to be able to trust you. They need to know that you're being honest with them, and that they, in turn, can be honest. This opens up dialogue between employees and leaders, which is needed to tackle problems and goals head-on.

The biggest part of professional trust is accountability and credibility. Everyone, yourself included, should be held to the same type of accountability. If you make a mistake, own up to it; trying to shift the blame will only damage your credibility. Showing integrity and honesty, while something simple, will keep your workers honest themselves.

Creativity

This is something most people trying to build team leader skills forget: Creativity. Business creativity is a little different from day-to-day creativity. Here, the focus is on thinking outside of the box. Since leaders tend to have to make decisions without all of the facts at hand, learning how to think critically and be analytical is of huge importance. Foresight, too, will make choosing a direction without a clear path more doable.

Creativity also allows you to be open-minded in the business decisions you make. This includes listening to the ideas of others, conceptualization, and imagination. Using these traits, you'll be able to think of solutions and options that others might not have used or considered yet.

Feedback

If your employees never receive feedback on the work they do, then they can never improve. Likewise, if you're constantly micromanaging, then your employees are unlikely to want (or be able to) improve. Good leaders know how to find the middle ground, and know how to properly deliver feedback to those that work for them.

To start, you should always be open to feedback yourself. This sets a good example for your workers. Then, you should make sure that you always make your expectations very clear, so that they can adequately be met. Coaching, following up, and mentoring your workers will help build trust in you, so that they will accept your feedback more readily. And, through it all, ensure that you're respectful.

Responsibility

This is something that real leaders learn quickly: You are responsible for those you lead. This is true whether you are in charge of a team, department, or company. Learning how to deal with this responsibility and how to use it is what really separates mediocre leaders and great leaders.

The first thing you should do as a responsible leader is acknowledge mistakes, particularly your own. By owning up to them, you'll be seen as open, honest, and a team player. Learn from these mistakes, and your past mistakes. Then, you should learn to listen, both to your employees and managers. Lastly, you should aim for transparency. Transparency in the workplace makes others feel more secure, and will help more than hurt in the long run.

Developing Leadership Skills

Assessing Yourself

Your Leadership Skills

Whether you're considering a role that will put you in a leadership position, or you're already in that position, it's important to consider your own leadership skills. How good are these skills? Do you need a refresher course, or do you need to start from scratch? Even if you've been in this role for a while, it's usually a good idea to remind yourself of these skills and learn new ones on a regular basis. Developing leadership skills is an ongoing process, one that you should never stop learning.

What is your motivation?

Motivation, as stated above, is an important part of leadership. And this isn't only true for your workers: It's true for you, as well. Take the time to think about what your motivations are. Why do you want to lead? Are you hoping to bring your company forward and breathe new life into it? Do you want to inspire and invigorate your team? If your motivations are good, then you'll have a good platform to build your skills on.

What is your leadership style?

Everyone in a leadership role has a different leadership style. There are autocratic leaders, who accept little or no feedback from those they lead. There are laissez-fair leaders, who take a completely hands-off approach to leading. But the best kinds of leaders are usually democratic leaders, who take feedback from the ones that they lead and offer feedback in return. You can be strict or more lenient, but the best choice is one where your employees feel heard and appreciated.

Power

Where power comes from

There are two categories of power: Positional and personal. While you can have one or the other, most great leaders have power from both. Positional is power that you get from being in a professional position that gives you this power. Then there is personal power, which is a bit more tricky, and usually comes because of yourself and not an official position.

Different forms of power

The best type of power to start with is positional power. First, there is legitimate power, where a high-ranking professional (such as a CEO or manager) makes decisions because of their position in the company, which, while useful, can be unstable. Then there is reward power, which includes promotions, raises, and even simple verbal praise. While a good base, it, too, has flaws: If the rewards aren't satisfactory to the employee, or if the rewards run dry, the power dissipates along with it. Next is coercive power, which is a rather insidious type to wield. Instead of using rewards, this type of power uses punishment. This tends to breed resentment. While usable as a last resort, it's not a good choice until then. Last is informational power. In this case, you're given information that others might not have, such as impending lay-offs, confidential financial reports, or even the date of the next company get-together. It might not seem like it, but this is probably the most potent form of power on this list.

There are fewer personal sources of power, but they can be just as useful as professional sources. The first is expert power, where you have the skill set and knowledge to fully understand a certain situation, and know how to handle it accordingly. When you show that you know what's going on, others are more likely to follow your lead. And then there is referent power. This comes from one person respecting and liking someone else. This is one type of power you have to use with integrity, because it is easy to exploit. You shouldn't rely on this alone, but it is a boost if you have it.

Emotional Intelligence

Developing Self-Awareness

A good leader is self-aware. But what does that mean? Simply put, it means being aware of your abilities and your actions. Real leaders know what they are capable of and what they aren't, and keep that in mind. They also accept responsibility for their mistakes, and don't try to make excuses for them. Lastly, self-awareness means being mindful of your words and actions: You should know how they affect others.

Developing Empathy

Empathy is something that many professionals tend to lack. It can be seen as a weakness, but it's really a powerful tool for leaders. Empathy in a professional setting can help to build trust between leaders and their team. But it also helps to understand how your business runs and how decisions are made. Showing that you can understand someone else's feeling and motives helps you to understand why they have made decisions, and how to reach out to them with feedback or correction.

Being Optimistic

A leader's optimism is a strong tool that too few of those in positions of power use. Being optimistic, not just as a company, but as yourself, helps to keep those you lead optimistic, as well. This doesn't mean acting like everything is alright when it isn't. Instead, it means remaining hopeful for the future and working to do your absolute best, individually and collectively. If the leader in the situation has a positive attitude, then those that work beneath them likely will, as well.

Humility and Why It's Needed

This is something to really pay attention to, because so many leaders and others in positions of power forget it: Humility. While you might be “above” your employees or team in the chain of command, you should never forget that you are not above them as a person. You should also remember that, just because you are in charge, that doesn't mean that you alone can come up with new ideas. You are also not immune to mistakes. Acknowledging that, and keeping yourself humble, will make you a better leader.

Conclusion

Learning leadership skills will perhaps be the most helpful thing in your career, should you choose a role that requires you to lead. With these skills, inspiring, understanding, and working with others will be easier and more rewarding. You will also walk away with a better understanding of yourself as a leader, and as a person. Whatever your role might be, you will improve, and lead others to improve with you, as well.

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