Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, and throughout your career, you’ve no doubt witnessed a wide variety of leadership styles.
Different methods might prove effective for different circumstances, making it difficult to identify any one specific set of traits that make a great leader.
That said, if you’re looking to level up your leadership abilities, the list below of skills every leader should possess is a fantastic place to start.
1. Communication Skills
Communication is arguably the No. 1 skill every leader should possess.
If you want to be a successful leader, the ability to send and receive messages effectively is absolutely essential.
Communication comes up a lot on this site, and for good reason — it’s an essential skill for leaders and managers of all types.
For starters, leaders need to be able to communicate their vision and goals clearly to their team, and to anyone they might need to get onboard with their plans.
Establishing expectations and giving instructions are also important aspects of leadership and management, and doing so effectively begins with strong communications, as well.
Be clear and conscise.
Ambiguous or confusing messages tend to lead to frustration and can erode respect, so as the saying goes, say what you mean and mean what you say.
That goes for verbal and written communications.
Leaders also need strong listening skills — a highly underrated part of communication — in order to engage others, receive feedback, and create space for growth.
If you want to truly lead others, start by honing your communication skills.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Good leaders need emotional intelligence for a couple of important reasons.
First, leaders need to be aware of their own emotions and possess an ability to manage them.
An ability to stay calm under pressure, or remain level-headed in heated situations, can often come down to being in tune with one’s own emotions and managing them properly.
The second reason an effective leader should prioritize emotional intelligence is because it helps them relate to others on a deeper level.
Caring about those you are trying to lead, and understanding what motivates them in order to help them become their best, and creating a positive and productive work environment, all require a solid grasp of emotional intelligence.
Leaders absolutely need to be decisive.
Indecisive leaders, and those who do not establish goals and set forth a vision for their team, foster environments of uncertainty and confusion, a demotivating reality that often leads to poor morale and decreased productivity.
Making difficult decisions under pressure and with confidence is a learned skill, something that requires hands-on practice to achieve and pull off with grace and success.
Great leaders solicit input from their team and relevant experts before making decisions, and they weigh that information before landing on an answer.
It is often useful to be transparent about your decisions, as well, in order to gain and maintain the trust of respect of your team.
But at the end of the day, an effective leader must be decisive when necessary.
Similar to being decisive, problem-solving is a skill that will ultimately help a leader gain the respect and trust of others.
This doesn’t mean that, as a leader, you must solve every problem yourself.
An ability to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others is an excellent leadership trait that can help you solve problems quickly and efficiently.
5. Conflict Resolution
Conflict is a natural part of leadership, and no matter how effective you are at creating a positive environment for your team, conflict is inevitable.
Therefore, it’s important for all leaders to have some basic conflict management skills.
Work to prevent conflict, using that emotional intelligence and communication skills, but be prepared to resolve conflict when necessary.
Avoiding conflict is not always possible or healthy, but an ability to resolve conflict when it arises in a constructive and positive manner is a valuable leadership skill.
Part of being transparent with your team is being accountable for your actions.
Many leaders try to hide their mistakes, even going so far as to blame external factors — and sometimes even others on the team — when they mess up.
If you want to be a great leader, avoid shifting blame.
Own your mistakes and take responsibility for the consequences of your actions and your decisions.
It’s not always easy, or fun, but it is the best way to maintain buy-in from your team and maintain their trust and respect.
More Skills That Make Great Leaders
Here are some additional skills to consider working on if you want to become the best leader possible:
- Be open to new ideas: Remember, just because you are in a position of authority does not mean you will always have the best ideas.
- Be supportive: Cheer on your team, and make sure you’re there for them when things get tough.
- Be fair: Treat everyone equally, don’t play favorites, and remain consistent in your expectations of each member of your team.
- Be proactive: Anticipate issues and opportunities with equal measure.
- Be knowledgeable: Keep up with the latest info and trends in your industry or field.
- Be passionate: You can inspire others simply by being passionate about your work and your goals.
- Be organized: Leaders have many tasks on which to focus. Stay organized to stay on top of everything.
- Be humble: Avoid being too proud or arrogant if you want others to follow and respect you.
- Be positive: This doesn’t mean sugar-coating difficulties, but a negative attitude won’t often motivate others.
Resources for Becoming a Better Leader
There are many resources available to help you grow as a leader. Here are few to consider:
- The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential by John C. Maxwell: This book is a leadership classic and a must-read for anyone who wants to become a better leader. It covers the five stages of leadership development and provides practical advice for each stage. [Buy on Amazon]
- The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner: This book is a comprehensive guide to leadership development. It covers topics such as setting direction, inspiring others, and modeling the way. [Buy on Amazon]
- The Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook: Make an Impact, Inspire Your Organization, and Get to the Next Level by Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville: This book is a comprehensive guide to leadership development from the Harvard Business Review. It covers topics such as developing yourself as a leader, leading others, and leading in organizations. [Buy on Amazon]