leadership skills

The 8 Most Important Leadership Skills You Need

Leadership skills play a huge role in your professional development.

The technical skills that you have will only go so far, developing some soft skills will help you be a good leader.

Leadership is something that takes time to get good at, and something that requires a lot of practice.

Leading a team is a tough thing to do, and requires a robust skill set to ensure your team’s success.

Building these skills will make you a stronger leader.

If you want your team to be successful, you need to learn how to handle all of the different issues that come up, like inter-team problems, introverts vs extroverts, putting out fires, etc.

Let’s go through the different skills that you need to be a better leader, along with some tips on how to develop each of these skills.

Leadership Skills You Need

  1. Being Self-Aware

    Being self-aware is the most important skill to build, and it’s the one that I’d recommend building first.

    Without this skill, you’ll have a much harder time developing the other skills on this list.

    Without understanding yourself, you can’t improve yourself.

    According to Daniel Goleman, the godfather of emotional intelligence, self-awareness is the core of EQ.

    Self-awareness leads to self-regulation (one of Goleman’s five components of emotional intelligence) and empathy, which are key traits to positively influence those around you.

    Self-awareness also helps you make decisions, which is something leaders need to be able to do well and quickly.

    When you’re aware of yourself, you’re more comfortable and confident with each decision you make.

    Self-awareness also allows you to understand your strengths and weaknesses so that you know where to focus your time and energy.

    How To Build This Skill
    • Practice mindfulness regularly, it has been shown to be linked to self-awareness
    • Keep track of things to optimize your habits. By taking time to note things throughout the day, you’ll train yourself to be more self-aware
  2. Trustworthiness

    Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy writes in her book “Presence” that when people first meet you, they ask themselves two questions right away:

    1. Can I trust this person?
    2. Can I respect this person?

    In her research, she found that in professional settings people believe that being respected is more important, because we want to appear smart and knowledgeable enough.

    But Cuddy says that being trusted is the most important factor for how people evaluate you. They want to know if they can trust you.

    Even if you’re the smartest person in the room, if people don’t trust you, they won’t respect anything you’re saying.

    How To Build This Skill
    • You’ve got to give it to get it. Show your team that you trust them by giving them freedom and autonomy.
    • Open up and share a personal story to help people get to know the real you. That vulnerability will help people see you as trustworthy.
    • Spend more time with your team, like eating lunch with them, or going to work events. As you spend more time with them, you’ll get to know them and build that trust.
  3. Empathy

    I believe that empathy is the most important skill to build, whether you’re a leader or not.

    If there was more empathy in leadership, the employee engagement problem would go away.

    At the end of the day, employee engagement comes down to treating your team with respect. In order to treat your team with respect, you have to understand them.

    Building empathy will help you understand your team.

    A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathy is positively related to job performance.

    The study found that leaders who show more empathy to their team are viewed as better leaders.

    How To Build This Skill
    • Listen more than you speak. There’s a famous saying that goes “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
    • Put yourself in their shoes. Try to think about what people on your team might be going through. Take time to do this to build that skill.
  4. How To Delegate

    This is a difficult skill to develop, because most of us have a problem letting go of control, but this is an important skill to have to earn respect from your team.

    As a leader, you need to learn how to give up that control. While it might be tough for you to do, the damage it’s doing to the morale of your team is huge.

    People need autonomy to be motivated at work and to feel like they’re making real progress.

    Even worse, when a leader says they’ll give autonomy and don’t or delegate and then jump in mid-way or towards the end of a project, it ruins motivation very quickly.

    If you say you’re going to delegate, then you need to actually do it.

    The Progress Principle and the power of small wins are important concepts that leaders need to be fully aware of.

    How To Build This Skill
    • Learn how to let go. Understand that you might not always be right and have all the answers. Like Steve Jobs said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
    • If you want your people to grow you need to let them see projects through from beginning to end.
  5. Giving Feedback

    We’ve written a lot about how to give feedback to your team because it’s one of the most important things to do, but one of the hardest things to get right.

    People react differently to different things based on their personality, and so leaders need to be mindful of this and be a little more sensitive with their feedback.

    The keys to remember when giving feedback are:

    • Focus on the behavior, not the person
    • Be specific and clear
    • Give feedback in real-time
    How To Build This Skill
    • Practice makes perfect. The more you give feedback, the better you’ll get with it.
    • Be open and honest, don’t do the feedback sandwich.
    • Use one-on-one meetings as a structured way to give feedback.
  6. Receiving Feedback

    Arguably more important than how you give feedback, is how well you’re able to take it.

    Hopefully, you don’t get defensive and react negatively.

    Smart leaders understand that they need to constantly grow and get better, and receiving constructive feedback is the easiest way to figure out how you can optimize your behavior for your team.

    A question you should be asking yourself is, do people on your team give you feedback?

    If not, then you need to figure out why? Do they feel comfortable? Do you encourage them to give feedback? You should. It will help you grow and become a better leader.

    How To Build This Skill
    • Actively solicit feedback from your team. Tell everyone on the team that you want them to give you feedback.
    • Listen, don’t speak. Your first reaction will be to defend yourself. Just listen and understand.
    • Ask followup questions to get more details like “Just to make sure, when I did X, you felt…”
  7. Communication Skills

    Leaders need to have incredible communication skills. Think about all of the different scenarios that require leaders to communicate effectively:

    • Sharing the vision of the future
    • Motivating the team
    • Sharing bad news in a gentle way
    • Communicating when someone has been fired or quit
    • Communicating with investors/stakeholders

    Some of the biggest issues in the workplace come from lack of communication or miscommunication, so improving your communication skills is so important.

    How To Build This Skill
    • Work on your body language. It’s amazing how much body language can affect how you communicate.
    • Speak clearly, slowly, and try your best to avoid filler words like “um” and “like”.
    • Watch your tone of voice and make sure that you’re using a calm, peaceful tone.
  8. Consistency

    A study from Michigan State University found that having a boss that’s unpredictable is too stressful for them to handle.

    In the study, 100 workers in different companies filled out surveys over three weeks about their perceptions of fairness. Employees that had unpredictable managers were more likely to be stressed, dissatisfied, and emotionally drained at work.

    You need to stay consistent with what you say over time, otherwise your trust and respect will start to disappear.

    How To Build This Skill
    • Set clear expectations with your team from the beginning.
    • Communicate a lot with your team to make sure they’re constantly in the loop.

What Leadership Skills Do You Think Are Important?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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