12 Most important leadership skills and abilities ·
What are the most important leadership skills and abilities? What leadership skills should I learn? I hear these questions quite often and here is one answer that has been working for me and many others quite well. This list might look a bit different than many others out there, as I aim to talk strictly about leadership skills and leave out anything that I consider being, for example, business or management skills.
Pure leadership skills (separated from management skills and business skills) are tied closely to the soft skills, traits and also character and mindset of a leader. Many of these leadership skills are not clear, singular things that you can just study and then execute, and most of them are used in combination with several other skills and abilities, as you will see below.
The ability to get your message through is the foundation of leadership. Every other skill needed is depending on your skill on being able to convey messages to people on different levels and on different mediums. Ability to communicate is needed for every influencing action of a leader, from one-to-one discussions and mentoring, to sales pitches and team meetings. Different sets of communication skills are also needed for addressing high-level customers or bigger crowds by spoken or written word. Communication is also the key for being able to tell people about your vision as a leader.
Communication is not a monologue, but a two-way street. Effective communication requires the ability to listen and understand the people around you and subsequently convey your messages on a way that will get through to them, and in the end move people. Communication also goes much deeper than the words, and being able to understand people’s deeper feelings on an individual and general human level is essential for leaders.
2. Ability to take ownership, bear responsibility and stay collected
Leaders must be able to take ownership of everything that happens in their companies, the good and especially the bad. They are the initiators of all the action, and in the end also the ones who see that the right things are getting done to support their vision and overall goals of the organisation. There is no limit for the responsibility of the leader regarding the organisation he leads, and this means that every employee and their every action is in the end under the ownership of the leader, and the leader is one who bears responsibility of all this towards the outside world. A good leader stands between his team and everyone else and is ready to take the punches, especially when the team falls short of expectations for one reason or another. It is in the end, leader’s responsibility to build and train a team that is capable of fulfilling all the expectations.
While controlling your emotions and staying collected under pressure might not be a clear skill, it is an ability that can be trained, and it is definitely required from a competent leader. In tough situations or crisis, leader’s presence and ability to stay calm is often the only thing keeping the team together working efficiently. Leaders are also often under heavy pressure due to responsibility they bear for their people, business and the results required from them. They should be able to control their emotions and not to take their frustrations, fears or anger to their teams (unless it serves a clear purpose, and is done intentionally and while in control of one’s emotions). Leaders also get into conflicts every now and then as they pursue their vision and goals, and being able to control your emotions and work through the conflicts is very helpful.
Leaders also must be able to handle certain amounts of uncertainty and tolerate risks, and all of this is also part of being in control of one’s emotions and staying collected.
3. Ability to Influence
Ability to influence people is closely related to the communication, but it is a leadership skill of its own, and it is probably the one that actually defines what leading is. Leading, in its purest form, is influencing people to move towards the direction that you want. For a business leader this direction is defined in your vision and goals. Your influencing skills can be used for motivating or inspiring your team members and getting them engaged to their work and to your organisation. It can be used to convince important customers, investors or other stakeholders to trust you and your business. Influencing is also a skill that can be used on different scales, from one-to-one discussions to speaking for larger crowds. It can be also used without direct contact, through your indirect messages, such as marketing, publications, company memos or videos.
4. Ability to understand and work with the Big Picture
Understanding the big picture of your business is absolutely essential for a leader. Your vision is tied to this big picture, as are your goals and priorities. The big picture gives your ability to understand the scale of things you are working with, and their inherent value for the company. Only when you see the big picture and understand how all its parts come together creating value for the company, you can set the right priorities for you own, and your organisations work.
5. Ability to create
Creativity is also one corner stone of leadership. This is probably one of the main things that separate great leaders at work from managers.
Good leaders are able to create visions and high-aiming goals for their businesses and people to work towards. No matter what level of an organisation you are leading, you should always aim to build your own vision for your part of the organisation and people you are leading. This vision should be a part of the overall vision of the company but adapted to match the everyday work of your people (unless you are in a position to actually set the vision for the whole company instead of just your own part of it).
Another part of the creativity is the problem-solving ability. Leaders solve problems on higher levels than regular employees, and their ability to solve problems can have a large scale impact on the whole company they are working in. Leaders’ problem-solving skills are not tied to just their own brainpower, but they encompass the ability to harness their whole organisation to solve the right, most impactful problems.
6. Decision-making skill
Decision-making is definitely an important leadership skill. The leaders are faced with different level decisions every day, and they must be able to make the best possible decisions with the resources that they have available. Leaders’ decision-making is not an individual feat of skill and brainpower, but it includes the ability to delegate the research, analysis and discussions to all the necessary people in leader’s domain. Good leaders also know when they have to decide by themselves, and when they should include the other stakeholders into a decision, either for their opinion, or even for their vote. However, no matter what kind of group is supporting the leader in the decision-making process, the leader is the one who bears the responsibility for the decisions once it is done.
7. Ability to create relationships
Most effective leadership is based on different levels of relationships that you cultivate with the people you lead. Without trusting and respectful relationship, the people will not willingly let you influence them, and thus they will not follow your lead. Only the most rudimentary levels of leadership rely on your positional power, meaning that people follow your commands only because they have to. The real, most effective leadership happens when people follow you willingly – not because they must, but because of what you do and what you are.
Besides the people in their own organisation, business leaders must also be able to build relationships with customers, business partners, investors, etc. This is an essential part of business and securing those important trusting relationships can make or break a company.
8. Collaboration & delegation
I enlist these two under the same umbrella, as they are both forms of collaboration.
Delegation is an essential skill for a leader, and it can be used for great effect: It will multiply the leader’s ability to get results done, and on the same time delegating will also empower the people working for the leader, and help them to create more value for the business and grow through the well chosen challenges. Delegating, when done well, is also a clear sign of trust and builds better relationships between the leader and team.
Collaboration in general is an absolutely necessity for the leader to master, and he should be able to collaborate with different stakeholders, and also instil beneficial collaboration between people both in his organisation and outside of it. Leaders bring the right people together in order to realise their vision and reach their goals.
9. Ability and will to improve people and business
Leader’s should be always looking for ways to improve everything around them, This is a leadership skill set that actually combines a couple of different skills and mindsets. These skills are integral tools for constantly moving towards leader’s vision for the business and people he is working with.
Coaching and mentoring are one of the keys for building great teams. According to the latest research, they play a significant role on keeping the employees engaged in their work through providing attention, feedback, and possibilities to learn and grow. According to Gallup (arguable the greatest workplace researcher in the world), the future of leaders is to be mentors and coaches for their people, instilling motivation and engagement and thus providing greater benefits for both, the employees and business.
The other part of leader’s continuous improvement skill set is the ability to improve the business the leader is leading. Leader’s vision should provide a direction where the business should be moving, and leader’s ability to move the business should provide the forward momentum.
This skill is also tied to positivity and giving hope: A leader who sees that everything can be improved never gets stuck on anything, but has a positive view on his and his company’s ability to take on challenges. “If we can’t do it today, we will get better and do it tomorrow.” The quote also shows that this is as much of a mindset (or attitude), as it is a skill.
I would also list ability to recognise potential in people and business situations to this skill, although it is often listed as a separate skill as itself.
10. Ability to adapt & situational awareness
This ability is also essential for being able to manage all the changing situations in everyday business. The things fail every now and then, regardless of your best efforts, and you have to regroup and rethink quickly to avert the looming crisis or grasp the new opportunity.
Situational awareness also means that you can detach from immediate action to look things from a further a way and understand the implications for the big picture. Some seemingly very urgent things might not be very important on a larger scale, and some not so urgent things might have a great impact for the company. Being able to recognise and analyse different situations and their criticality, scale and impact, and then act accordingly is a skill that the exceptional leaders have.
11. Integrity (ability to act consistently)
Integrity might not be a skill per se, but is an essential part of leader’s authenticity, trustworthiness, and consistency. When you have a clear set of healthy personal and business principles and you consistently act accordingly, the people around you can trust you, your decisions and judgement. When people know what your values and priorities are, and they know what to expect in different situations, they can work with confidence and trust that you will keep a steady course for the business and every day work. They will also know that your priorities, habits, operating model or requirements don’t change daily, and so they don’t have to do any guess work on how you will act and react on different days.
Integrity is also a great source of confidence for the leader himself. You don’t get easily confused, derailed or scared, when you know your values and principles, and can trust them to guide your decisions and actions.
12. Ability to lead
All the skills and abilities listed above, in the end, form an ability to lead. This is the end product of all the important leadership skills listed above, and thus, it is the most important leadership skill (or a skill set).
Good leaders lead with all their actions and skills, show high standards, and thus give an example for everyone else how to act and work. They get people engaged to their work, to their business, and in to their vision with their ability to lead. However, good business leaders don’t rely only on leadership skills to get their job done. Being a complete and strong leader goes much deeper and wider, encompassing leaders personality, traits, characteristics, and mindset. There are also several other skill sets that are required from a well-rounded business leader. You can check the whole big picture of what good leaders are made of in my previous article, “What are good leaders made of?”
Note about other skills of the leader: Business skills, management skills, industry related skills etc.: I have deliberately left out all the skills that could be categorised under the management skills (planning, execution, organising etc.), business skills (strategy, negotiations, high-level business transactions, such as acquisitions, mergers etc.) and industry related basic working skills (for example programming languages for developers, etc.). I also left out clear, but essential leadership characteristics and traits, such as grit (discipline), charisma, courage, positivity etc.
Most important leadership skills – summary
- Ability to take ownership, bear responsibility and stay collected
- Ability to influence
- Ability to understand and work with the big picture
- Ability to create
- Decision-making skill
- Ability to create relationships
- Collaboration and delegating skill
- Ability to improve people and business
- Ability to adapt & situational awareness
- Integrity (ability to act consistently)
- Ability to lead
Leadership & Career Management Blog
- Leadership Lessons – What leaders and managers actually do?
- 10 Top tips for job interviews
- Essential Leadership Skills: Say “No” -even to your boss
- 12 Most important leadership skills
- Essential Leadership Skills: What are good leaders made of?
- Career Management: Questions to ask in a job Interview
- Leadership Lessons: False beliefs and misconceptions about leaders and management careers
- Pursuing a leadership career – why should you lead?
- Essential Leadership Skills: Leading up
- Leadership Lessons: Your identity – you are not your title
- Essential Leadership Skills: How To Lead Remotely
- Essential Leadership Skills: Act Like a Leader
- Essential Leadership Skills: Influence from trust and respect
- Career Management: Choose your position wisely
- Career Management: Choose your company wisely
- Essential Leadership Skills: Decision-making
- Career Management: Career changes to different industries or areas of expertise
- Extreme morning routine for extraordinary results
- How to ask for a raise and negotiate salary – complete guide
- Essential Leadership Skills: Delegating
- Essential Leadership Skills: Employee Engagement
- How to ask for a promotion – complete guide
- Essential Leadership Skills: Crisis Management
- Do you know how amazingly costly it can be to deny a salary raise?
- 13 steps how to get a promotion to your first management position quickly
- 10 reasons why some people get promoted fast and often
- Take ownership of your work – Troubleshooting, Part 2
- Take ownership of your work and start to lead, Part 1
- Keys for building a management career: mentors, coaches and the people around you.