The ability to lead effectively is based on a number of key skills. These skills are highly sought after by employers as they involve dealing with people in such a way as to motivate, enthuse and build respect.
Here at SkillsYouNeed you'll find numerous pages to help you understand and develop your leadership potential.
Leadership roles are all around us, not just in a work environment. They can be applied to any situation where you are required to take the lead, professionally, socially and at home in family settings. Ideally, leaders become leaders because they have credibility, and because people want to follow them.
Two questions which are often asked are what exactly is a leader? And how is it different from being a manager? Take a look at our pages ‘What is a Leader?’ and ‘Leadership is not Management’ to find out more. Many people also wonder if leadership can really be taught. People with vested interests (academics and those offering leadership training or literature of some sort) are convinced that it can. Many successful leaders, however, have never had any formal training. For them leadership is a state of mind, and it is their personalities and traits that make them successful leaders. See our page Leadership Trait Theory for more.
One of the most important aspects of leadership is that not every leader is the same. Of course we have all heard jokes about ‘mushroom’ leadership (keep them in the dark and feed them on manure) and ‘seagulls’ (swoop in, squawk, and drop unpleasant things on people), but joking aside, there are many different styles of leadership. They are appropriate for different people and different circumstances, and the best leaders learn to use them all. See our pages on Leadership Styles and Developing Your Leadership Style for more.
You can of course learn about effective leadership skills and practices but being able to implement them yourself may require an altogether different set of skills and attitudes. The question “Can leadership be taught?” has no simple answer and we do not want to argue for one side or the other, but rather keep an open mind on the subject and provide information about the skills good leaders need.
Skills A Good Leader Needs
Perhaps the most important skill a leader needs is to be able to think strategically. Leadership is all about having a vision of where you want to be and achieving this vision. See our page on Strategic Thinking Skills for more.
Alongside strategic thinking go organising and action planning, both essential for delivery of your vision and strategy, and risk management to help you avoid things going wrong, and manage when they do.
Leaders also need to be able to make good decisions in support of their strategy delivery. See our Decision Making pages on for further information and guide to effective decision making.
Along the way to achieving the vision the leader will come upon many problems. Effective problem solving is therefore another key leadership skill. With a positive attitude, problems can become opportunities and learning experiences, and a leader can gain much information from a problem addressed. See our Problem Solving pages for more about solving problems effectively.
Leaders also need to be very organised on a personal level, and able to manage themselves and their time, so that they can spend time doing what they need to do, and not on other tasks. See our page on Time Management for more information.
As well as organising their time and their teams, leaders need to spend a bit of time on themselves, and particularly on their self-motivation. A leader who lacks self-motivation will struggle to motivate others, as people are quick to detect a lack of sincerity. See our pages on Self-Motivation for more about this.
Another area which is crucial for leaders is skills in leading people. After all, without followers, there are no leaders. Leaders need skills in working with others on a one-to-one and group basis, and a range of tools in their armoury to deal with a wide range of situations.
One of the first skills that new leaders need to master is how to delegate. This is a difficult skill for many people but, done well, delegation can give team members responsibility and a taste of leadership themselves, and help them to remain motivated. See our pages on Delegation Skills, Motivating Others, and Creating a Motivational Environment for more.
Leaders also need to know how to give others their views on personal performance in a way that will be constructive rather than destructive, and also hear others’ opinions of them. See our page on Giving and Receiving Feedback for more. They then need tools to help them understand the way that others behave, and create positive interactions. See our page on Transactional Analysis for one such tool.
Finally, leaders have to be able to work well in group situation. See our pages on Working in Groups for general information, and pages on What are Groups and Teams? for an introduction to the topic. However, leaders spend much of their time in one particular group situation, meetings, so they need to have particular skill in chairing and managing meetings. See our page on Conducting a Meeting for more.
There are a number of personal qualities which leaders tend to display. However, for all that this description implies that these qualities are intrinsic, they can be developed and improved over time.
These qualities include charisma, that quality of ‘brightness’ which makes people want to follow a leader, assertiveness, which enables that person to make their point without aggression, but firmly, and empathy, understanding of how others feel.
One way to understand leadership qualities is in terms of Emotional Intelligence, an umbrella term that describes how well we relate to others and to our own feelings. See our page on Emotional Intelligence for more.
Leaders also need finely-honed communication skills. These skills are general interpersonal skills, not specific to leadership, but leaders tend to show high levels of skill at communicating.
Good leaders tend to be extremely good listeners, able to listen actively and elicit information by good questioning. They know how to build rapport quickly and effectively, to develop good, strong relationships with others, whether peers or subordinates. They are usually very good at public speaking, equally skilled at getting their point across in a formal presentation or Board meeting, or in an informal meeting or casual corridor conversation. They have strong negotiation skills, in the broadest sense, in terms of reaching win-win situations and making sure that they know their ‘bottom line’. They have also honed their ability to communicate in difficult situations, usually by practice over time.