Leadership is a skill that is used in every organization at every level. High-level executives, managers and contributors all use leadership to drive activities and projects forward. Whether you’re leading a team or a meeting, developing leadership skills that make you an effective leader is a goal you can strive for at any stage in your career. In this article, we’ll cover the various qualities that make a great leader and discuss ways you can improve your soft skills.
Key leadership qualities
While there are many different qualities that can contribute to a great leader, there are a few common ones that can be helpful when developing leadership skills:
It is important that leaders hold themselves and their teams accountable for the work each is responsible for. Ownership is a key part of leadership.
2. Active listening
Leaders may receive feedback from team members and they need to not only hear them but really listen. What is the person trying to tell you but may not be saying exactly? Leaders do well when they learn how to ask the right questions to find out helpful information.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” African Proverb. Many leaders need to collaborate across direct reports, the organization and outside the organization with vendors, third-party companies and contractors. It is key to find the common goal and create a partnership instead of unhealthy competition or confusion on responsibilities.
Leaders must have courage in many various instances, such as correcting behavior or making unpopular decisions.
Communicating in an articulate and positive style creates a clear path for the rest of the team, project or meeting you are leading to follow.
It is important for leaders to understand how the people around them are feeling about projects, decisions, morale, direction and company or team vision.
Working with a team of people means tasks, goals and responsibilities will shift. A flexible leader is able to adjust and maintain ownership of the team, project or meeting as needed.
Being clear on goals will help the rest of a leader’s team be efficient and focused.
9. Growth mindset
Leaders do well when they adopt a growth mindset. Circumstances often change from when a project, challenge or issue originally surfaced. Leaders have to take into consideration that technology may have evolved or personal issues may have arisen for their team. If they can keep a growth mindset and are willing to adapt, they can usually keep the project moving—even if adjustments need to be made.
Great leaders admit their mistakes and elevate those around them. Humility is essential when leading a team.
Leaders should be able to develop ideas, filter the ideas of others, solve problems and complete many other tasks that require innovation and creativity.
Teams are motivated by a drive towards a common goal. The leader of a team should be passionate about the goal, creating unity among their team to work together.
Mistakes, miscommunications and failures are inevitable. It is important for leaders to be patient and offer guidance through these times.
Developing problem-solving skills allows teams to move past roadblocks with minimal disruption.
Leaders bear the responsibility to improve the areas of the business or team that they own. This might mean creating new processes, hiring new people or changing the status quo.
Great leaders treat their teams with respect, gaining respect in return. They value feedback and want to hear the opinions of their teammates.
Being open and honest makes work more efficient and enjoyable.
Leadership requires delegation. When leaders trust their team to complete what they are assigned, it encourages positive morale and mutual respect.
Many leaders are leaders because they express the skills and knowledge required for a certain role in an organization or a specialty. Consider authors or keynote speakers. These “experts” need to possess the self-awareness to be able to hone in on what they really know, what they may not be an expert in and how to bring in that knowledge. It’s ok to not know everything and a leader relies on the other subject matter experts around them.
20. Hunger for knowledge
Leaders are effective and inspirational when they stay knowledgeable of moving trends and the topics they are leading. Not only does this help leaders hone their crafts and contribute to their purposes, but it also helps to inspire the team to continue learning too.
These are just a few important qualities found in great leaders. While these are all soft skills or “people skills,” having strong technical skills in your industry is also necessary when assuming a leadership position.
How to improve your leadership skills
Learning soft skills is not as straightforward as learning technical skills. While it does take time and practice, developing qualities that make you a great leader is possible. Here are a few tips for improving your leadership skills and qualities:
Identify your leadership style
While you will use different leadership styles in different situations, it can be helpful to define how you want to lead your team, projects or meetings.
Define areas of strength and areas for improvement
Take some to consider which qualities you have already honed and which you might need to focus on. Asking for professional feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors can help you identify strengths and weaknesses you might have missed. You may consider taking the CliftonStrengths Assessment by Gallup to help identify your top five strengths.
When you take the assessment, you will also receive a detailed report on how to utilize these strengths. Try not to worry too much about what you may consider your weaknesses or areas of improvement. You will also be able to identify ways you can work well with others and lead others who will have a different set of five top strengths.
Set goals to gain skills
Setting personal goals to improve your leadership skills by practicing the qualities of great leaders can provide a focused framework. Using SMART goals allows you to improve on specific qualities that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. SMART stands for:
Goal: I want to exercise more.
SMART Goal: I will add walking three times a week and yoga two times a week to my weekly schedule starting next week. Walking: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Yoga: Tuesday and Thursday. I will keep track of my exercise in my daily planner and look back in one month to see if this was realistic and achievable with my current schedule.
Setting a SMART goal also allows you a chance to see if the goal is something that is really doable. There is no judgment in the goal. If it turns out that you are not able to fit in walking three times a week and yoga two times a week, you can set a new SMART goal that feels a bit more realistic and attainable in your current situation.
Find a mentor
Identify a person who you feel is a great leader and whose actions you’d like to imitate. You might consider someone from your childhood that was a mentor without even being asked, like a teacher, coach, band instructor.
Ask them to be your current mentor or find a new one in an area that interests you. Use the opportunity to learn from them and adopt the qualities that make them effective. You can find mentors in your community through friends and family or even looking up experts or alumni on professional networking sites.
Becoming a great leader can take months, years or even decades. Some people dedicate their entire lives to becoming great leaders. Be patient and allow yourself to make mistakes. Great leaders make many mistakes, learn from them and improve over time.
Also, consider that you may be a different type of leader during different phases of your life. You may be a president of an organization in college, move into a volunteer position while working and then even lead your child’s school or hobby-related group. There are many ways to be a leader and the titles often don’t matter.
Paying attention to, honing in on and improving upon qualities that make you a great leader can help you on your career path. No matter your career level or industry, investing time to practice great leadership can lead to career advancement.