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8 Effective Skills to Help You Become a Better Leader

Whether you’re responsible for leading a team, a department or an entire company, developing effective management skills creates a positive experience for employees and successful outcomes for your organization. Even if you’ve been managing teams for several years, developing and refreshing your skill set can help you become a more productive leader. While every leader is different, there are several signs of effective leadership, which show up as specific skills.

Here are seven crucial leadership skills that will help you learn how to be a good leader.

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1. Interpersonal communication

Working on your communication skills is important when you’re figuring out how to be a great leader. Interpersonal communication includes everything you use to communicate with other people, not just your words.

Your tone, body language, facial expressions and hand gestures also impact how your employees receive the verbal messages you give them. Remember, employees infer meaning from your verbal and non-verbal signals, and it’s critical to remain aware of both when you’re addressing your team.

Example: If you’re kicking off a complicated project with your team and you want to help motivate them for the tasks ahead, it’s important to deliver the message using a positive, upbeat tone, a smile and words like “opportunity,” rather than “challenge.” Using positive, enthusiastic gestures and maintaining eye contact with your team can also help drum up support for the new project.

2. Active listening

Another crucial communication skill every leader should embrace is active listening—in other words, listening carefully to the message the other person is delivering and retaining the information they share. This can help you better understand each team member’s personal needs, challenges and concerns, so you can be proactive in addressing them. It also helps you build rapport and leave a positive impression.

Active listening doesn’t mean you always have to agree or give your employees what they ask for, but showing that you’re listening, instead of just brushing them off, can help build relationships with your employees.

Example: If a team member shares they want to take on more creative projects, and you begin delegating more creative assignments to them, it shows you’re listening to their needs and care about their fulfillment at work.

3. Goal setting

One of the most challenging obstacles leaders face is unifying their team around a common purpose and driving cooperation. Setting clear, measurable goals help teams work together, and getting employees involved in setting goals can get them to invest more in achieving them.

You also need to communicate those goals clearly and ensure everyone understands their part in accomplishing them. When they achieve their objective, it helps them bond over a shared success.

Example: Instead of telling your team you want to increase revenue this quarter, set an exact goal with a measurable number. Then, lay out a clear roadmap for reaching it. This way, your team knows what’s expected and can unite to meet the objective. You might also get input from your employees to see what they think is a reasonable revenue goal.

4. Diplomacy

As a leader, it’s critical that you’re able to simultaneously support company goals and your team’s needs. Achieving this balance means maintaining good relations with senior stakeholders and the people you’re managing through open communication with both parties.

You might also need to use diplomacy when negotiating with outside vendors to ensure your organization comes out well while maintaining a positive relationship with the other company. To be diplomatic, you need to think before you speak, have patience and show respect to the other people involved.

Example: In some cases, reaching a company goal may mean asking your team to increase their output by working extended hours. In this situation, you may choose to negotiate performance-based bonuses for each team member. This not only helps the company by ensuring your team is motivated to meet their goal, but it also shows your team you value their extra efforts.

5. Conflict Resolution

Sometimes, conflicts arise between employees or departments, and it’s up to those in management positions to ease tensions and unify the workforce. This requires patience, consistent communication and immediate action.

Quickly addressing any conflicts will ensure a positive work environment for everyone involved. Learning specific de-escalation techniques and conflict management skills can help you navigate these situations. Teaching those skills to your team can help them solve many problems without your involvement.

Example: If two employees have different opinions about the best way to handle a project and begin to divide the team, it’s crucial to step in and close the gap. Listening to both sides and mediating a compromise between the employees will help everyone move forward.

6. Motivation

Stress and heavy workloads can affect team morale and threaten productivity. As the manager, you’re responsible for monitoring motivation levels and the well-being of your team. To effectively motivate your team, it’s important to set a good example and empower them to achieve personal objectives, and let employees work autonomously instead of micromanaging. Take time to learn each employee’s ambitions, and then help them gain the skills they need to reach those goals.

Example: If you know an employee is interested in pursuing a senior role, allow them to lead meetings and projects, so they can develop their leadership skills.

7. Decisiveness

Leaders are responsible for making many decisions, often with a quick turnaround time. These range from big decisions, such as hiring a new team member, to small choices, such as selecting a meeting time. The faster and more active you are in your decision-making, the better you’ll be able to earn your team’s trust and confidence.

To improve this skill, it’s essential to collect the information you need quickly, weigh potential outcomes and trust your experience and instincts as your guides. You might also need to admit when you make wrong decisions occasionally.

Example: If you’re deciding between two possible candidates for an open position on your team, you’ll want to consider their experience and skills, as well as how their personality traits align with the company culture.

8. Empathy

You may think of having empathy as having lots of emotions or even a weakness. But empathy can make you a strong leader with employees who respect you and feel respected in return. When you’re an empathetic leader, you tune into your team’s thoughts, feelings and needs and understand how those things might affect their performance.

That doesn’t mean you let your employees get away with things just because they’re having a bad day, but you might look for ways to support them when they’re going through a difficult time to ensure they can get their work done.

Example: If an employee loses a loved one, you can be an empathetic leader by giving them your sympathies and assuring them they can have the necessary time off work. You might also help get their workload covered while they’re gone. On a daily basis, empathy might include recognizing the signs of employee burnout and talking to them about it or adjusting their workload.

FAQs about effective skills to be a better leader

Why do you need to improve your leadership skills?

Leaders should always work on improvement, even if they’re already successful. All people have room for improvement, regardless of what stage they’re in when it comes to their careers. As the leader, you set the tone for your team. As you learn how to be a better leader, you also give your employees the tools they need to succeed in their roles by modeling successful behavior, and it can inspire them to become better leaders as well.

How can you improve your leadership skills?

If you’re not sure how to become a better leader, start with a self-evaluation to determine how well you’re doing with different leadership skills. Identify the skills you want to improve based on that reflection, and make a conscious effort to improve in those areas. For example, if you need to work on active listening, be aware of how well you’re doing with listening in every interaction you have, even those outside of work. You can also ask your employees or acquaintances for feedback on specific skills. They might have insight that can help you improve. For some skills, such as conflict resolution, you can take classes to learn specific skills and strategies. Practice implementing the skills you learn as you interact with your team.

What else can you do to become a better leader?

Some other things you can do to become a better leader include:

  • Continue learning through additional degrees or training programs.
  • Find a mentor who embodies the type of leadership you want to display and learn from them.
  • Ask for feedback regularly from other leaders and your employees.
  • Evaluate your leadership style to understand what works best for you, and identify potential problems with how you lead.
  • Experiment with new things all the time to find the best strategies for you.
  • Understand the expectations of your role to help you determine if you’re meeting them.

Can you learn leadership skills if you don’t have them?

Many leadership skills are traits people inherently have, such as empathy and decisiveness. Even if you don’t feel like you have those characteristics, you likely have at least a little inside you. Focusing on bringing them to the surface and strengthening them can help. Other skills, such as communication and active listening, are things you can develop. You can break them down into smaller skills that you learn to improve overall.

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