Almost every job posting for a project manager, operations head, or administrative coordinator lists leadership skills as a requirement. The same is true for those looking for a game producer, social media manager, or art gallery curator.
What exactly are these leadership skills? And why are they so desirable across so many jobs and industries?
The internet offers over 810 million results for the term “leadership skills.” These include comprehensive lists, skill-based theories, leadership strategies, and an assortment of colorful keynote infographics.
As expected, most of them have to do with work. Whether you’re currently working or just about to enter the workforce, there’s a lot of information to go around.
Many top universities actually offer a leadership course. In this post, we sift through all the information and give you all you need to know about leadership skills for today’s job market.
What Is Leadership?
Leadership — or rather, the defining trait of a good leader — is difficult to define. It can mean many things, depending on the situation. For example, there are political leaders, team leaders, band leaders, religious leaders, etc., each with their own idea of leadership.
A successful leader is generally thought to be an effective leader. They are able to lead and guide others to a desired result, through a combination of skill, ability, and overall influence.
To do this, leaders require two things — an inspiring vision and the management skills to move people towards that vision in the best way possible. Without a vision, the person would be more of a manager, making sure the day-to-day work gets done. But without management skills, the person would simply be a visionary, able to imagine a thrilling possibility but unable to bring it to reality.
Of course, the vision is important. No matter your intention or industry, the vision is the first step toward anything new, whether it’s a product, design, or way of doing things. Once you’ve established this vision, however, the following leadership skills are what you need to capably motivate your team and move them towards that vision.
Essential Leadership Skills
These fall into a few main categories: personality traits, communication skills, strategic thinking, people management, and change management.
By definition, leaders have to be someone worth following. They are typically passionate about what they do, confident in the way they do things, and charismatic enough that others are attracted to them. Other leadership traits include having integrity, a keen sense of intuition, and a positive attitude.
On a personal level, leaders also tend to be self-motivated, self-assured, and focused. Plus, they have high levels of emotional intelligence.
While communication is an important skill for anyone, it’s even more so for leaders. Leaders are in constant contact with so many people, ranging from personal to departmental to company-wide engagements.
Even if it doesn’t come naturally (in fact, many times, it doesn’t), a leader needs to practice developing a range of effective communication skills — public speaking, negotiating, relationship building, empathetic listening, and even clear, concise writing abilities.
This is the skill that sets leaders apart from others: the ability to see the bigger picture and take the necessary steps towards realizing that bigger picture. Now, this isn’t just an idea. A solid strategy is one that’s well-informed and founded on reliable sources. In addition to figures and facts, it also requires an understanding of economics, industries, and potential markets. Leaders take all these factors into consideration and weave together a game plan that will get them to the end goal.
A big part of a leadership role is the ability to build and manage a team of individuals to work together toward a common goal. Not only does it require leaders to articulate their vision and establish achievable goals, it also means they must provide followers with the proper direction and motivation to reach those goals. The two primary leadership skills needed for this are delegation and motivation.
Despite having a team at their disposal, some leaders have the tendency to take on too many tasks. They may prefer being hands on, fear that delegating is a sign of weakness, or feel solely responsible for all the actions in their team.
No matter what the reason, assigning the right tasks to the right person is a sign of a good leader. It shows that the leader really knows and trusts the team, can effectively motivate them to do their work, and is open to receiving feedback. Plus, properly delegated work and time management helps free up the leader for other more important tasks.
When it comes down to it, leaders aren’t anything without their followers. And while a fair salary and fun workplace are great, sometimes they aren’t enough. It’s important to offer other forms of motivation, such as recognition, rewards, increased autonomy, and room for growth.
To know what type of motivation will work best, a leader must be able to assess the interests of the team and individual team members. This will help them create a positive environment that fosters the team’s passion and potential.
The ultimate test of a leader is how they respond to the unexpected. Things won’t always go according to plan, especially in a team setting. These are, in fact, the times when great leadership is needed most.
Leaders are the ones who will make the big decisions — whether to give up, push forward, or chart a new course. For this, they need to adapt and pivot, and to do so with flexibility and an open mind.
When a sudden situation arises, the best leaders are called on to be comfortable with the risks and solve the problem quickly. And after they figure out the best solution, they must fully commit to the new vision and goal.
Ways to Develop Leadership Skills
You don’t need to be a manager or supervisor to exercise your leadership skills. They’re useful for those in any role. For example, you can help solve an ongoing problem in your department, give some motivation to a teammate, or offer a suggestion for an upcoming campaign. The following are a few things you can do to further your leadership development.
Take the Initiative
In time, your work days can seem a bit routine — you know what needs to be done and the tasks aren’t really challenging you anymore. This is the perfect time to pick up a few new leadership skills. Start by brainstorming some new ideas and expressing your eagerness to take on new responsibilities — even if they’re beyond your job description.
Find Leadership Activities Outside of Work
If you’d rather grow your skill set outside the office, there are several ways to do so. Take the lead in this month’s team building trip, organize an out-of-town vacation with family or friends, or volunteer at a local community organization — all great, fun ways to put some effective leadership skills into practice.
Learn From Leadership Resources
Why not try a little self-study? There are a lot of books on leadership — Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or Simon Sinek’s Start With Why are a few industry favorites. If you’d rather watch or listen, there are just as many videos and podcasts about leadership. Focus on a specific leader or leadership style you admire and learn how to apply those in your day-to-day life.
Pinpoint a Specific Skill
The list of leadership skills is long and honestly a bit overwhelming. Start by selecting a specific skill you want to develop (i.e., problem-solving, public speaking, decision-making) and think of ways to improve your skills in this area.
Find a Mentor
A mentor can help you shortcut the route to high-level leadership skills. Their real-life knowledge and experience can be more personal and practical, and having someone to hold you accountable is a good guarantee you’ll stay on course. Look for a great leader with the style and skills you admire — even if they’re from a different industry — and ask if it’s possible for them to mentor you on a weekly or monthly basis.
Following the Leader
A strong leader inspires their team with a vision, gives people direction, and empowers them to work together. So whether you’re leading a multinational corporation or a marketing project, leadership skills play a key role — to effectively guide individuals towards a common goal. Try applying a few of these skills and see how they can help you take the lead in your own work day.