To most organisations, leadership is about being in a position of authority, with assertiveness and strategy that focus on results. The expectation is to possess a number of job-specific leadership and management skills known as hard skills that get the job done right.
But that is only one half of the equation. The other half states that leadership is also about being a person in charge who exhibits kindness, compassion and empathy towards their co-workers and employees. These are known as soft skills.
In fact, leaders who hone their soft skills are more open to learning and welcome feedback to grow in their leadership role. They acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and believe that those around them can enhance their knowledge and learning and enable them to lead even more effectively.
The ideal equilibrium is to possess a balance of both hard and soft skills for leadership and management positions. Exceptional leaders not only provide vision but also set the tone for their teams and organisation. They use their critical thinking capabilities to work out problems, manage and assign workloads, and guide the organisation towards its goal.
Great leaders excel at communicating, collaborating, and making decisions all at the same time.
However, possessing such leadership skills are not exclusive to management only, but to all employees. Whether you’re moving up the ladder within your company, pursuing new opportunities in a different organisation or are already at the top, all leaders can do with upgrading their current skill set. They can do so by signing up for different leadership and management courses, attending seminars and conferences, or enrolling in on-demand courses that promote learning as a continuous habit.
So, what does excellent leadership look like? And how exactly do you develop these leadership skills?
Establishing an effective leadership strategy involves developing leadership skills that increase employee retention, boosts company morale, and lays down a vision for the company. Here are the top 6 ways you can try to upgrade your leadership and management skills.
1. Engage in effective communication
The terms ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. For instance, if a leader brings vision to an organization, a manager executes that vision into action. Both roles, however, need effective communication.
You could be the most stellar performer in the building, or hold the most important position around, but if you can’t communicate your ideas well, your performance or position won’t amount to much. On the other hand, being able to communicate well gives you the power and credibility to implement your objectives well.
Broadly speaking, communication involves public speaking, written communication, and general communication. Because a leader’s role involves exchanging information within the organisation, among clients, partners, and other stakeholders, a good leader needs to be proficient in all these areas.
Another aspect of effective communication is active listening. As a leadership skill, active listening provides instant gratification to employees, clients, and other stakeholders making them feel that their perspective is being heard, accepted, and understood.
In the broader picture, active listening encourages employee engagement at all levels of the organisation. When employees feel heard, understood, and respected they align better with the business’s vision and foster a higher level of trust within the organization.
2. Become a delegator
It’s important to realize that no single leader can do all things at all times. Instead, good leaders learn to delegate effectively. Delegation in leadership not only helps get things done, but also empowers employees by giving them greater autonomy.
Greater employee autonomy advocates creativity, intellectual stimulation, and motivation. It serves as an instrument for boosting team morale, efficiency, and organisational performance. A Gallup survey found that companies led by strong CEO delegators achieved a higher overall growth rate as compared to others whose CEOs were hesitant to delegate.
As you delegate, it’s also important to not micromanage. Typically, micromanagement is a way for management to ensure that tasks get performed in a very precise manner. But micromanagement not only drains trust, confidence, and freedom on the employees’ part, it also fosters employee dependency and burnout on your part.
Most people don’t take well to being micromanaged and many prefer to quit instead.
3. Sharpen your critical thinking skills
Critical thinking is a requisite for high profile jobs. It refers to an objective way of thinking where individuals assess situations and act accordingly. Critical thinking is applicable wherever there is a need to resolve a challenge. This can happen regularly in all workplaces and at all levels of leadership.
Leaders have to face challenging situations all the time from everyday strategic choices to conflict resolution. Many of these scenarios require both insight and foresight; the former to deal with current issues and the latter to prepare wisely for the future. This makes critical thinkers inquisitive, looking for ways to find the what and why behind every proposition.
A leader with critical thinking ability is able to think clearly and rationally. This includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Such leaders understands the logical connection between ideas and know the triviality of arguments. They can detect mistakes or inconsistencies in reasoning and are good at making the right decisions.
4. Identify your leadership style
Every successful leader has their own distinct style in how they provide direction, motivate people, and implement plans. Some leaders may be assertive, forceful communicators while others listen first before making decisions.
Identifying your leadership style can help you improve it and become a better leader. Knowing whether you inspire or intimidate as a leader can make all the difference between helping your team grow with you or making employees run to another organisation.
Leaders who inspire are more relaxed in their approach and open to doing things differently. They favour empowering their people and encourage a learning environment. Such leaders deliver better results over a longer period.
Others who intimidate are often in a hurry to achieve results and feel frustrated by the lack of control they have over their team. Such leadership may be able to coerce success due to their aggressive demeanour, but it is often short-lived success.
To identify your leadership style, assess whether you praise or criticize your staff more. Look at the effect you have on your team’s morale and consider factors that typically drive your choices. Whether it’s determination or impulsiveness that shape your actions or are you more patient when resolving an issue?
5. Address leadership skill gaps
Organisations today expect a lot from their leaders. They need to be accomplished at solving problems, inspiring and motivating employees, foreseeing and managing changes, and understand the intricacies of the industry, business, and market. But with all the pressures that leaders and managers have to deal with it’s no surprise that shortcomings in their performance can surface.
One of the best ways to become an effective leader is to identify your weaknesses and figure out how to correct these.
Tackling skill gaps with leadership training can help improve your skillset and become a better leader. Being able to understand your shortcomings and how they will affect your leadership role is as effective as knowing your strengths.
Leaders who don’t possess the right skills to lead their organisation have a damaging downstream effect for their business. When leaders have larger skill gaps than the people they lead, problems will persist throughout the organisation.
To bridge the leadership skill gap, leaders and managers can enrol in learning programs. They can attend training and workshops, try leadership and management courses online, cover specific topics such as critical thinking, emotional thinking, or active listening or have a broader spectrum, such as general management skills.
6. Reward and recognise
Great leaders make other people feel important and appreciated. In fact, successful leaders excel at providing opportunities to reward and recognise their team.
Creating positive employee engagement involves inspiring others to follow. This means developing a relationship with team members where employees want to accomplish and achieve beyond what they are assigned.
While monetary compensation is the expected way to acknowledge performance in the form of a pay check, it doesn’t necessarily add value to work. An employee can earn the same amount of money with you as with your competitor, but when it comes to career advancement and personal growth, not all leaders are created equal. Financial remuneration only provides physical security but great leaders know that awarding respect, recognition and self-fulfilment are equally important.
For this, receiving recognition for going the extra mile is a lasting achievement that offers fulfillment to people passionate about their jobs. Another Gallup poll on employee recognition states that leaders’ response to someone’s strengths and weaknesses directly affects levels of engagement and disengagement on the job.
While some people seem to be born with innate leadership qualities, others may need to learn these skills. Fortunately, many of these can be learned as becoming a great leader is a never-ending process that requires constant commitment.
Leadership skills can be developed through practice, proper implementation, and monitoring better outcomes.