Leadership skills

What makes a good leader?

One of the most important aspects to being a leader is constant learning. The best leaders never stop learning. But what leadership skills do you really need?

The fact that you are reading this, means that you are already one step closer to becoming a better leader.

If you Google the question above you get 41, 500, 000 results. There is a staggering amount of information out there. In this ultimate guide to leadership skills we aim to help you navigate this huge topic and give you insight into the qualities, habits and styles of a leader plus look at the world’s most taught leadership tool.

In our blog post, People Management Skills – The Ultimate Guide to Managing People, we look at the differences between leader and manager. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the differences before you set out on developing the right leadership skills. Of course leadership and management need to go hand-in-hand, but knowing when to lead and when to manage is the difference between a good leader and a great leader.

Which area of leadership should we focus on?

Leadership takes many forms and can mean different things. For example, we can look to history and some of the most passionate political leaders such as; Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi. We can also look to the world of sport with such figureheads as; Sir Alex Ferguson (Football), Seve Ballesteros (Golf – Ryder Cup) and Graham Henry (Rugby). And of course we have to consider the world of business and the dozens of men and women who have created or transformed giants –  Steve Jobs (Apple), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Richard Branson (Virgin) to name but a few.

The names of each of the people listed above instantly conjure up images of success, passion, optimism and vision. As a manager or leader you can, and should, aspire to create your own image for the people and team you lead every day.

So to keeps things relevant for this blog post, we will focus on the importance of leadership skills, habits, attitude, qualities and style in the work place.

What habits should an effective leader have?

As a leader you will have followers and as a leader you will have expectations of what you want to see from those people; loyalty, trust, passion, courage, communication, decision-making.

What part do you play in helping them meet your expectations?

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action deftly explains that if you want people to display positive and productive behaviours they need to know not just what you do, but WHY you do it.

If you want to inspire your team to be the best they can be, start showing them why you do it.

This excellent infographic succinctly shows five habits an effective leader should pursue to develop, improve and maintain. Forming good habits isn’t easy, it takes time and a concerted effort. Habits are something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it.  You will need to develop a higher level of self-awareness and a willingness to actively seek feedback. Our excellent CPD accredited Leadership programme can help you reach your goals faster.

habits of an effective leader

What leadership skills do you need?

A good place to think about what leadership skills you need do this simple exercise: Think of a great boss you’ve had the past and list why you felt they were – what did they do? What did they say? How did they behave? What did you learn from them?

You will probably come up with a list of words and phrases like, “I felt motivated and empowered”, “I trusted him/her to support me and even fight my corner”, “They delegated well and made sound decisions”, “He was always positive” and “She gave me constructive feedback that helped me grow.”

Now, do the same exercise for your experience of a bad boss. Not such a rosy picture is it? I’m sure you’ll find that the way he or she made you feel was the mirror opposite of the phrases above.

Tip: Using the exercise above try and identify the top 10 leadership skills that resonate with you.

leadership skills

Unsure if you need Leadership Skills training? See how you measure up using our competency grid.

If you’ve been told to think more strategically as a leader, our blog on this very subject with it’s easy to use tool is a great place to start.

What style of leadership should you adopt?

Answer: All of them

OK that’s unrealistic as there are as many approaches to leadership as there have been leaders. If we consider the list of people earlier in this post, you may be able to assign some general leadership skills and traits to them but not put your finger on a definitive leadership style.

…but it pays to have a good understanding of the numerous different styles, these include; Autocratic, Democratic, Laissez-faire, Strategic, Transformational, Transactional, Charismatic…and many, many more!

Let’s touch on three of the most commonly known styles;





One area that is worthy of note and of further reading is emotional intelligence in leadership. Daniel Goleman was a science journalist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioural sciences. He published his first book on emotional intelligence in 1995 but it was his book Primal Leadership that identified that effective leaders know the science behind their behaviours.

If there is one thing we can all probably agree on (and have possibly experienced) is that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ style does not work and this is due to one very important reason; workplace diversity.

leadership skills

Workplace diversity refers to the variety of differences between people in an organization. It includes; race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, function, education and background.

Diversity also means how people perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. Our perceptions affect our interactions.

Now put all of that into the context of leadership and you should see the importance of knowledge and flexibility in your style of leadership.

So perhaps a better question is; what style of leadership do you use in any given situation?


Other great resources to explore



Simon Payne

About Simon Payne

Simon has 30 years business experience with 14 years of that as a business owner, trainer and facilitator in Learning and Development. He is passionate about the development of people and works as a freelance consultant and writer.

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