Leadership Skills Ultimate Guide | Leadership Styles and Qualities
By Jacky Clarke
By Jacky Clarke
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of leadership is; “The action of leading a group of people or an organisation” or “The state or position of being a leader”. However, in the 21st Century, this seems a bit outdated. For instance, people are now encouraged to be leaders at every level rather than just being in a position of leadership. A great metaphor for understanding leadership is:
The intrepid explorer strides through the jungle chopping his path. Busy pushing, challenging, and make ground. The intrepid explorer who is a leader, climbs the tree to look over the jungle to understand whether he is going in the right direction. there are many qualities of being a leader, but the key one is to lead, and to lead you need to know where you want to get to.
Before setting off to develop your skills, it is important that you understand the in’s and out’s of leadership skills. And in our Ultimate Guide to People Management Skills, we look at the differences between a leader and a manager.
In this Ultimate Guide, we aim to help you navigate this huge topic and give you insight into the qualities, pitfalls and different approaches. Furthermore, we will advise you on the best reading material to further develop your knowledge of Leadership and to understand your leadership style.
This Ultimate Guide to Leadership Skills will deliver answers and understanding to the following. You can jump to the sections with the links below:
In the modern business world, leadership skills relate to the effective allocation of resources in order to best meet the mission, the overall objective of the organisation. The skill part of leadership comes into how this is achieved.
Effective leadership skills are a balancing act between having a long-term vision and strategy for the future, and the soft skills to inspire, delegate, empower and communicate to bring the most important part of any organisation, the people, along with us. Ultimately, it’s about encouraging people to be great! Your leadership style is a summary of the combination of leadership behaviours that you demonstrate.
Over the last 10 years, the internet has been populated with more and more posts about the difference between being a ‘boss’ and being a ‘leader’. This change is an interesting area to explore as the workplace moves into a more millennial-focused workforce (by 2025 – 75% of the workforce will be millennials).
Being a leader and being aware of your leadership style is now for everyone that wishes to progress. Leadership is no longer the skill of those on the top floor, and now a requirement of almost everyone. Leadership is now the choices you make to, for example, take part in the negative company gossip, or not. This is a personal choice and a ‘good leader’ would choose not to and even more so, encourage others not to either, and then to turn the conversation to a positive and constructive on.e
Boss or Leader? Which one are you?
The millennial generation has grown up with more freedom and less authority. Having grown up in a connected society allowing more freedom and individual expression than ever before, millennials have subsequently developed into workers that do not like rigid rules. Consequently, they will not follow a manager just because they are told to. This means that leaders need to earn the respect of their people. Additionally, they need to constantly develop their skill set to make sure they are focusing on what is important to the workforce. Typically, most millennials want the freedom to be creative, a great work-life balance, a strong company culture and to be connected to people all of the time.
This is a question that is asked often in businesses. The answer is never simple. Some people are born with a greater ability to get people to listen to them or follow their ideas. Without a doubt, the skills it takes to be a great leader can be learnt during life. Some people, however, just have to work a little harder than others at developing different skills.
Psychology Today agrees: The best estimates offered by research is that leadership skills are about one-third born and two-thirds made. Being able to accurately size up social situations and understand social processes does, without a doubt, make it easier to learn how to be a good leader.
In short, leadership is about:
Below is a sample of our free Leadership Skills Infographic. Click the image for the full higher-resolution downloadable version:
Knowing that two-thirds of being a leader is learnt, anyone wanting to be a leader should be putting together a list of everything they need to develop. Once you know what you need, it’s much easier to start to gain these skills. The list below pulls together the areas that need to be fine-tuned in order to be a great leader.
In order to build trust in a team, you need to be accountable. Any team should know that their leader has their best interests at heart and will protect them from dangers. Consequently, if a team feel they can trust and depend on their leader they will perform better.
Leadership needs to be inclusive; therefore a leader needs to have the correct body language and tone to make people feel they can approach them to talk about anything. In fact, a good leader knows they are only as strong as the team they have around them.
An open leadership style of ‘what you see is what you get’, coupled with all the other leadership skills undoubtedly makes it really easy for people to follow an authentic leader.
Nelson Mandela said – ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear’. A whole nation followed Mandela because he had the courage to do what others could not dream of. A leader needs to be willing to take the first step and then encourage the team to come with them.
As a leader, you have the ability to be generous in more than one way. By giving a team member the benefit of the doubt and supporting people to grow by giving them a chance to shine. Moreover, a generous leader will never take credit for anything a team member thought up or work completed by someone else. They will shine the spotlight where it should be shone.
An essential trait of effective leadership, that everyone is aware of, is communication skills. Without a doubt, having the ability to get a point across effectively, so that it is received as you intended, is essential.
Leaders need to be positive and upbeat, and you need to encourage this in other people as well. Moreover, having an infectious positive attitude is great because a team needs that force of positive energy to lift them up, particularly when working through something tough.
Although you should be passionate about what you do, and the company you work for, as a great leader you need to be passionate about people. Consequently, you should thrive on developing people to realise their full potential.
To problem solve you need to be creative and analytical. Being a great leader means testing every option before deciding something is not achievable. For that reason, encouraging others to come up with solutions can help change an organisation into an environment to breed leaders.
As a great leader you are inclusive of your team, but also know that ultimately you are responsible for the team. A great leader will explain to their team what has not worked and looked for better practices in the future. However, they would never tell Senior Leaders that it was someone else’s idea that got the team into a difficult spot. Leaders will stand up for the team and take responsibility at the right times.
Awareness of your own feelings and the way you make other people feel is critical for a leader. In fact, to influence and encourage people, you need to be able to show our own strengths and weaknesses. Thus, having humility as a leader is the easiest way to get people to follow you.
As a leader, you need to be able to manage your tasks, time and self, because self-drive and motivation are key to success. Moreover, having the ability to self-manage means you can think outside of the box, use your time effectively, and develop ideas into plans and actions. Learn some tips on time management skills by reading our Ultimate Guide.
Strategic leadership is all about influencing skills and being able to influence people to make decisions that are best for the business. This is about reflecting on situations to create links that others fail to see. Those which will benefit the team.
As a leader, you should always be working towards a better future for your people, organisation and customers. Believing you can always make a difference is a great trait for a leader because it means you will keep driving the business forward. In fact, when a leader feels they have achieved everything that they can, this becomes a dangerous mindset and starts to set people up for failure.
Leading a team is about Trust, Respect and Integrity.
We are the soft skills training provider to the UK Grocery Industry, helping Suppliers to win more business. They choose us because of our money-back guarantee, our relevant experience, and because we make their learning stick.
A big point to know before you start looking at leadership styles is that there isn’t a best or perfect style. Many different leadership skills models and styles are used. They all have their time and place, along with strengths and weaknesses. From Kurt Lewin’s ‘leadership climates’ research in the 1930s to transformational leadership, which is likely to be the most commonly used method of leadership in the 21st Century, a number of popular leadership skills paradigms will be introduced. Each individual leader can take the best aspects to build their own style.
“I’m the boss” doesn’t always explain the “why”
Most of us have heard of autocratic and democratic leaders. This came from a study on leadership theories in the 1930s by Kurt Lewin. He looked at 3 styles of leadership:
An Autocratic leader can make decisions fast to move things forward. This can be beneficial until they stop encouraging their team to give input. Without any input, the team stops being part of the journey and doesn’t work together. Examples of Autocratic leaders from history would be, Queen Elizabeth I, Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, and King Henry III. Each took a very dictatorial approach to leadership and their teams (or subordinates) had no input into outcomes.
A Democratic leader makes the final decision but includes the whole team in getting to the conclusion. Furthermore, they will take on board everyone’s ideas and have a highly motivated team. Being a democratic leader could, however, slow the decision-making process. Examples of Democratic leaders would be Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela. These presidents all empowered their teams (or staff) to give ideas and solutions.
A Laissez-Faire leader provides the team with support when asked, but otherwise, does not get involved. When surrounded by good workers this can be a highly effective management style. However, when workers can’t self-manage or manage their time effectively, this can be a recipe for disaster. A Laissez-Faire leader can seem out of control. An example of a Laissez-Faire leader from history would be Mahatma Gandhi. He never labelled himself a leader, he brought people together as they shared a common goal, but he never directed people in what they had to do.
The managerial grid model was pioneered by Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964. The model identifies five styles of leadership skills around two areas; concern for people and the concern for production (or results as seen in the grid below). The model argues that the optimal leadership style is based on Theory Y of motivation, which assumes that people are internally motivated and thrive in democratic environments.
Depending on where you sit, according to these two areas, shows which of the five styles you fall into:
James McGregor Burns introduced the concept of Transformational Leadership in 1978 and later in 1985. Bernard M. Bass extended the concept to what we know today. The main premise of transformational leadership is all about loyalty, trust and inspiring their people. Transformational leadership is said to be the most used style of leadership in businesses today. This is about leaders having visionary ideas and building trust with people to get them onboard with making the vision become a reality. A leader working at this level needs to take time to reflect and develop themselves. As a result of the generational change, we need to constantly adapt how we influence people. Saying that the integrity at the core of this leader would never change.
These are 6 different emotional leadership styles that can be used in different situations to get the desired outcome:
Developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the late 1970’s/early 1980s, this refers to leaders having the ability to adapt their leadership skills and styles based on the experience of the employee. As a team grows, a leader should be able to move through each stage of the cycle.
Moving a team member through these stages should happen every time they take on a task that is completely new to them. For example, you need to ask a new member of your team to create a report for your board meeting:
Depending on the complexity of the task, you might need to repeat stages before moving on.
Leadership styles should be flexible and used in the right situations. One size approach fits all never works.
A lot of managers will make the mistake of focusing solely on their people and not on themselves. In order to continue to lead a team well, you need to continually develop your own leadership style through your leadership skills.
Managers struggle with thinking of ways to be inspiring, most make a mountain out of a molehill. To be inspiring you need to be passionate, positive and genuine with people. Naturally, that will become contagious.
In 1965 psychologist Bruce Tuckman first wrote about the four stages of developing an effective team – Form, Storm, Norm and Perform, later in 1977 adding a fifth stage, adjourn. A strong leader needs to understand each stage and be able to help move their team from one to the other. You can find further information on Tuckman’s stages of team development in the video below:`
Having the skills to get stakeholders on board is something a lot of managers struggle with. More time needs to be spent on developing these skills. To understand each stakeholder as a person is important so that you can tailor your style to suit them. In order to find out more about different styles of people, you can read our Ultimate Guide to HBDI.
In his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Steven Covey explores the area of trust, using the analogy of a bank account to establish the amount of trust in a given relationship. The idea is that through every interaction with another person, be it socially or at work, we keep an emotional account. Every relationship starts with a balance of zero, with positive and negative interactions monetised as emotional units.
It is always going to be a fine line for leaders, being passionate about both the business and people, and trying to balance the needs of both. By remembering that every interaction, be it positive or negative, will affect the account balance will help you keep on track. Treating others how you wish to be treated, with thought, respect and consideration, will go a long way to help keep your emotional bank accounts in the black!
Like any other person, leaders have good days and bad days. However, for a leader, it is critical that you don’t let the bad days affect the team. Finding ways to motivate oneself is the best way. Setting small milestones to get yourself focused and moving in the right direction is important.
This is the biggest pitfall that is seen in businesses. Leaders feel that they need to get it right all of the time and that they need to be liked. Most leaders are fearful of losing their creative edge, their financial stability, and alarmingly, their drive and focus. Fear, however, creates an inability to perform, which as a leader you cannot afford. Being a strong leader means you can confront setbacks, but never give up on the goal. Using skills such as strategic thinking to work through the worst-case scenarios can help deal with fears. Furthermore, having a strong team around you that you are constantly developing can help close any gaps you have yourself.
Great leadership requires the skills to be able to effectively manage the challenge of organisational change, so that is transformative for both the organisation and its people. In the video below, Penny Moyle the former CEO of OPP provides some interesting insights into her approach to change management, drawing from her background as a business psychologist.
“Don’t let past failures determine what your future success will be. Walt Disney went bankrupt — twice — before finally gaining lasting momentum. The Beatles were rejected from numerous record labels, as was Tom Petty. Thomas Edison failed at creating the light bulb ten thousand times before getting it right! If he used failure as an indicator of his true path, you might be reading this by candlelight.” – Derek Rydall, Emergence: The End of Self Improvement.
Every business should understand the importance of leadership training. Selecting the right leadership courses, mixed with on the job development via coaching and mentoring, is critical to developing leaders within an organisation.
You can view a full list of our training courses available for your leaders here.
Executive coaching is where a leader receives one-to-one coaching skills support to further develop and deal with any individual challenges. For the best results, a lot of companies choose to get external coaches to run these sessions. Having an impartial coach can help leaders open up and deal with difficult situations faster. Depending upon the area that is being worked on, coaching plans will run for up to 12 months. They will encompass the setting of, and achievement of, a set goal. The greatest reason companies employ coaches is to increase emotional intelligence in senior leaders and high potential staff.
Emotional intelligence is a measure of an individual’s abilities to perceive, understand and manage their emotions and those of others. The growth of emotional intelligence in the workplace followed the publication of science journalist Daniel Goleman’s mixed model (or commercial wing) to the previous scientific research by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in the early 1990s. The concept suggests that intelligence encompasses more than simply having a high IQ, and we, in fact, all have multiple intelligences which can determine success in business.
When researching the different facets of successful intelligence, psychologist Robert Sternberg identified Emotional Intelligence as a component. Simply put, those that are successful require more than book smarts.
Moreover, emotional intelligence ties in with the current leadership trend towards great leaders demonstrating transformative leadership qualities. In essence, to be transformative encompasses the key dimensions of emotional intelligence; self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills, and self-motivation (as can be seen in the infographic below).
As a result, most companies will use emotional intelligence testing when they employ managers. This helps ensure leaders care about their people and the effect they have on them. Consequently, this should ultimately lead to greater workplace cohesion, greater workforce morale, and higher productivity.
EI is an important leadership skill
Founded by Willian ‘Ned’ Herrmann, HBDI® (Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) is a psychometric assessment tool that identifies an individual’s thought preferences. Often referred to as the ‘whole brain model’, it comprises a 120-question survey which identifies thought characteristics in the following four quadrants:
By understanding your thought preferences, you can achieve a greater appreciation for how you learn, which in turn helps decision making, problem-solving, and communication.
By understanding yourself and your workforce better, you can tailor your communication toward their individual needs. As a leader, you can be dominant in any quadrant. The challenge, however, is working on those less dominant quadrants, and using the strengths of the people in your team to be ‘a whole brain’.
You can read more about HBDI ® in our Ultimate Guide.
Leadership coaching and development is important to grow your talent and retain your people.
Vision inspires confidence and belief in others. A visionary leader is a dreamer, a thinker, someone who constantly faces adversity and triumphs. That is why your belief, drive and unwavering dedication toward an uncertain future goal are infectious for those following.
Demonstrate single-mindedness and total belief that there will be no other outcome than success. Never take no for an answer. Have unflinching belief in the capability and competencies of the organisation and its people.
Flexibility is essential for success. The internal and external organisational environments are constantly changing. A good leader, therefore, needs to adapt and if necessary change the organisation’s strategy, structure and approach.
Leadership is not always easy. In favourable and unfavourable times a good leader maintains motivation and drive towards the mission or vision.
Never rest on your laurels. A good leader will always look to self-develop to stay ahead of the trends and ensure competitive advantage is sustained.
Good leaders are heard and understood, but it is essential to also listen. Listen, and tune in to the organisation and its people, because lots of great strategies have come from within, emerging through a bottom-up approach.
An organisation is full of people, like it or not they all have emotions which affect the way in which interactions occur. It is essential, therefore, to demonstrate high emotional intelligence, in the way you understand and manage your emotions and those of others.
Understand and share the feelings of fellow organisation members. Speak their language and show that you are a caring leader. Moreover, take the time to get to know everyone, listen to their ideas and concerns, show that their opinions matter.
Choose the right people for the right role. Build, control, and continuously develop the team by individual coaching, thus, allowing growth within roles.
As a leader, you cannot do everything! Allow team members the autonomy to make correct decisions by delegating. Furthermore, empowering them to be accountable as the owner of a task or self-directed project can be highly motivating. Trust, support, and coaching are however essential. If done correctly it can lead to the growth of the individual, and an increase in overall organisational effectiveness, potentially creating the leaders of tomorrow!
At the end of 2016 women made up 60% of junior managers, 40% of middle managers and 20% of senior managers in British businesses. This, therefore, shows that there is still a gap in the higher levels of management for women to fill. With equality being at the forefront of minds, and the recent gender pay gap talks, it is critical for businesses to start developing their high potential female employees.
Over the years there have been improvements for women in the workplace and, consequently, they have had more opportunities to climb the career ladder. Currently, in the top FTSE 100 companies, there isn’t a single board that doesn’t have a female member. From the outset, this seems very positive, but actually, this figure fell by 12% from 2016 to 2017.
One study by the BI Norwegian Business School assessed 3,000 managers personalities and characteristics. It concluded that women could make better leaders than men. It is said that women are stronger than their male counterparts in these five areas:
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Then, you are an excellent leader.” – Dolly Parton, from The Most Important Thing I Know by Lorne Adrain.
Understanding leadership is critical to developing yourself as a future leader. Reminding you to push yourselves to be better every day. Being a leader is about advocating for and encouraging your team. As Richard Branson says, ‘Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.’ Be a great leader and people will follow.
You can find further insight, detailed definitions and clarification of all the key leadership skills terms mentioned in this guide in our Glossary of Terms.
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is a danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” – Nelson Mandela.
“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan.
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton.
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Jacky is a training consultant with seven years of experience in developing individuals and teams. Passionate about helping people be the best they can be, she gained her CIPD Level 5 in Learning and Development. This gives her the ability to write in-depth articles that help readers think about topics in a new way.