Top 5 skills of an effective leader

Written by Paul Glatzhofer, VP of Talent Solutions

Successful leaders. You’ll find articles, whitepapers, assessments, and videos dedicated to what makes a successful, effective leader. In fact, the skills of effective leaders, while long studied, tend to shift and change slightly depending on the state of the workforce. However, some traits simply do not change. Empathy, for example, will always be an essential leadership skill as well as the ability to quickly act and make decisions.

One of the reasons why understanding the top leadership skills is such a popular topic is because leaders (well, good ones at least) want to continually develop their skill sets to be more effective. Likewise, organizations want to know the secret to building effective leadership teams as a way to increase profit. It is now almost a cliché for a company to say that they need to invest in their people in order to be successful. But what does that really mean? Keep reading to discover these answers and more.

Top 5 qualities of a good leader

The top five qualities of a good leader are not written in stone but instead open to interpretation. Training your leadership team to become effective leaders requires a deep understanding of the traits, skills, and abilities your organization needs. Here are a few places to start:

  • Empathy: The ability to listen, understand, and truly put oneself in another’s place is crucial to sustained, healthy leadership. By listening attentively with the goal of learning and understanding, leaders can not only acquire new ideas and methods, but they can also uncover the interests, motivations, and concerns of their team members.
  • Assertiveness: The ability to assert your will in a large group of people is an effective leadership skill. While this doesn’t come naturally to everyone, fortunately, it’s a skill that can be learned.
  • Resilience: Good leaders avoid personalizing complaints and criticism, and instead use rejection as a source of learning. In leadership, modeling how to handle crises or unexpected pitfalls is critical.
  • Ego strength: The quality of the people in a workforce comes down to the quality of its leadership. Leaders make things happen. They make the people around them better. Part of this is having the ego strength to maintain course and move on lest a bad attitude hamper performance. Not only do leaders need to cultivate strong ego strength, but they also have to make sure their employees do, too.
  • Energy: The potential to sustain a high level of activity over extended periods is critical for effective leaders. Unfortunately, business issues do not have a timetable, and great leaders must have the ability to guide their people through a high level of activity in the workplace.

How do you invest in your people to be successful?

In order to be successful, organizations need to invest in and understand two key areas. First, they need to understand what types of people are successful in their environment and select leaders who possess the right skills. Second, they need to find ways to develop the individuals and leaders who may not currently possess that skill set. This process is broken down below:

  • Recognize and understand which types of people are successful in the work environment.
  • Improve selection processes in order to hire and promote the people with the right skills.
  • Create a gap analysis between the ideal profile and current employees struggling.
  • Develop the individuals and leaders who may not currently possess the desired skill set.

For nearly two decades, I have been working with organizations to help them answer these two key questions. I have learned quite a few things over this time. Although there are differences from one organization to the next and from one industry to the next, there are some clear and common themes that emerge as they relate to leadership effectiveness.

Top 5 skills of effective leaders

The following five skills have come up in almost every leadership discussion I have had. It is clear that if a leader can do these things (and sometimes if they can do just three of them really well), they can be an effective leader.

1. Ability to lead and influence others

One of the most effective leadership skills to have depends on if you can ‘rally the troops.’ Having the confidence to lead a team and be influential is a tremendous asset. If a leader cannot influence others to become motivated around a common goal, they will struggle to be effective.

What it looks like:

A last-minute project comes in, and instead of insisting everyone stay late or work overtime, an effective leader can enlist their help without demands or micromanagement. Instead, they put together a plan that leverages the team’s strengths, takes into account employees’ needs and schedules, and tackles the project right alongside their team.

2. Ability to relate and interact with peers, direct reports, and superiors

A strong leader needs to be effective and interact with individuals from all levels within the organization. We all know about the leaders who can manage up. These are the individuals who can sell ice to an eskimo but they cannot fool their direct reports. Effective leaders have the ability to communicate and collaborate with individuals from all levels.

What it looks like:

A manager takes the time to learn from each person on the team, recognizing how things may have changed or shifted since they were in the role, and thus preparing the leader to step in when needed. This tactic also offers employees the opportunity to stretch their own leadership muscles.

3. Ability to analyze information and make decisions

This one goes without saying, but a list highlighting the top skills of effective leaders would not be complete without mentioning pure intelligence. Leaders who are able to analyze information and make good decisions are more effective than their counterparts. However, this may appear to be simpler than it really is. Effective leaders not only need the mental horsepower to interpret information, but they also need the personality and confidence to trust in their decisions and follow through with them.

What it looks like:

Realizing a direct report is struggling to wrap their head around a new concept, the manager stays late to help them map it out, showing each step of the process, even though it takes longer. This leader models ‘connect the dots’ thinking to the entire team, and the team knows help is there to sort out a thorny issue if and when needed.

4. Ability to execute and deliver

Organizations love leaders who can just plain and simple get stuff done. After a decision is made or a strategic plan is set, it needs to be executed, or the strategy will fail. Effective leaders have the drive to create urgency around projects and tasks to ensure things get done. It doesn’t have to be at the detriment of their employees, either. Effective leaders can get stuff done in a timely manner and ensure their employees are getting the work-life balance they need to stay energized.

What it looks like:

A harried employee is always struggling to complete their tasks on time. Rather than taking over the task, the manager schedules a meeting where the two discuss what could be standing in the way and preventing the employee from completing their work on time. Time management issues? Overloaded schedule? The leader helps get the overdue tasks done (by enlisting additional help from the team) and then tackles the root of the issue for smoother sailing in the future.

5. Ability to adapt to changes and be innovative

There is one thing that organizations know, and that is change is the only constant. For companies to stay competitive, they need to be nimble and have leaders who are innovative. Furthermore, effective leaders need to be able to adapt their approach to meet the demands of an ever-changing environment. Leaders and organizations who refuse to adjust or adapt can be effective for some time, but they will inevitably become stale in their approach.

What it looks like:

A leader creating quarterly reviews of people, processes, and platforms to ensure everything is still running according to best practices. By being open to change and improving anything that isn’t working, the manager shows their employees how to adapt easily and quickly and incorporate change into their everyday lives.

Leadership effectiveness: Becoming better leaders

There you have it. If a leader can manage to have at least three of these five essential leadership skills included above, chances are good that they will be an effective leader. If they have all five of these skills, then they’re almost guaranteed to be a great leader in the workplace. Fortunately for leaders everywhere, it is possible to develop these skills to improve your chances of becoming an effective leader.

Great leaders: what do they do differently?

We all know that having great leaders is critical for success for most organizations.

However, less clear are the behaviors great leaders engage in that others do not. We designed a research program around shedding insights into this issue. In order to answer this question we used our proprietary executive assessment process to assess current leaders. Then we gathered outcome information (e.g., promotions, salary increases, behaviors) so we could see the correlations between assessments scores, job outcomes, and leader behavior.

Download this whitepaper to discover:

  • How do we know who the great leaders are?
  • What do great leaders do differently?
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great leaders what they do differently cta whitepaper cover