Project management & leadership | January 26, 2023

The Key Leadership Skills You Need for The 21st Century Workplace

Learn leadership skills from the inside out. Find out what they are, how they differ from management skills, and which skills you need to develop to become a successful leader.

Key Leadership Skills

The best businesses are built on the shoulders of great leaders. Whether you work in project management, product management, or, more broadly in IT, leadership qualities are essential to help you and your team achieve your goals.

In this article, we will look at all things leadership skills, including what they are, how they differ from management skills, and the most important ones to develop if you’re looking to take on your first leadership role. Leadership is a big topic, but by the end of this article, you’ll know the basics and be well on your way to becoming a successful leader.

What is Leadership? What Does Being a Great, Effective Leader Mean?

Let’s begin with a definition:

“Leadership is the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers of an organization towards the achievement of a goal.”

Let’s now break that definition down to see what it means to be a great leader:

  • First, leadership is a skill that individuals develop over time. While many say that leadership is something people are born with, it’s actually mastered through dedicated professional development. As we’ll see later in this article, effective leadership requires competencies such as communication skills, soft skills, and motivation.
  • Next, you cannot be a leader without having followers. The best leaders are those with the skills that make people want to follow them to overcome a problem or create something new. To be a great leader, you must develop your interpersonal skills to build rapport, influence, and strong relationships with others.
  • Lastly, great leaders motivate and lead their team members toward the achievement of organizational goals. Especially in a business setting, good leadership is most often evidenced through achieving goals, creating a great work environment, or solving problems.
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Leadership vs. Management: The Difference for You & Your Team

One of the most common misconceptions in business is that leadership and management are the same. If you take nothing else away from this article, it’s important to know that they are in fact very different.

Whereas leadership is about inspiring and guiding people toward a goal, management is more tactical. Because of this tactical nature, management is more focused on planning, control, and delegation to ensure a team completes tasks in the most efficient and effective way possible.
While both leadership and management are important for businesses, they require very different skills. Here’s a quick look at some of the key skills required to be a manager (we’ll look at leadership skills in more detail later on!).

  • Planning Tasks
  • Organizational Skills
  • Problem-Solving
  • The Ability to Delegate Tasks
  • Teamwork
  • Task Prioritization
  • Team Communication

Leadership Styles Explained + Examples

Leadership styles are unique to each leader, with their own mix of methods, characteristics, and behaviors. And that’s the great thing about leadership – it looks different for different people. Those with leadership potential exhibit it in many different ways, and as they develop their skills and qualities, they adopt very different leadership styles.

As a future leader, one of the most important leadership lessons is to identify and develop your own leadership style, either through formal training or through experience as your grow and develop.

To help, let’s look at some of the most popular leadership styles and how they come across in the workplace.

  1. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership focuses on a vision of change and transformation in the future. Transformational leaders inspire their teams to achieve goals by painting a picture of the future and harnessing each individual’s potential to help the collective team get there.

This type of leadership is extremely effective in companies going through big changes. To help achieve those sorts of goals, transformational leaders strive to create unity, energy, and passion around a bold, brave, and more promising new world.

  1. Delegative Leadership

The delegative leader takes a very hands-off and laid-back approach to leading a team. This leadership style is very common in mature, high-functioning teams, where the collective skills and attitudes of team members don’t need tight control or development.

In this leadership position, the leaders are focused on creating room for their team to exhibit creativity, work on their own terms, and challenge assumptions where necessary. The key skill for leaders of this type is trust, creating an environment where everyone has autonomy and permission to make decisions.

But watch out, this leadership style requires strong relationship-building skills to ensure it doesn’t become unclear who’s in charge and the direction isn’t lost. After all, you can’t be too laid back, or things start going off track!

  1. Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leaders are often seen as visionaries, setting the path forward for their team to follow. Not to be confused with authoritarian leadership, authoritative leaders are excellent at motivating and inspiring those around them.

The most important skill for Authoritative leaders is relationship building, as team members need to trust the path they’re being asked to follow. Coupled with great communication, this allows the leader to provide guidance and feedback on a more personalized level, helping individuals to succeed.

  1. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership focuses on rewards and punishments to meet organizational objectives, setting clear roles, responsibilities, tasks, and goals for each team member to provide structure.

For this reason, it’s often referred to as ‘managerial leadership’ and has many crossovers with general team management. While many people frown upon this type of leadership, in certain situations it’s important to provide structure, especially when overcoming problems or working through a sensitive crisis.

  1. Participative Leadership

Participative leadership, often known as democratic leadership, encourages leaders to listen to their employees and involve them in the decision-making process. For this to succeed, the most important leadership skills are communication and empathy, as leaders must put themselves in their team’s shoes to make the right decisions.

Given a choice, most team members will want their leaders to exhibit the participative leadership style as they feel empowered, listened to, and included. While this style of leadership is especially popular in agile project management, it can be hard to maintain in large or remote teams.

Also read: Why choose Agile software development?

The Top 10 Leadership Skills You Need to Become an Effective Leader

As you plan on developing leadership skills, it can be hard to know where to start and identify which are the most valuable.

Next, we’ll look at the top leadership skills a leader needs to become the best they can be, and help them and their organization stay ahead of the competition.

1 – Communication

Ask any great leader the top leadership competencies they think you’ll need to succeed, and I bet Communication is in their top 3. Effective communication skills are a core part of being a great leader, as they allow you to connect with your followers and drive the team toward your goals.

But it’s worth remembering that communication is a two-way street, so take the time to listen as well as talk. Every leader should know how their team is feeling as it will help them adapt their style and make complex ideas easy to understand for everyone.

2 – Relationship Building

Leadership is a people-focused skill, so a crucial part of leadership is building strong relationships with those around you. Leaders with strong and authentic relationships with their team have the greatest chances of success, as everyone will pull in the same direction and bind together when the going gets tough.

All business leaders need a strong network of people they can trust, so make sure you develop these skills and invest your time in building strong relationships with those around you.

3 – Strategic Thinking

There are certain skills you are born with and those that you aren’t – strategic thinking takes time to develop but is one of the most important for leaders. Those with strong leadership skills can see the bigger picture, thinking strategically about their goals and how to achieve them.

Leaders who command the most respect have a clear vision of the future and know the path that must be trodden to move employees toward that achievement. For many, learning to think strategically takes some dedicated leadership training with time invested to develop the skills as their careers progress.

4 – Conflict Management

One of the key skills every leader will need at one point or another is conflict management. Organizations aren’t run in an ideal world, and sometimes not everyone is willing to accept the group’s opinion. Conflict is an inevitable part of business life, and the best leaders know how to manage conflict in a constructive and beneficial way.

Pointing fingers and blaming others never ends well, so leaders must learn how to empathize, negotiate, and communicate in a way that diffuses tension and strengthens relationships. Again, this is another skill that’s often developed through specific leadership training and is one of the many different leadership skills that’s improved through experience.

5 – Integrity

The best leaders inspire those around them, and to do that, they must build credibility across the team. Credibility is underpinned by Integrity, an important skill that creates respect, builds authority, and develops trust.

To do this, the best leaders focus on communicating well, building solid relationships, and making fair and honest decisions in everything that they do. Integrity is important across a range of leadership styles and is something that shouldn’t be ignored when developing your own.

6 – Trust

Integrity and trust go hand-in-hand as essential leadership skills to become the greatest leader you can be. After all, leaders are the ones people look to in times of struggle, trusting them to come up with solutions and provide inspiration.

As a leader, you need people to trust you and know that you will go the extra mile to look out for their interests. Trust takes time to build and also requires some vulnerability on your part. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you, make sure you’re willing to accept blame for your mistakes, and prioritize the needs of your team to show everyone you’re a leader who can be trusted.

7 – Decision Making

While it’s important to develop a wide range of skills, those with good leadership skills have more than likely nailed the art of decision-making. As a leader, there will be times when you are asked to make tough calls to solve problems, take opportunities, or set a new direction.

While every decision is unique, I’d recommend using data wherever possible to make decisions based on facts rather than emotions. Depending on the decision to be made, this data could be:

  • Financial – such as sales, expense, or profit numbers.
  • Numerical such as sales volumes, satisfaction scores, or performance KPIs.
  • Anecdotal – such as survey results, product reviews, or customer interviews.

The best decision-makers are great at considering all of the angles and opinions before choosing the option that best balances risk and reward to move the team forward in the right direction.

8 – Creativity

Businesses are complex places to operate, and sometimes you’re going to need to think outside of the box. Especially if you’re working in a competitive industry, leaders need to inspire teams with new ideas that help them stand out and stay ahead of the competition.

Top tip – Some people aren’t the most creative. If that’s you, build a strong network of creative thinkers to collaborate with in your time of need!

9 – Positivity

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. A famous saying that underpins one of the most essential skills and attributes the best leaders possess – Positivity. If you’re heading into your first leadership role, focus on developing a positive mindset to help motivate and inspire the team around you.

If you do, it will help you build trust, create solid relationships, and cement your position as a valued business leader in your organization.

10 – Delegation

And lastly, the best leaders know there are only so many hours in the day and become experts at delegating work. While this might sound like a management skill, knowing not to take on too many things is important to give you the bandwidth to deliver your most important leadership work.

Develop your delegation skills to help you manage your own workload and give work to others in a way that inspires and motivates them to achieve the collective goal.

It’s Time to Develop Your Leadership Skills…

Oftentimes, the best businesses are awesome because they have incredible leaders. But those leaders aren’t made overnight, with the best leaders spending years developing their unique set of leadership skills.

If you’re looking to progress your career, start by working out your unique leadership style and create a plan to develop the skills you need to motivate, inspire, and guide your team toward success.

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