Leadership Skill Development: 6 Ways To Become a Better Leader

A great manager or employee is always ambitious. They’re willing to assume extra responsibilities, take on projects, set goals, and willingly go the extra mile. However, on-the-job training, education, and experience are only part of the equation to reach one’s full potential. Just because you’re the best at your job doesn’t necessarily make you the right person for a promotion.

In almost all cases, the missing ingredient to successful career ascension is leadership skills. Unfortunately, leadership skills aren’t innate in most people, even if they’re thrust into a leadership role by happenstance. As a result, leadership skill development becomes a crucial aspect of going from employee or manager to an effective leader.

Though newly ordained managers can learn leadership skills through years of experience, understanding the tenets of good leadership, learning them, and applying them on the job are more the result of training and skill development.

For you to become a great leader — or even a good leader — you must master these skills, even if doing so means you have to get outside your comfort zone. Discover how to improve your leadership skill development, enhance your core leadership competencies, and build the leadership qualities that make you a hot commodity in any business setting.

How Is Leadership Skill Development Different From Management Skill Development?

A man drawing on a white board in front of his team

Though they’re often used interchangeably, leadership skills and management skills aren’t the same things. Management skills deal with the organizational, logistical, and goal-setting aspects of a business. Most management skills are hard skills — measurable and practical skills attained through schooling or on-the-job training.

Conversely, leadership skills refer to the ability to motivate and inspire team members to achieve a company's common goals, mission, and vision. Leadership skills are more about the sum of the parts than an individualistic approach to business or management. They’re also soft skills — interpersonal and characteristic qualities beyond what you’ve learned through education or training.

Management skills and leadership skills certainly overlap, but not every manager is necessarily a leader. Consequently, managers — or even employees aspiring to become managers — must turn to leadership skill development to earn the respect and trust of their employees, build the right skill set, and improve their leadership potential.

8 Competencies for Leadership Skill Development

One way to bolster your leadership development is to identify the core competencies and key leadership skills that organizations are constantly searching for. Fortunately, you can find many of these coveted skills by searching job descriptions. Within job descriptions for leaders, C-Suite professionals, or executives, you’ll come across the same phrases — an insightful clue into the very skills you need for a leadership position.

As you’re reading through this list, focus on what these skills entail and how they can help you become a better leader. They may seem like buzzwords and appear ubiquitous throughout every management job description, but the more you embrace these leadership abilities and ideas and how they foster a cohesive, goal-oriented work environment, the more you can start implementing and ingraining them into your habits and work routine.

  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Conflict resolution
  4. Decision-making skills
  5. Communication skills
  6. Active listening
  7. Self-awareness
  8. Critical thinking

6 Ways To Improve Leadership Skills

Leader talking to his team and actively engaging them

Knowing what leadership skills you must possess to become a great leader is only half the battle. Once you’re aware of the skill set needed to boost your leadership, you need to find ways to develop them in real-world situations. To become a better leader and improve your leadership skills, use some of these proven methods.

1. Choose the Right Leadership Style

Leadership style can have a profound impact on a company and its team members. However, choosing the right leadership style isn’t nearly as straightforward. You have to consider the different personalities of your direct reports, what style suits your strengths as a manager, and overall business strategy.

The best leaders can use different leadership styles to address situations of crisis, success, or expansion. That is to say, a singular style isn’t always the correct path. Often, changing your leadership style for specific scenarios is the best action plan.

Regardless of what leadership style suits you, remain open to change, gather as much employee feedback as possible, and use these situations to gather self-awareness.

2. Actively Practice Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, manage, and control your own emotions as well as understand the feelings of those around you. It entails the practice of empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and active listening — including the ability to notice body language cues.

The reason that emotional intelligence is such a powerful aspect of leadership skill development is that it allows you to connect to your employees on a deeper level. By listening to their concerns, plights, and issues, you build trust and foster a sense of empathy and understanding.

When you’re trying to motivate and inspire employees as a leader, nothing is more important than emotional connection. It makes you more approachable and real as a leader, while simultaneously earning the respect of your team members.

3. Master Relationship Building

Relationship building is another aspect of leadership skill development that’s tied to emotional intelligence and active listening. However, emotional intelligence is just one facet of effective and efficient relationship building.

To master relationship building, you need to build trust and respect. Furthermore, you need to create an ambiance, positive work environment, and employee engagement that builds upon trust and respect.

By thinking of your direct reports as individuals with different personal situations, feelings, and personalities, you can become a true master of relationship building — something that makes a strong impact and permeates into other business relationships.

4. Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is an important soft skill of any effective leader. When the going gets tough, you’re the person tasked with decision-making. You need to be able to think critically and objectively in a variety of situations to boost your leadership skill development and evaluate your choices thereafter.

Leaders aren’t necessarily great at critical thinking at the onset. It’s a soft skill that’s amassed over time. But you can always become more efficient at critical thinking by:

  • Gathering feedback and alternative perspectives from direct reports, managers, and fellow leaders
  • Engaging in solution-based conversations rather than blame-shifting or making excuses
  • Integrating new knowledge, concepts, and principles you’ve learned into real-world scenarios
  • Remaining open-minded to new solutions
  • Asking the right questions to trusted colleagues, clients, employees, and others

5. Develop Effective Methods of Employee Engagement

The concept is simple. The more engaged and valued employees feel, the more they excel at their jobs. As a leader, the responsibility lies on you to create effective methods of employee engagement.

Above all, you want to instill the ideas of your company’s mission, vision, and goals into employee engagement and to improve the employee experience. Beyond that, how you create a culture of employee engagement is entirely up to you.

However, you should implement these ideas into your employee engagement discussion in order to maximize its effectiveness:

  • Use employee surveys and pulse surveys to gain valuable insight into your employee engagement initiatives.
  • Create a culture of open feedback and dialogue to promote honesty and trust within the office.
  • Try to promote from within. When employees see opportunities for advancement, they’re more likely to put forward their best efforts.
  • Make your employees feel valued through employee recognition and peer recognition programs. In a recent survey, nearly 78% of employees stated that they’re more motivated to work if they receive appreciation and recognition from leaders and managers.
  • Provide a path for career development for every employee. Much like promotions and recognition, this tends to inspire workers to perform at the highest level.

6. Consistently Work on Professional Development

Offering professional development opportunities for your workers can help you become a great motivator and better leader — but don’t neglect your own career development.

Take every opportunity to learn more. Read books on emotional intelligence or insightful references on leadership and management.

But more than anything, be curious. The learning process is never over. Every piece of insight, training, or information builds your professional development, ultimately guiding your leadership skill development to its apex.

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Leadership Training and Coaching

A smiling leader standing in front of his team members

Identifying, studying, and applying the right skills are the cornerstones of effective leadership and the crux of a successful leadership journey. Yet like any other type of expertise, developing leadership skills is difficult on your own. Most successful leaders didn’t learn everything on their own; they turned to experienced people to become better leaders in their own right.

At Unicorn Labs, we help leaders and potential leaders to become the best iteration of themselves — the catalysts for positive organizational change and the motivators of high-performing teams. Through leadership coaching, retreats, and leadership programs, we introduce the Six Levels of Unicorn Teams and how strong leadership at all levels translates into successful business ventures.

Great leaders will always be overzealous learners. The more knowledge you gain, the more you can lead with great aplomb — but only if you gather knowledge from the right place. Let Unicorn Labs help you move in the right direction.

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