Leadership Skills

Growthspace has identified leadership skills as the top soft skills for successful employees. In view of the importance of leadership skills, L&D departments should implement programs to develop this area as a means of ensuring competitiveness and cultivating productivity. 

What Are Leadership Skills?

Leadership skills in the modern workplace are the abilities that allow a person to guide, encourage, and educate other employees in a way that promotes success. 

Who Can Be a Leader?

Historically, a leader was someone who had authority because of their position within a company, also known as positional or formal leadership. This idea developed during times when a workforce was class-based and, due to a lack of educational opportunities, upward mobility was limited. 

For instance, before the Industrial Revolution, “leaders” were often from the economic upper classes, while employees were poor. They could not advance because they could not afford the required education and were often not accepted by the managerial class in the first place. 

However, industrialization changed this situation. As those operating the factory began to build the knowledge and responsibility levels crucial to the organization, they took on roles that were just as critical as their managers. In this sense, and as the knowledge-based economy increased in importance, it became obvious that a leader is not always a manager, or vice versa.

Today, and in light of ideas such as the “Growth Mindset”, a leader can be considered as someone who motivates, provides advice to, or controls others – even without an official leadership position. This kind of informal leader can create success for themselves and other employees. In turn, leadership skills are the abilities that enable such people to be as effective as possible. 

In fact, a company cannot succeed without the input and effort of employees who take initiative, help each other, and solve problems on a daily basis. According to Forbes, for example, more than 50% of US employees have left at least one job due to poor leadership. On the other hand, good leadership can result in a significant profit increase.  For this reason, leadership training should be provided to all employees who have the aptitude.

Types of Leadership Skills

Many skills are associated with leadership, and they change over time. There has been growing recognition of soft skills as being at least as vital to proper leadership as hard skills were once regarded. Within the category of “soft skills”, there are many elements that are crucial for a successful leader. 

Keep in mind as well that there are different ways to categorize leaders, including:

  • Experienced vs. new
  • Technical vs. employee-focused
  • Positional vs. “Born Leaders”
  • According to style, for instance, democratic vs. visionary

The essential skills that these employees should develop must be considered in view of these factors. For example, somebody with democratic leadership qualities will benefit from leadership training in problem solving, active listening, and group communication. The best way to ensure optimal training according to various leadership categories is a personalized professional development initiative. 

Today’s Top Leadership Skills

Certain types of leadership skills are in high demand. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the most valuable leadership skills today are:


Leaders who are self-aware understand how their personality traits and habits affect interactions with employees at all levels of the organization. Leaders who are self-aware notice how their actions and directions are perceived and constantly aim to improve. In addition, a manager with high self-awareness knows that their leadership skill set is not complete and they rely on others to fill in the gaps. 


Communication skills for leaders involve a wide range of activities, from creating employee schedules to giving an inspiring speech. It is one of the most difficult skills to acquire because it has many dimensions that include spoken, written, and non-verbal communication. It can be said that there are no perfect communicators for this reason, so every leader can benefit from communication skill training of some sort.  


Even for an employee who is not in sales, persuasion is a key ability for leaders at any level. This fits with the idea of actual vs. positional leaders. Convincing subordinates, peers, and superiors to take a certain course of action based on your recommendation is showing leadership. In fact, except for a person in a managerial role, persuasion is critical when dealing with employees when you have no authority. Instead, you need to depend on the strength of your argument, interpersonal skills, and other abilities. Upon promotion to manager, employees with persuasive skills don’t need to rely on pressure, authority, or other negative tactics to lead others. 

A Growth Mindset (AKA Learning Agility)

Nobody is a perfect leader, but there are successful ones who manage to (at least) balance their weaknesses with strengths through skill development. Building the skills that you need to go from average to successful demands constant learning. This ties in with the Growth Mindset, which states that the only barrier to achievement is the will to learn. 

Similarly, the workplace is constantly changing, and so are the needs of employees. Translating those changes into L&D programs allows HR teams and managers to keep up. Phenomena like Quiet Quitting show that younger generations want different types of motivation and leadership than older employees. It’s up to an effective leader to learn about these trends and how to deal with them.  

Universal Leadership Skills

As mentioned, the demand for professional abilities in the workplace changes over time. The exact elements of interpersonal skills, self-management, and technical knowledge that are seen as essential vary from year to year. During COVID-19, time management skills became vital as workers at home needed to be on schedule for Zoom meetings and handle tasks without supervision. But there is a certain core of abilities connected to people management that should, to some extent, always be part of any leadership development program:

Critical Thinking

Especially when they are in charge of employees, leaders face a constant need to filter ideas, evaluate reports, and troubleshoot problems. They might also be in charge of strategy and hiring employees for their team. In all of these situations, good critical thinking skills enable leaders to find flaws and identify optimal solutions while ignoring personal bias and delaying judgment until they have listened to all sides of an issue.    

Change Management

A leader who is responsible for change management must be able to develop a systematic approach for a transition of an organization’s processes, technologies, and/or goals. Soft skills are essential here, as explaining the ramifications of change to employees–and obtaining their support–is a central objective of organizational change. 

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking in a business environment is the interpretation of current activities, competition, market forces, organizational changes, and product trends as a way of setting future objectives. A leader with strategic thinking skills will stay aware of the ‘big picture’ in their day-to-day activities. For example, a manager who sees the onset of a global pandemic will understand that there will be supply chain disruptions and make arrangements accordingly.

Specialized Leadership Skills

As noted, there are different ways of describing leaders. Along with this comes the fact that every sort of leadership can have its own skill niches. For example, a technical leader (of the kind who needs to manage engineers, programmers, etc.) must be an expert in all of the quantitative skills connected to their role.

One of the most common areas of specialized skills is for newly promoted leaders. They face a different set of challenges compared to experienced leaders for various reasons:

  • A need to acclimatize to their position
  • Getting accustomed to leading instead of being led
  • Dealing with expectations from veteran employees and managers

New leaders require their own type of skill development. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are three specific areas for recently promoted leaders to focus on:


A person in a new situation can do one of two things – change the situation, or change themselves. New leaders seldom have the power to force issues to go their way, so adapting is their only choice. 

An adaptable person demonstrates certain qualities:

  • “Reading the room” – interpreting cues from other employees enables a newly promoted leader to understand exactly what the challenge is, and how others are dealing with it. 
  • Lack of ego – it can be tough for certain personality types to be followers, even if it’s only temporary. But, before a new leader can fit into a new situation, they need to accept that it’s time to step out of their comfort zone and just listen for a while. 
  • Patience – Similarly, if a new leader has a plan that doesn’t work out, then it’s back to the drawing board. To some extent, the effects of these failures can be moderated by paying close attention to a plan’s progress and shifting immediately to a new idea when failure seems likely.  

Comprehensive Problem-Solving

Although newly promoted leaders must deal with disadvantages, they also face many upsides. For instance, they can take advantage of their ability to use a different perspective from existing employees when examining problems. 

Chances are that some of the challenges that they will encounter when they are new have been around for a while. In such cases, many recently promoted leaders would ask their peers for advice or find the quickest route around the problem.

However, a new point of view can provide opportunities. By relying on creative skills or experience from previous jobs, a new leader can derive solutions to challenges that can help the entire operation. (Note that convincing others of a new approach depends on persuasive skills, as described above.) This enables them to quickly prove their value to the organization in addition to acclimatizing more rapidly. 


DEIB is important to many organizations; the “B” means belonging. A key component of making somebody feel like they belong, which is an important leadership task, is to empathize with them.

Beyond that, however, empathy is an essential tool. To understand someone’s motivations, a leader should be able to see things from their perspective. This is not just a way of making someone feel good. In dealing with situations where you face resistance, you can gain significant insights from figuring out the reasons behind an opponent’s actions. 

Note that empathy is closely related to other valuable leadership skills such as adaptability, persuasion, and self-awareness. 

Why Are Strong Leadership Skills Important?

No company can succeed without leadership, and building the skills of those in positions of responsibility can have many benefits:

Improved Employee Engagement

‍A potential barrier to effective leadership is a lack of relevant skills. Conversely, a leader who is supported by extensive skills will feel more competent and therefore more enthusiastic. A trained leader also understands that the organization is investing both in the success of operations and of the leader.  

Efficient Succession

‍‍When current leaders move on to other positions or leave the organization, it is crucial for their replacement to have the right skills. However, it is often the case that a new manager will lack both knowledge of their specific role and basic leadership skills. Leadership skill development will minimize disruption as the new manager becomes acclimatized. 

Strategic Ability

‍Although a basic task of any manager is to enable both the creation and reinforcement of strategy, leadership skills have these activities as a focus. Strategic thinking and change management skills are particularly valuable for the implementation of far-reaching plans.  

Proven Results

‍Of course, the effectiveness of a leadership skills program depends on the organization. However, surveys show that leadership development programs generally have both a considerable ROI and result in a greater number of more effective leaders. This study cites that, after a decade, organizations with leadership development programs increase their number of effective leaders by 27%. 

Beyond Leadership Skills

“Leadership” sounds like an exciting idea for many employees. But, in reality, it can be a tough job. According to Forbes Magazine, 60% of new managers fail within two years of taking on their role. 

Fortunately, the prime reason for this situation is a lack of managerial and leadership training; this LinkedIn article explains that this is the case for 85% of new managers. HR can go a long way towards resolving this by educating upper management about the critical nature of L&D programs for leadership skills. But not just any L&D programs – personalization is vital, as discussed below. 

However, there are other factors that can support new leaders during their successful integration. Backed by a strong organizational culture, HR should ensure that recently-promoted leaders are influenced by:

  • Strong values. Executive leaders must set examples for behavior. For instance, if a leader is expected to show empathy and self-awareness, then upper management needs to consistently demonstrate this attitude. In contrast, if a new leader sees that executives have poor values, then it will be assumed that such behavior is how you get to the top in that organization.  
  • “Big picture” awareness. When any employee understands how their work fits into operations in general, they develop a sense of purpose, which is vital for employee engagement. But for leaders, this information is essential. It permits them to make important decisions that would be impossible without knowing the purpose of whatever task they are working on. 
  • Continuous education. As noted above, any list of the most valuable leadership skills would be changing constantly. In addition, the sheer number of leadership skills means that it would take a person years to develop them. To address this challenge, companies should implement Continuing Professional Development programs. 

Creating Leadership Training Programs

Obviously, there are a large number of skills related to leadership. But it’s not usually necessary to provide training for every leader in every skill. Born leaders act that way because they have a set of natural qualities that empower them. Yet it is certain that they lack abilities in at least some of the areas mentioned. 

Leaders can be created. Almost every employee has skills that allow them to be turned into leaders. For instance, an expert in a technical area has knowledge that can be transferred to other employees. If they lack communication skills, then a leadership program (among other L&D options) might be used to turn them into a mentor. 

The essential aspect in both of these situations is for HR to understand exactly what leadership skills the employee already possesses, what kind of leader they should be (if at all), and what L&D courses can be used to fill in the gap. The most common tool for this task is a skills gap analysis combined with a career development plan. Once the analysis process is complete, HR will have a list of upskilling needs for each employee. But that’s not enough.

Personalized Leadership L&D

Organizations that want to develop the leadership potential of employees at various levels need a way to match individual training requirements with experts in those specific areas. The answer lies in L&D platforms that enable highly scalable leadership skill development programs through a technology that connects leaders with trainers, coaches, and mentors of any specialty.   

Only through personalized leadership programs can a leader gain the skills that are specific to them, while avoiding wasting their time on courses for abilities that they already have. Considering the heavy workload of most managers, optimizing their learning time with the most relevant courses builds critical skills in the most efficient way.  

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