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7 tips to develop leadership skills

4 min read  |   24 September, 2021   By Aimee O'Callaghan

People in an office are looking at a woman who is standing and talking

Are leading and managing the same thing? They're often used interchangeably, but a look beneath the surface reveals they are very different aspects of business. 

An article in the Harvard Business Review defines the differences between leaders and managers particularly well: 

“Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual's ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organisational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.”

What are leadership skills?

American president John Quincy Adams defined leadership succinctly when he said: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

Leadership and management are disciplines which require different skill sets and for some people, developing the attributes of a leader can seem daunting. Although in practice, these skills can be developed and honed over time. 

Don’t be daunted- in this post, we’ll cover 7 examples of leadership skills that you can develop to help you on your way to becoming a leader. Who knows- you may even possess some of them already.

If you're already in a senior role, you might find your own style of management reflected in an article we wrote about the 6 different styles of leadership.

1. Listen

Being able to listen to people is vital if you’re striving for excellent leadership. Hearing what your employees have to say and taking feedback on board will help you to solve problems and to foster good working relationships. If you listen to your team, they will listen to you and before you know it, you’ve developed channels of open communication. Bravo!

2. People first

Really try and see where your team are coming from- you’ll be thanked for it. Practicing empathy and trying to understand other people’s perspectives and attitudes is a valuable life lesson. Not only will putting others before you and thinking of them as individuals help in developing leadership skills, it can boost the success of your team, too. As Harry S. Truman said, “it is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

3. Communicate

Encouraging open and honest communication is one of the most important skills you can learn as a leader. Having an open-door policy means that employees will be more likely to air any concerns they may have, resulting in a happier workplace. Communication works both ways, so investing in communicating with your people works well for when you need to convey any important updates to your team, too. 

4. Be self-aware

Being truly self-aware is more difficult than it sounds. Encouraging honest feedback on your performance or things you might be able to improve on sounds daunting, but your team will respect you for it. This helps to create more of a democratic (rather than autocratic) feel within your organisation- where everyone knows their voice can be heard and everyone can improve on at least something. Nobody’s perfect, after all.

5. Growth mindset

Learning is never ‘finished’, as every great leader knows. Wanting to continuously improve and learn new things is a fantastic example of having a growth mindset and will set you apart as a leader. By always wanting to develop and hone your skills, you’ll inspire your team to do the same- so everybody wins. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, defined leadership as "about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

6. Encourage autonomy

Encouraging your team to be independent thinkers who are responsible for their own workload is a trait of a good leader, rather than micromanaging them. Autonomous employees are easier to manage and perform better at work (as well as the obvious benefit of being happier in their roles).

7. Stay organised

Being organised and on top of your workload is a big part of what makes a great leader. Don’t fall into the trap of overworking- learn how to delegate tasks, when necessary. Trying to keep up-to-date with organisational strategies and plans is also helpful in letting your team know where the company is headed and keeping them in the loop.

Above all, leadership skills comprise of working with and listening to your team. Empathy and communication are two of the strongest traits of successful leaders. If your employees know they can rely on you for guidance and are trusted to work independently, then you’re already on your way to building a solid foundation of leadership skills.

recognise and reward your people's hard work


Author: Aimee O'Callaghan

Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues and helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.

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