Experts Share The Top 3 Skills to Develop as a Leader

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Leadership can seem like an elusive topic; with many people believing that you’re either born with great leadership skills, or you’re not.

Here at Advanced Business Abilities, we disagree with that. We think the skills of leadership can be developed by anyone who chooses to develop them.

The question then becomes, what are those skills? What are the most important ones to begin to develop if you’re taking on a leadership role?

To answer those questions, we’ve reached out to leadership experts across the globe to find out what they think are the three most important leadership skills to develop, and we’re thrilled with the responses.

If you’re looking for guidance on where to start to increase your leadership performance, check out what these experts have to say!

Joseph Lalonde

There are so many different leadership skills a leader needs to focus on and narrowing those down to 3 is hard. However, I believe these 3 leadership skills will serve a leader well:

The skill of communication
Communication is a hallmark of great leaders. Knowing how to communicate with your team members is critical to your success. People need to know what is expected, why they’re doing it, and what freedoms they have in getting their work done.

The skill of self-control
Many people don’t think of self-control as a skill. Yet it is. You can develop self-control and it is a skill that will serve you well. Self-control is important because it allows you to keep calm and collected even when the pressure is on. Your team will recognize your calm and collected self and realize they can be the same way in the face of overwhelm.

The skill of delegation
It’s hard to give away control of your projects. You want to hold onto everything and make sure they’re done to your standards. Yet, as a leader, you don’t have the time required to tackle everything that comes your way. This is where the skill of delegation comes in. You can pass off tasks that others are better suited for and they can run with the ball. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks where others will do a better job than you (and it’s more often than not that someone else can do a better job).

Melanie Downey
Chief PR Strategist

Surprisingly, the skills that make the best leaders so successful are the ones we aren’t taught in school. Creativity, Flexibility, and Listening skills help us to make good decisions and choose the best paths for our teams and our businesses. People who’ve mastered these, and continue to develop them, are the ones who we think of as ‘natural leaders.’

Suzi McAlpine

The three most important skills to develop as a leader (IMHO) are:

Emotional intelligence and in particular, self- awareness. The research is overwhelming – those leaders with a high degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence perform the best. Socrates had it sorted all those thousands of years ago when he said “know thyself.” Check out Daniel Goleman’s work on this if you are interested in knowing how to do this.

Listening. See my blog post here on why and how.

Comfort with ambiguity and ‘not knowing’. As the world becomes more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, an ability to live with the discomfort of not knowing, not having to have all the answers and moving ahead and making decisions without all of the data or answers will become increasingly vital for leaders.

Alyssa Gregory

There are many skills that are found in successful leaders, but there are three that are essential in my experience.

First, you must be able to listen (with empathy!). This means listening and truly hearing AND understanding what is being said, from the speaker’s point of view.

Second, after listening to your team, you need to be able to effectively communicate your vision in a way that is motivating and gets them passionate about the work ahead.

And third, you need to be an exceptional planner who has the ability to execute. Big, motivating ideas are awesome, but without being able to visualize the path from Point A to Point B, you can’t lead your team to success.

Scott Gould

The first and foremost skill of leadership is facilitation. As a leader you are facilitating the relationship between the present and the future. This will be the present reality of those you are leading, and the preferred future that you want to arrive at. And facilitation is the word, because so much of leadership is about balancing, negotiating and unlocking intangibles within and between people. It would be no exaggeration to say that leadership is an art.

The second skill, then, is perception. You need to perceive what people’s own perceptions of reality are. When you lead, you aren’t dealing with absolute reality – you are dealing with perceived reality. The craft of a leader, you see, is knowing where people think they are.

And finally, the third skill is inspiration – the ability to vividly paint the future that people are moving towards in such a way that it resonates with and motivates all shapes and kinds. This is what creates movement.

So facilitation, perception, inspiration. The three skills of a leader – or at the least, the type of leader I’ve found has led me the best.

Cham Tang

What would you say are the 3 most important skills to develop as a leader?

1. Team selection – People’s core personalities don’t change. So if you hire A players, they will perform well without needing micromanagement. If you hire B players, no amount of incentives, training, and praying will help you!

2. Clear goals – Every team member wants to do well. But they need a clear target or goal they can throw themselves into.

3. Respect of your team – I know this isn’t a direct skill you’re in control of, but if your team doesn’t respect you they won’t follow you. You can earn respect by having upfront conversations and putting 100% of your effort in.

Kate Nasser
The People Skills Coach™

1. Vision. The ability to see where to go strategically and to spot the diverse obstacles/risks that lie ahead.

2. Listening & Communication.  Great listening starts with taking in information without bias & continues with asking incisive questions to unearth more.  Combine that with great communication that clarifies and ignites action and problem-solving.

3. Inspirational influencing skills.  Know how to inspire resilience, contribution, and high morale.   Leaders can have great vision and communication yet if they can’t inspire and lead morale, who will make the vision come true? No one. If you’re not leading morale, you’re not leading anyone.

Bob Burg

1. An “Other-Focus.” It’s not about you but about those you lead. As Dale Carnegie wrote in his classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, “People do things for their reasons, not our reasons.” So ask yourself, “How does what I’m asking align with their goals, needs, wants, desires…with their values?” Now you’ve created the correct context.

2. Becoming Trustworthy. Earning trust will always be your most valuable personal asset. Keep your word, build others at every opportunity, stand for what’s right, and always act congruently with those values.

3. Know What It’s Ultimately About. Embrace the fact that leadership is never about the technology — it’s always about the people. The more advanced technology gets the more important elements such as empathy, team-building, collaboration, and interpersonal relationships will become.

Peter Shallard

1. Self awareness
2. Empathy for the customer
3. Conquering cognitive biases

Self awareness is critical because it’s the gateway to understanding your strengths but also your weakness. Due to the nature of specialization, the fact that successful entrepreneurs are those who go narrow and deep in their core “zone of genius”…. our weaknesses ALWAYS outnumber our strengths by several factors. Bad leaders get spanked by the universe because of the Dunning Kruger effect.  They over-estimate their competency and make bad, costly decisions as a result.

Empathy for customers is key. This is what creates genuine product-market fit because it’s the personality trait that truly understands how to place oneself in other people’s shoes… and really experience and understand what needs/wants/problems they have.

Conquering one’s owns cognitive biases is understanding that everything we do as entrepreneurs and leaders is happening on “hardware” that is billions of years old. Our brains are still subject to all sorts of evolutionary processes and mechanisms that made sense – and gave us advantages – in the past but no longer make sense today. Catching our flight or fight response in the “urban jungle”, being aware of Sunk Cost Bias… basically, understanding how our brains make us predictably irrational … changes the game for entrepreneurs looking to make fast, decisive and powerful moves in business.

Liz Froment

1. Communication: I think a huge part of being a good leader is being a good communicator. That not only means getting your point across but also listening to others and encouraging comments and ideas, plus asking for feedback.

2. Empathy: Being able to understand where other people are coming from is also really important. It ties in with communication but it helps to have people know that you hear them.

3. Integrity: Real leadership is about doing the right thing as much as you can, even if that means you don’t get the credit or accolades. It also means being honest with others and taking responsibility when things go wrong.

Julie Winkle Giulioni
Co-Author, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

Leadership today is a daunting task. Ever-shifting priorities. Escalating expectations. Complexity and volatility like never before. Pressure to constantly do more with less. And the double-edged sword of technology which offers tremendous possibilities while at the same time undermining attention, focus, confidence, and even health and wellbeing.

The key to thriving – and creating an environment that helps others thrive as well – rests upon a few key leadership skills.

Curiosity: This is quickly becoming a gateway competency that elevates almost any other skill. Salespeople who are curious sell more. Service people who are curious are better at solving customer problems. Engineers who are curious build better products. And leaders who are curious are more approachable, learn more, can more easily and quickly solve problems, and inspire greater curiosity in everyone around them.

Agility: Given the accelerated pace of change facing most industries and organizations, leaders today must be nimble. They must be ready to adjust their thinking, strategies, plans, and approaches to take advantage of the opportunities (or mitigate the risks) that come along with change.

Self-Awareness: Leaders – whether they know it or not – are always leading by example. The question is: Is it the example they want others to follow. Effective leaders take time to reflect, consider their motives, evaluate their responses, and step back when their actions may not be productive. This requires a level of discipline and intentionality; but the results are profound because employees crave leaders they can look up to, respect and confidently follow.

Cheryl Cran

1. Multiple perspectives – develop the ability to see people and situations from multiple perspectives. For example, see your boss as a person, as a leader, as having his or her own commitments to his or her own boss, seeing your boss in relationship to the overall company etc. Having multiple perspectives allows a leader to make better-informed decisions and to connect to people in more authentic ways.

2. Open communication – the ability to adapt, see the context and choose the right words and approach to every person you encounter. The future of work level communication is beyond basic communication. It requires knowing whether its appropriate to text, phone, email or use FaceTime or Skype – being ready and able to use any form of communication and adapt to the person recognizing his or her personality, culture and values in order to communicate quickly and authentically.

3. Me to We – develop a team perspective that values each team member and his or her contributions as much as your own as a leader. Realizing that ‘everyone is a leader’ in regards to his or her role and desire to succeed. Developing a ‘me to we’ attitude creates an inclusive leadership attitude and incites you as a leader to WANT to coach, develop and grow your team members.

T.T. Mitchell

1. Delegation. Too many leaders forget that their job is to lead and encourage others to produce, not to be doing the actual work all the time. Do enough so you keep up with what’s going on but delegate as much as you can so you can work on ways to improve things.

2. Diplomacy. Things don’t go smoothly all the time, and the worst things occur when people can’t get along. Whether it’s you having problems with others or others having problems that you need to solve, this is a skill that’s hard to learn to the extent that one needs to be fair and firm at the same time. People don’t have to like each other but they need to work with each other.

3. Analysis. One can’t just look at reports; one has to analyze what they mean and what can be done about them when things aren’t going right. You can’t dole out work without analyzing whether what you’re doing is fair. You can’t set team goals without knowing whether those goals are achievable or sufficient.

Jon Mertz

Being an effective leader requires the essential skills of thinking, being inclusive, and problem-solving.

In place of unproductive busyness, leaders need to carve out time to think. Recent research or a competitive news story requires thinking time. Without deeper thinking about what we read, heard, or observed, leaders can miss trends and offer shallow strategic plans.

Like diverse thinking is diverse interactions. What a different background, gender, and race deliver is a deeper understanding and greater possibility for innovation. Inclusiveness improves results.

To gain results, solid problem-solving skills require deeper thinking and healthier inclusiveness. Solid problem-solving skills also embrace framing situations fully and succinctly, gaining collaboration to develop actions, and implementing practical steps with proper metrics. An impactful leader will focus on complete thinking, inclusiveness, and problem-solving.

Takis Athanassiou

A leader today needs many different skills to succeed in business and in life. Among them, you could count the commitment to his/her goals, creativity, the ability to solve problems, and the ability to build relationships.

For me though, the ones that make a leader a role-model for other people to follow are: excellent communication abilities, adaptability to an ever-changing environment (something related to lifelong learning, listening to the needs of other people and of the market), and an ability for planning/effective organization. Only via effective planning, communication and adaptation can a leader achieve their objectives and leave behind a legacy of value.

Rixt Herklots

The top 3 skills to develop as a leader (if you ask me):

1. Know your limits, know your strengths. Great leaders know their weaknesses and know how to hire the right people to complete them

2. Value good people. Hire the ones that are better than you and you can help your company thrive. It’s ok to not have all the answers yourself.

3. Keep balance. It’s so easy to get lost in all your hard work, but a good leader knows how to take a step back and keep an eye on the larger plan.

Irene Becker

Aspiring to great leadership is critical on a multiplicity of levels and must be matched by our acceptance of change as the greatest constant we face and human potential as our greatest hope for a better future.

Our ability to think differently, communicate and collaborate across generational and cultural boundaries is exceptional, and the courage to see the world with new eyes is critical to effective 21st century leadership.

Leaders must champion a better present and future by knowing how to lead through change because they have developed what I call Q skills, three areas of strength that drive cognitive dexterity, emotional intelligence and the integrity of purpose and spirit that is a timeless anchor for sustainability.

I am passionate about the development of Q skills and have made 3Q leadership my life’s work because our ability to not simply rise to the challenges before us, but to use them as levers for our greatest purpose, potential and results is as real as it is critical.

Zeeshan Pasha

I was recently interviewed on a leadership podcast which went for an hour and was meant to be 8 minutes. I love the topic! Let me summarize and try to keep it to 3 points which I believe are very important.

Other than the fact that all leaders must be able to lead themselves, a leader needs to be personable and charismatic. Personable to be able to be approachable by his team and charismatic to be able to influence his team and stake holders.

A leader must be OPEN. Open minded, open to suggestions, open to ideas, open to opinions and biggest of them all – open to criticism. Without which, he/she is unable to run the ship without being a dictator. I believe there is a big difference between being a dictator and a leader.

A good leader must be able to delegate, train and make quick informed decisions. Right or wrong is irrelevant.

Lynda Bekore

Some people might be “natural” leaders, but I believe anyone can be a great leader if they regularly practice these three essential skills:

Kindness. This is too often swept away as a soft skill in the drive toward success, but in my experience the best leaders have been the ones to regularly show simple kindness. It doesn’t take big gestures to be kind to your workers—a morning smile, a sincere thank you, or a reminder that you think they’re doing a good job—these everyday moments add up to genuine respect and appreciation from co-workers and customers alike.

Risk-taking. “Follow the Leader” isn’t just a children’s game. Great leaders model behavior they want others to emulate, and in business, that must include taking risks. When your workers see you taking risks, they gain the confidence to step out of their comfort zones and really show what they’re capable of. But without direction and modeling “from above,” very few will have the courage to take those steps and reach their full potential.

Dealing with Failure. Failure is probably the most underrated yet most powerful tool in a leader’s arsenal. How you deal with adversity is the most telling aspect of your character, and therefore, the most significant way to earn respect. The ability to take a punch to your bottom line and still bounce back shows others that failure is simply another way to learn how to be better. And ultimately, being better is what makes great teams and great businesses.

We hope you’ve found this helpful! We’d also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who contributed!

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