Leaders are made, not born. That being said, the art of leadership is full of nuances and complexities. There are a few basic skills that can help you figure things out as a first-time leader, but truly calling yourself a leader requires a whole other level of mastery.
For example, having interpersonal skills is a must for being in any leadership position. But to be an outstanding leader, you need to juggle between various people-oriented abilities such as emotional intelligence, persuasion and communication — all of which are different both in terms of understanding and practical application (while also being interrelated).
We’ve asked leadership expert Andi Saitowitz, mindset and high-performance transformational coach for leaders and teams, for her take on the most important skills every leader should master. Consider the 16 skills below your checklist for stepping your game up as a leader.
“Active listening is all about really hearing others beyond what is said verbally. When people feel heard and validated, it makes them feel valued and, as a result, drives far better engagement,” says Saitowitz.
Mastering the art of truly listening also translates into a strategic advantage, as it helps gather quality insights for better decision-making and can also be an asset when aiming to influence others.
According to Saitowitz, empathy enables leaders to understand the needs of their team members. This enables them to have a more personalized and adaptable management approach and help their people improve and excel.
“Leaders who are humble appreciate others’ strengths, contributions and ideas. They create a space for others to shine, take risks and make improvements. They understand the value others bring and know they are not always the smartest person in the room. They are willing to admit their shortcomings and ask for help which, in turn, creates a climate of psychological safety and trust — an essential ingredient for collective leadership and successful teams,” says Saitowitz.
According to Saitowitz, true leaders never stop learning and see themselves as perpetual students. They stay curious and ask questions with an open mind and view the pursuit of continuous learning as a strategic asset. This mindset also helps them overcome failure and setbacks in a constructive way. “They treat failure as feedback to do things differently moving forward,” she says.
You can’t motivate others if you are not motivated yourself. As a leader, having drive and ambition is super important in order to paint a compelling vision for others. “Leaders who have drive, passion, charisma and magnetic energy provide direction and clarity for their people, which serves as fuel for motivation, especially when it comes to the company vision as well as a will to succeed. This ambition is contagious,” says Saitowitz.
We live in an uncertain world. But the best leaders have an optimistic view of the future, which helps them keep the spirits of the people they work with high. “Leaders who are optimistic believe they can create a positive future that is better than the present. They instill hope and faith in their people and serve as a shining light of possibility.”
Great leaders are resilient people. They don’t give up at the first sign of difficulty. They expect to face challenges and understand that resilience is a skill that can be developed overtime to prepare them for facing inevitable bumps in the road. This turns them into a source of courage for others and also helps them sustain their effectiveness under pressure, according to Saitowitz.
Creativity is essential to fostering innovation and driving change. “[Creative] leaders are able to see things from new perspectives and solve problems with fresh eyes. They promote cultures of creativity within their teams,” says Saitowitz.
“Outstanding leaders communicate clearly, are persuasive and mobilize people in such a way to deliver results. They are able to delegate and promote others and embody effective people-management. They are able to make others know what is expected of them, which allows for all team members to perform their roles more effectively.”
Sure, great leaders are visionaries. But they also know that vision means nothing without execution. “For leaders, this includes decision-making, strategic and critical thinking and planning, accountability and responsibility. Leaders who master execution are methodical, set goals and deadlines and provide key performance indicators and feedback regularly so that their people get things done,” says Saitowitz.
You can’t truly call yourself a leader without integrity. Being congruent in your values, the things you say and the actions you take is the only way you’ll build the respect needed to be in a position of leadership. “Great leaders walk their talk and live their purpose and values with clarity.”
Self-awareness and personal mastery are advanced leadership skills, according to Saitowitz. Why? Great leaders prioritize their personal development and make time for reflection as well as positive habits that will help them improve in their performance — and as human beings. “Great leaders are self-motivated, full of energy and vitality and dedicated to becoming the very best version of themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.”
13. Emotional Intelligence
Having a high EQ is a necessity if you want to call yourself a leader. “Great relationships are the core component of great leadership,” says Saitowitz. To excel as a leader, you need to understand that the only way to win is if you can rally people and get them excited to work towards a common goal. And since this includes balancing both individual and collective interests as well as working with different stakeholders and personalities, emotional intelligence is critical.
The most skillful leaders are also coaches. They invest in the individual development of team members and support them in achieving their personal goals. “Advanced leaders understand that their people are their most precious resource,” says Saitowitz. “When people feel valued, invested in and believed in, they tap into tremendous inner resources and talent.”
15. Conflict Resolution
“Advanced leaders understand that conflict and diversity are healthy and important when managed effectively. Leaders must master this competency to grow healthier relationships in their organizations, create happier workplaces and eliminate toxic environments.” So when it comes to being a true leader, diplomacy-related skills such as negotiation and mediation are a must.
16. Systemic Thinking
To be a leader means to understand the bigger picture while also being able to zoom in when required. “Leaders need to consider all the relationships and processes in a wider system, view the entire organization and ecosystem holistically, and be able to connect the different parts,” says Saitowitz.