Think back to the best boss you’ve ever had. What set them apart? Was it their sense of humor, their approachable nature, or their respect for everyone on the team?
While these are all excellent traits, the managers we hold in high regard go beyond requisite qualities. They possess that special ability to inspire team members to reach their full potential, fostering an environment where work becomes enjoyable.
So, what’s the secret behind a truly exceptional boss? It boils down to their proficiency in professional leadership skills. Even the funniest, kindest, and smartest manager can’t succeed without them.
What are leadership skills in the workplace?
Professional leadership skills encompass a wide range of qualities and abilities that empower you to guide and inspire others effectively.
And there are a lot of them — after all, a strong leader not only coordinates teams toward achieving company goals but also creates a positive work culture, encourages innovation, and promotes personal and professional growth. The good news is education, experience, and perseverance can equip you with the tools you need to level up your leadership at work and drive your team to collective success.
7 examples of leadership skills
Even in non-managerial roles, many employers place significant importance on good leadership skills. There are countless opportunities for small acts of leadership in everyday work life, whether you’re an intern or in the C-suite.
The fact is that 63% of recruiters cite talent shortage as their biggest challenge — in other words, there aren’t enough professionals with the skills they want. Investing in your leadership skills can help you fill this gap and get noticed by upper management or make your resume stand out among fellow applicants.
Whether you’re a new grad looking for your first job or a seasoned professional working toward a promotion, make sure you possess the following skills (and list them on your resume):
As a leader, you’ll often find yourself deep in the decision-making process on behalf of your team. Effective leaders can quickly and confidently make important decisions without foregoing due diligence.
Making decisions is a part of everyday life, but learning to be more decisive is deliberate. As a leader, your team looks up to you. You want to model confidence in yourself and your choices, no matter the size. Start by making small decisions, like what to-do item to tackle next, in 30 seconds or less.
Once you’re comfortable making and sticking to these choices, gradually build up the stakes. (Just be sure to give yourself adequate time to make an informed decision.) This exercise will help you stave off decision fatigue and develop a highly valuable management skill — especially when your company faces turbulent times.
And integrity isn’t just about talking the talk — you also have to walk the walk. This means making fair and considerate choices at work, from your deals with clients to the way you treat your employees. As an ethical leader, you also need a healthy dose of self-awareness to make choices that reflect positively on your company (even after hours) and recognize when your decisions warrant corrective action.
When people talk about creative careers, we often think of musicians and poets, but there’s actually just as much creativity in the corporate workplace — especially if you’re a leader. Managers regularly face problems with no clear answers that require some outside-the-box thinking. As a leader, you need to be open-minded and innovative to put out any and all fires that land on your desk.
If you want to be more creative at the office, you need time to flex those mental muscles. Schedule brainstorming meetings with your team to bounce around new ideas. Take daily inspiration walks. Make time for journaling. Before you know it, you’ll be brimming with creative energy that will make your work — and leadership — better.
4. Conflict management
The average employee spends about three hours per week dealing with conflict. And sometimes, employee issues escalate to their supervisor, so leaders must know how to use conflict management skills to solve the problem and smooth things over.
Whether you’re dealing with difficult coworkers, an angry customer, or outright insubordination, you must solve the issue as calmly and professionally as possible. Learning how to develop this leadership skill is all about practice. Practice active listening, showing empathy, and using your creative skills and decisiveness to find a solution that suits everyone.
A great leader must have great communication skills to work effectively with colleagues, clients, and employees. And when it comes to communication, no skill is quite as valuable as the ability to negotiate. Employ active listening to understand all sides of a discussion and study different negotiation styles to better advocate for your company, your team, and yourself.
Research suggests 63% of employees believe flexibility is just as important as traditional work benefits. If you’re in a leadership role today, you must listen to your employee’s needs, and in many cases, that means giving them the option to work remotely.
But workplace flexibility isn’t just about checking in with your team on Zoom. Flexible leaders also use problem-solving skills to navigate last-minute snafus and keep things running smoothly at the office. This might mean negotiating with another department for more time on a project, quickly learning and adapting to new software, or developing creative solutions to employee conflict.
Truly great leaders are also great students. As a manager, part of your job is connecting with your team, which means you need to understand them. Strive to be endlessly curious about today’s workforce, their needs, and how to better serve them.
You can develop this type of professional skill in two ways. Firstly, dedicate some time to building your curiosity about your industry and your workforce. Read trade publications to keep up with technological changes, mergers, and other disruptors that could affect your organization.
Watch leadership seminars to build a toolbox that makes your job easier. And strive to develop your emotional intelligence and critical thinking so you can really listen to and understand your employees when they come to you for help.
5 ways to develop your professional leadership skills
You likely already possess some key leadership qualities, but what about the ones you don’t? Here are some strategies for developing your soft skills and maximizing your leadership potential:
1. Study effective leadership styles
To answer this question, look for inspiration around you. Study the various leadership styles of your peers and weigh their pros and cons. Read up on successful CEOs who excite and inspire you. Then determine which style feels the most natural to you and experiment to find what gets the best response from your team members.
2. Read, listen, and learn about how to lead
Your leadership style should never be stagnant — instead, you should constantly learn and improve. Listen to podcasts, watch TED Talks, and read books on leadership to learn how other peoples’ innovations impacted their companies. This process can yield valuable insights that bring about your best work and inspire your employees’ best in return.
3. Found a new group
Sometimes, the best way to improve your leadership skills is to learn on the job. Practice leading others by starting a group of your own, like an after-work sports league or a book club with your coworkers. Whatever you decide to do, it’ll be a valuable crash course in leadership.
4. Become a leader in an existing group
Being a leader is crucial for your professional development, so aim to accept all the leadership opportunities you can. This might mean taking the lead on a work project — or “practicing” leadership in the community during your time off. Just know that each time you take on a leading role, you’re building the confidence to become a great leader at work.
5. Find a mentor
Mentors and coaches can help you build confidence, learn essential skills, and develop the competencies necessary to be a successful leader. Try to find a mentor at your company or work with a corporate coach to help you become the best leader you can be.
Grow your leadership
Possessing the right professional leadership skills on your resume isn’t just a box to tick — it’s important for your company, team, and career development.
An effective leader cares about the success of those around them and has the toolkit to support their staff. Taking the time to upskill yourself is both an investment in your growth and the company’s, so don’t neglect this opportunity to make yourself indispensable.