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The top ten leadership skills needed to be a successful business leader today

A new type of leadership is needed to steer organizations and their people through times of change and capitalize on the opportunities that change will bring. Today’s leaders must be agile, resilient and innovative. And for that, they will need a new leadership toolkit to manage the challenges ahead.

In this blog, we look at the top ten leadership skills needed to be a successful business leader today and in the future.

1. Effective communication

There can be no effective leadership without communication. Digital technology makes communication fast and seamless, but it needs to be used carefully, otherwise the result is just white noise. Leaders need to be trained in key communication skills like public and written presentation, verbal and non-verbal communication and active listening. They have to communicate in an authentic, open, and transparent way regardless of the media they use.

Communication is a two-way channel. The message must be tailored for its audience – which is now likely to be more diverse and often remote. Leaders should solicit and gather feedback, encourage team members to air their thoughts and listen actively to the people they’re engaging with. Considered, practiced communication fosters trust and confidence, enables collaboration, articulates direction, goals and visions and ensures proper execution of projects and tasks. In today’s frenetic business environment clear, coherent, effective communication is at a premium.

2. Building trust

A study in the Harvard Business Review found people at companies where there is a high level of trust reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction in employees’ lives and 40% less burnout. It falls to leaders to set an example and create an environment in which they can trust others and others trust them.

Leaders build trust by being transparent, authentic and reliable. They share information openly and transparently and encourage and act on open and candid feedback from individuals and teams in return. Modern leaders need to demonstrate self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. They shouldn’t shy away from displaying vulnerability to gain trust. They act swiftly on feedback, follow through on commitments and deal with people and issues fairly and with integrity. Building trust requires leaders to have highly attuned people skills.

3. Motivating others

Effective leadership can’t happen in isolation. To make an impact, leaders require the help of others. They act as coaches and mentors to inspire and engage their teams, firm in the belief that modern leadership is a collective project.

Motivation is a key leadership skill at a time of growing job insecurity and when the skills shortage has created a market for talent. Leaders encourage employees to grow as part of a commitment to career-long development. They work to empower people to deliver greater productivity and higher-quality input. Motivating others enables them to reach their potential. Motivational leadership helps develop the leaders of the future – from within the organization. Successful motivation leads to better staff retention.

4. Decision-making

The practice of leadership means constantly having to make decisions. In a volatile business climate leaders face decisions that are often strategic and potentially existential. Today’s leaders need to be focused not just on day-to-day business operations, but also to be aware of the challenges and opportunities the future holds.

Effective decision-making requires leaders to have a solid grasp of relevant information and a thorough understanding of the issues. It means gathering the resources, support and buy-in of the people charged with implementing the decision. But that doesn’t mean taking decisions by committee. Making decisions demands a high degree of self-confidence and awareness, a clear appreciation of risk and a keen understanding of the impact on others. Leaders have to communicate decisions and the reasons behind them, clearly to promote confidence in and acceptance of the decision-making process.

5. Prioritization

Prioritization is a critical strategic skill. Effective decision making is impossible without efficient prioritization. Leaders’ priorities should be aligned with key business goals and objectives. Leaders have to be agile, responsive and adaptable as priorities shift.

Prioritization requires planning and discipline. Setting out goals – whether for the business, for the team, or for personal development – forms the basis for determining what to prioritize. Creating a to-do list that reflects those priorities helps keep a leader on track and on task. Only one task at a time can command a leader’s attention, so tasks need to be ranked by urgency and importance. Effective leadership also requires the ability to switch tasks as circumstances dictate.

6. Delegation

A truly strong leader knows how and when to delegate. Delegation is doubly beneficial: it frees up a leader’s time to make critical executive decisions and at the same time it empowers those to whom work is delegated. Delegation demonstrates a leader’s trust and confidence in others and assists their development.

To delegate effectively a leader must be aware of the skills and capabilities of every employee in the team through detailed skills analysis. Delegation involves leaders making close observations, conducting clear assessments and building relationships. It means telling people what to do, but not how to do it. Delegation allows leaders to recognize and develop leadership potential.

7. Problem-solving

A large part of a leader’s job is anticipating and solving problems. Anticipation requires leaders to identify trends and consider different scenarios and new possibilities. Knowing what to expect and how best to tackle future issues enhances a leader’s ability to deal with problems.

Problem solving involves analytical skills and an ability to think critically. Tackling a problem requires calm deliberation and a sense of assurance. Learning problem-solving skills helps leaders in decision-making, relationship-building, conflict resolution and timely project delivery. Ultimately problems are solved through leadership, teamwork and collaboration.

8. Creating collaborative relationships

Modern leadership is less authoritarian and hierarchical and more democratic and distributed. The ability to create a network of peers, direct reports and higher-ranking leaders is indicative of successful leadership. Effective collaboration underpins and sustains other leadership skills.

Collaboration is vital in managing change and influencing others to follow a leader. It has become more critical with the move to more remote and hybrid working and where teams and individuals within them are geographically dispersed. Technology enhances collaboration, knowledge capture and transfer, and the potential to interact with others. But it can only be effective when supported by solid relationships and networks.

9. Identifying and developing future talent

A report by Forbes revealed that 77% of organizations say they are experiencing a leadership skills gap while 63% of millennials feel their leadership skills were not being fully developed and utilized. The skills shortage means buying in leadership talent is no longer a sustainable option. Therefore, it’s critical to identify, develop and upskill leaders from within the business. Studies repeatedly show that employees offered opportunities for personal development are more likely to stay with an organization.

Increasingly it’s the role of established leaders to source and develop potential leaders from their teams. To do that leaders need to conduct a skills analysis of their people, including those working remotely. Once potential is identified it needs to be nurtured and developed with a clear, personalized career pathway. Future leaders require training and mentoring to develop their skills on the job. The advantage of developing leaders in-house is that they learn in the context of work and understand the organization’s culture from the outset.

10. Showing empathy

Empathetic leadership allows leaders to see the issue from the other’s perspective and build a connection with them. The ability to empathize is becoming an increasingly significant part of future leaders’ toolkits as organizations become more diverse and dispersed. Empathy is a key component of a highly developed emotional intelligence.

Empathy is a soft skill that brings tangible results. It plays a significant role in a project’s success. People perform better and employee satisfaction rises when they feel they are heard and valued, and their concerns properly considered. Empathy requires leaders to show sympathy and consideration, communicate openly and listen actively.

Sustainable leadership skills

These skills are essential for current and future leaders. They provide the means to embrace change and position organizations for the business environment ahead. They are fully transferable and can be utilized in any business environment.

Modern leaders are trained and not born. Leadership today is too critical to be left to chance. Organizations need to commit to develop and invest in leadership training. That training must be rolled out across the organization and future leaders identified and supported.

The rewards of effective leadership are considerable. Not only do successful leaders drive business productivity they create a culture of leadership that is distilled throughout the organization. Leaders then beget other leaders and ensure a virtuous cycle of leadership development.

Leaders of the future

Organizations committed to a culture of leadership are characterized by better retention, greater engagement, higher levels of productivity, deeper engagement and an ability to innovate. In short, they are better able to withstand disruption and benefit from change.

Build a workforce that’s ready for what’s next with Learning Pool’s data-driven solutions that offer a smarter approach to upskilling. Discover more.

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