Soft skills: 27 ways to develop core leadership skills and leadership qualities
Many people in leadership positions worry about their leadership skills.
After all, they are one of the most important qualities and soft skills a manager should possess. Developing leadership skills and communication skills in a leadership role is not always easy, but there are great strategies to optimize and improve leadership qualities. These have a great advantage, both in the working world and in your personal life.
What makes a good leader?
An effective leader creates a vision and shares it with their employees so that they, too, follow and support the vision. But that’s far from all there is to it. Leadership also means providing the methods, knowledge and information needed to coordinate and implement the vision. This always involves balancing the sometimes conflicting interests of the team.
What are the most important leadership skills?
In developing leadership skills, we first look at the abilities that characterize an effective leader:
Leadership competencies are soft skills that managers possess in order to develop the potential of their employees and their team. These qualities are not only helpful in a business context or for career development – leadership also pays off in private life.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are personal, social and methodological competencies. These include, for example, the ability to work in a team, empathy and creativity. This contrasts with specialist knowledge – the hard skills. Depending on the personality type, certain skills are pronounced differently in each person. However, this is not set in stone – soft skills and thus leadership skills can be trained.
Where do you need to demonstrate leadership skills?
Now think specifically about the areas of leadership in which you want to improve. What leadership skills are important for your individual position? Are there leadership strengths that you already possess? There are many methods and approaches that can help you with leadership development. For example, you can set measurable goals that you review and adjust at regular intervals. To make things a little easier for you, in our article we present the most important ways to improve your leadership skills and become a successful leader through optimized leadership development.
Optimize your leadership abilities with the following tips
As a manager, you know that every leadership error takes its revenge more or less quickly. If you mercilessly drive your employees to peak performance, their performance will drop significantly in the long run. If you praise too much, this valuable leadership tool quickly becomes blunt and loses its effect. The mistakes a manager can make are numerous and varied.
However, with a little thought and a tactful approach, you can quickly improve your performance and become a successful leader.
Before you make leadership decisions, consider these 4 new ideas
Before you start thinking about leadership types or tools, you should throw an unfortunately widespread dogma on the scrap pile of false leadership laws. What is meant is the exceedingly pointless saying: “You can’t learn to lead, it comes naturally to you.” On the contrary, always remember this:
1. Leadership can be learned
There are certainly naturals when it comes to leadership, but even they need to constantly develop their skills. Basically, there are two very contrasting leadership styles: the imperative leadership style and the more motivational, collaborative style. In the imperative leadership style, you comprehensively define every detail of a task. Here, you cannot expect an employee to develop initiative on their own and improve their performance.
Prefer the motivational leadership style.
While strict orders pull everyone down in the long run, you can achieve better employee performance according to the motto “praise pulls up.” If you want to apply the motivational leadership style, however, you should never forget to challenge the employee as well. Because that’s the only way you can encourage him or her! Everyone longs for recognition – including your employees. But be careful: Too much praise can be harmful.
Adhere to the following principle:
2. Always measure your employees’ performance objectively
Communicate your evaluations openly and honestly. After all, employees can only improve if they know where they and their work are deficient. When you talk to managers about how they make decisions, you’ll typically hear three different views. Some make decisions essentially for themselves, while others try to work with their team to find a solution. As a third variant, you often get to hear that the decision is delegated to a specialist.
All these ways are not right or wrong – it always depends on the situation.
Depending on the situation, you either have to make decisions yourself, work them out in a team, or delegate them to a specialist. However, it is important that you lay down the rules of the game as to who is responsible for which decision and when. Also on the subject of verbal or written instructions, if you ask managers, you will hear completely contradictory things again and again.
Keep this in mind:
3. Humans are forgetful beings
If you have explained a complex context to an employee verbally, you will be surprised the next day: he has forgotten at least half of it. Therefore, always choose the written form. Choose the golden middle ground when it comes to control and target systems. Those who want to package everything in key figures, according to the motto “trust is good, control is better,” will fail just as much as if they want to work completely without such instruments.
It is important to:
4. Create transparency in the measurement systems
Explain to your employees the criteria by which you evaluate your supervisory systems and take criticism seriously. This is the only way to achieve the necessary acceptance.
27 ways to improve your leadership style in the workplace
Future leaders take note: To improve your overall leadership skills and soft skills, you can take your leadership development to a whole new level by building or improving the following key skills. Remember, effective leadership is not just about critical thinking, complex projects, or your own professional development and career growth. It’s also about listening skills, knowing how to resolve conflicts, self-awareness, and personal reflection on your leadership role. And yes, self-doubt too!
1. Admit your mistakes and move on anyway
Even managers make mistakes.
People learn from mistakes. This is true even for the most inspiring and powerful leaders in history. What does a good leader do after making a mistake? They accept it, admit it, and look for the best solution. A leader must always keep in mind that to make a mistake is human. If one has made a mistake, one should try to understand how it came about and what one can do to avoid it in the future.
2. Be a follower, not just a leader
Are leadership and followership opposites? Not at all.
Good leaders ask for help when they need it. And if their opinion doesn’t match the other person’s, they accept that and engage with the other person’s opinion. Open-mindedness and the ability to recognize the achievements of others are important character traits in a leader. Other opinions are also worthy of respect and appreciation. When an employee has a new idea, encourage them and see where it leads. Be one of their biggest fans. Help them step out of their comfort zone, and by believing in them, you instill confidence.
3. Ask questions
An important characteristic of leaders is to remain curious and questioning.
It leads to a more creative way of thinking when things are no longer taken for granted. Many people have stopped asking questions because they get lost in assumptions and explain the open questions themselves. This is fatal because by asking questions, the fundamentals of a situation can be identified. In this way, problems that arise can be better analyzed, understanding for others grows, and ambiguities can be eliminated.
4. Take the initiative
If you never grow beyond your comfort zone, you can never become a true leader.
The comfort zone must be left behind. You have to recognize the need for action and not wait for a task to be made explicit first. It is always better to do more than you actually have to do. This also goes down very well with those around you. Give it a try, you will be surprised by the reaction of those surrounding you.
5. Practice active listening
A good leader does not have to be the center of attention all the time.
An essential character trait is that a leader can also be an active listener. Through active listening, important information is gained and the relationship with the counterpart is intensified. Always pay attention to your facial expressions and gestures to convey active listening and thus improve your leadership skills.
6. Be the motivation for others
No one can be the very best at everything they do. Therefore, a true leader should influence people positively.
This must be recognized as an incontrovertible fact. That is why it is important to actively motivate others and encourage them in their actions. This applies both in the private sphere and in the professional world. Encourage others, and those around you will do the same! Outstanding managers can spur their employees on to new records. However, money or bonuses should play a subordinate role at best: A high degree of autonomy and self-determination motivates much more sustainably at work than money. Shared goals, perceived gratitude from superiors and appreciation for work performed also have an impact.
7. Master self-leadership
A leader must know themselves and know exactly where their own strengths and weaknesses lie.
One’s own personality traits must be known and present. Comparing your own behavior with the behavior of other leaders, perhaps well-known ones, whether positive or negative, is very helpful for self-knowledge. Then consider how you want to be perceived and which of your characteristics and leadership skills you want to bring to the fore.
8. Show discipline
Being a leader means work.
This is where being self-disciplined comes into play, because without it, an idea or a vision cannot be put into practice. So self-discipline is the name of the game for a leader. After all, discipline will rub off on those around you if you always model it. To acquire discipline, you could start with a sports program, for example, which you then follow through with consistently. This will then transfer to other areas as well.
9. Maintain good working relationships with team members
Teamwork and collaboration are fostered when everyone knows what to work on, how their tasks depend on each other, what resources are available, how team members can support each other, whether there are open or transparent communication channels, and how progress is regularly reviewed.
Take a long-term approach to collaboration by building strong bonds at work and investing in the success of others through simple practices such as sharing your best practices, being responsive and accountable, taking time to get to know your colleagues, helping others, and celebrating the accomplishments of others.
10. Be open to new ideas
Managers with strong leadership skills are not averse to their employees’ ideas.
You listen and take on board their assessments and suggestions without bias. That’s easier said than done: Because it also means that you listen to an idea all the way to the end, even if you realize after just a few sentences that it doesn’t lead to the goal. Give your employees the chance to finish what they have to say. This is a sign of appreciation and respect.
11. Keep the overview
The big picture.
True leadership shows itself in difficult moments and helps to resolve the situation in the best possible way. If management loses sight of the big picture, it is almost impossible to work productively and purposefully. Such impending chaos can be prevented by the necessary leadership strength.
12. Demonstrate your ability to deal with conflict
Employees need a clear directive.
This does not mean that one should only lead by decree from above. An authoritarian style of leadership based on command and obedience is no longer appropriate. The ability to deal with conflict therefore means first and foremost allowing conflict and dissent to exist in the first place. Dealing with it in a sovereign manner, resolutely addressing the matter without ever becoming personal, can help overcome resistance.
13. Have knowledge of people
It’s a leader’s role to know which tasks they can expect their employees to perform and which colleagues harmonize best with each other in teamwork.
Everyone has the right to be managed individually. A good knowledge of human nature helps you to recognize which colleagues need more freedom and which need more extrinsic motivation.
14. Show understanding
No employee likes choleric bosses.
Sure, sometimes constructive criticism or admonishment is unavoidable. But most employees instinctively sense whether this is done with the best of intentions and a desire to challenge and encourage colleagues – or whether it’s just acting out their own whims. Everyone makes mistakes on the job. Leaders do, too. The decisive factor for leadership strength is the associated understanding and consideration for the inviolable dignity of human beings – also in companies.
15. Display your humanity
This point is the further development of the understanding leader.
Such managers and bosses not only know that their employees make mistakes now and then, but also admit them to themselves. And to their colleagues as well. There’s no shame in being wrong as a boss. On the contrary, it makes you more approachable and ultimately more likeable and is a sign of genuine humanity and true leadership skills.
16. Be socially competent
To lead employees, you have to understand them. Both intellectually and emotionally.
A high degree of empathy and social competence are essential for this and are evidence of leadership strength. Social competence also manifests itself in good manners, good presentation and communication skills, or the ability to let others go above and beyond.
17. Build your self-confidence
Get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself to more difficult tasks or meet new people who will help you grow.
Be kind to yourself when you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. Use your strengths to your advantage and hold on to your past successes. Other tips to boost self-confidence include seeking and being open to corrective and constructive feedback, improving body language, avoiding perfectionism, refraining from comparing yourself to others, recognizing fears and working to overcome them, and creating boundaries.
18. Share your knowledge
As a leader, it’s important to share your knowledge with others to help them grow and develop in their work.
By taking the time to educate others, you can teach them valuable skills such as how to make decisions, how to prioritize, how to handle conflict, how to negotiate effectively, how to plan, how to set goals, how to deal with challenges, and how to innovate. Teaching and answering questions will help you learn about your own knowledge gaps. Also, when you take the time to train others, you get to know your team better and can identify strengths you need to foster and weaknesses you need to compensate for.
19. Develop good teams
Many people desire to work on or be part of a successful team.
However, building a strong, high-performing team is hard work. Different team members have different interests and motivations, and a leader’s goal is to make sure that all team members know where the boat is headed and that they are all in tune with each other. To build a strong team, it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each member and how their different skills complement each other.
20. Solve problems
A solution-oriented mindset is extremely important for a leader.
Because problems abound in the working world. Every day offers new challenges to overcome. A problem-solving approach should seek to understand and do the following: What is the problem? – Define it. What is the root cause of the problem? Delve deeper. What are the possible solutions? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the solutions? Which option offers the best solution? What do you need to implement the solution? Who will do what? What can we learn from the problem?
21. Keep learning
Study other leaders and their qualities, demeanor and way of communicating.
While you don’t have to copy another leader, you may incorporate some of their traits into your style. Find out about their story, the ups and downs they’ve experienced, key life lessons they’ve learned, and words of inspiration. To learn more about the experienced leaders you admire, you might even reach out to them directly and ask them about their experiences. Other ways to learn include reading books and articles about the leader, presentations, lectures, and attending live or online seminars by other leaders.
22. Take on leadership roles outside of work
You can build on your strengths and boost your confidence by taking on leadership roles in your personal life.
For example, you could volunteer to lead a local sports team or start your own group. If you are already involved in an activity, you can volunteer to lead or manage it. To feel more confident about doing this, remember that your support in this way is often very welcome as it takes the pressure off the other members of the group. This type of leadership provides valuable experience. Once you become accustomed to your leadership role, you will be in a much better position to take on similar tasks in the workplace.
23. Practice communicating well
Lack of communication and poor communication are barriers to improve leadership skills.
The benefits of clear communication include strengthening working relationships, increasing productivity and collaboration, higher job satisfaction, and saving time and money. One simple way to practice good communication skills is to share information, give clear direction, be available to answer questions, and provide regular updates and feedback. Also, pay attention to the basics like eye contact, paying attention through posture, and nodding to make sure you are on the same page.
24. Be decisive
A good leader is characterized by being decisive.
It can be tempting to shy away from decisions, especially when you don’t have enough information or when the outcome could be unfavorable. There will be circumstances in which your decisions are good, and in other cases your decisions will not be so good. Keep working on your decision-making skills so that you feel more comfortable making decisions and, over time, make more good decisions than bad ones.
25. Be courageous
As a leader, you need to be brave and take risks from time to time.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be afraid. The more calculated risks you take, the easier it will be to manage fear, especially if you firmly believe that what you are doing will benefit many. Ways to be courageous at work include: Asking questions, standing by your mistakes, persevering when met with resistance, volunteering to lead projects, proposing an unpopular idea, going against the grain, breaking with tradition or challenging the status quo, proposing new changes, and defending your opinions when you believe strongly in them.
26. Stay focused at work
From time to time, even the most efficient leader can be plagued by a lack or loss of concentration.
Lapses in concentration can range from digressive thoughts, to a flood of emails or notifications, to conversations with colleagues, a messy desk, boredom, and even a lack of motivation. So use a to-do list to guide your workday, tidy up your workspace, set up a good filing system, focus on one activity at a time, complete harder projects during daily productivity spikes, and collaborate with team members on group activities.
27. Expand your network
Build an extensive network and establish close relationships with others.
Connect with people from all walks of life, show genuine interest in them, and try to provide as much value as possible. Also work to build your personal brand and reputation so that people are interested in working with you. For example, you can become known for mastering a skill such as negotiation, problem solving, public speaking, or sales, and then help people in areas where you are competent. Tip: Don’t just socialize when you need something from others, and focus on quality over quantity when networking – good leaders ask thoughtful questions, learn, and socialize on a deeper level.
Now that you’ve read a lot about the necessary and crucial qualities of true leadership, you’ll probably realize: I’m missing something. No need to worry – no master ever fell from the sky. And leadership qualities are innate in very few people. Most leadership skills can be learned, trained and improved.
Below are some suggestions on how you can take your leadership skills even further:
How to improve leadership skills: Developing leadership skills in 5 steps
To learn leadership skills and fully develop your leadership potential, it is important to know each team member and every person’s strengths in detail. An experienced leader has knowledge of conflict resolution as well as important hard skills in a particular task. Inspiring leaders involve others in their decision making and poor communication is a non-issue for them. The best leaders recognize success and never lose confidence. They are keenly aware of their own leadership strengths and know exactly what their priorities are.
Therefore, the very first thing you should do is identify your leadership strengths and weaknesses. By identifying your strongest areas, you can focus on those strengths while working on your problem areas. To do this, it can be helpful to ask a mentor or trusted colleague to discuss with you the areas where you excel and the areas where you could use a little more attention. Another helpful exercise is to reflect on when you have received praise, promotions, awards or compliments. Are there topics or areas where you are consistently praised? What traits, qualities, and skills have contributed to you receiving awards or recognition?
1. Improve your critical faculties
Even managers make mistakes now and then. Try to see mistakes or bad decisions less as a personal defeat and more as an opportunity: Feel free to verbalize your analysis. In this way, you will not only gain respect and new solutions. You can also count on the support of your team in the future.
2. Practice more openness
Don’t talk down to your employees, but treat them as equals – with different tasks and responsibilities. This also includes listening to your employees properly: Ask questions, try to really understand your counterpart. Take their perspective and say not only that you have understood something, but also what you have understood. In this way, you avoid misunderstandings at work and new conflicts. In addition, your counterpart feels taken seriously, understood and at the same time senses that you are really interested in his point of view.
3. Give clearer instructions
Very few employees can handle unclear instructions.To avoid uncertainty, you should focus on giving clear instructions from early on. In addition, define specific milestones when the project or task progress can be discussed. Use these milestones to revisit given instructions in order to sharpen the goals, approach or next steps, if necessary. Then your team will often know on their own what you expect of them.
4. Delegate better
Trust is the beginning of resilient relationships. Those who can’t (or won’t) delegate are subtly saying, “I don’t trust you or your abilities.” That’s an indirect devaluation. And employees feel it. How are team members supposed to get better if they’re not given the chance? Delegation is a form of training and education. Regular honest feedback helps immensely and makes for a steeper learning curve. Be aware: If you delegate more yourself, you create long-term free space that you can use elsewhere.
You also give your colleagues an important sense of achievement, which motivates them even more.
Conclusion: 15 approaches to improve your leadership skills
If you want to optimize your leadership style and improve your leadership skills, you will know where to pull the levers after addressing the following points:
- I am aware that conflicts and mistakes can also pave the way for change and improvement.
- I actively contribute to resolving conflicts and problems instead of waiting for them to resolve themselves.
- I am aware of my role model effect on employees.
- I know how to deal with employees who cause trouble in the company.
- I know how to deal with rumors in the company and how to stop them.
- My employees know the guidelines and the company’s goals.
- I treat my employees in a respectful and friendly manner.
- I pay attention to constructive criticism without exposing anyone.
- I admit my mistakes without covering them up.
- My employees trust me.
- I make sure that I do not favor anyone.
- I occasionally show a conscious interest in the personal well-being of my employees by asking them about it.
- I do not spare honest praise when it is appropriate.
- I can inspire my employees.
- I back up my words with actions.
Good leadership skills are critical to career development. If you want to improve your leadership skills, consider what you can do to be more impactful.
Frequently asked questions about improving Leadership Skills
1. Be a role model at work and in your own life.
2. Develop communication skills and make sure everyone is on the same page.
3. Show flexibility and be aware that priorities change sometimes.
4. Demonstrate a sense of responsibility.
5. Recognize successes.
6. Accept mistakes and work on your problem solving skills.
– Be disciplined.
– Learn to follow.
– Develop situational awareness and have a strong knowledge of what is going on around you.
– Inspire others.
– Educate yourself further and attend a leadership training from coaching leaders.
– Gain leadership experience on the job for more valuable insights.
Important instruments of employee leadership are praise, recognition and appreciation. It can have an enormous effect on the team if achievements are not taken for granted, but are recognized by the boss and the employer.
There are different leadership styles and understanding your own leadership style will help you develop your leadership skills in alignment with who you really are. Is your leadership style democratic, visionary, or commanding? If you have a democratic leadership style, you may have a hard time dealing with crises. Visionary leaders may lack the ability to make a plan and follow through. Don’t just accept these traits – develop a growth mindset and work on them.