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10 Key Skills Every Leader Needs


What makes a great leader? 

It's an extremely valuable skillset. It's something that'll see you through your entire career, making other people's jobs easier. But what exactly does it take to be an excellent leader, someone who sets the tone of the organisation or department and gets the best out of everyone, every time, under every circumstance? 

1. Openness – one of the big 5 personality dimensions

Openness is one of the personality traits that comes tops in many studies about leadership. How open you are depends on how good you are at dealing with new experiences, as well as how imaginative and insightful you are. 

A study by the respected leadership development experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman analysed 33 top leaders in a large telecomms company to see which ten traits made them the most effective. And openness scored high, with the best leaders actively encouraging an open culture where everyone's ideas and feelings are heard and valued. 

2. Honesty – crucial for leadership success

Honesty is a vital trait for leaders. And the higher the bar is set, the more effective honesty is. As a leader, when you set the scene through consistently honest behaviour the people you lead will follow suit. 

People are perceptive. We're usually pretty good at spotting porkies, exaggerations and times when a big issue is being played down. Likewise, when you're 100% honest people feel it. They trust you, and are happier to throw their lot in with yours because they know you're on the same side.  

3. Consistency – it's important to know where you stand 

One day you're all sunshine and smiles. You stop and chat with your team on the way to your office, you praise their work when praise is due and handle difficult situations with equanimity. The next day you have a face like thunder, you bellow at team members and pick on every little thing they do, including the things you praised them for the day before. 

There are few things more difficult to deal with than someone who's inconsistent, and in a leadership context it's a killer. People need to rely on you to create a solid, reliable business culture. If you can't give them that security, they won't know which way to turn. 

4. Decisiveness – when confidence breeds confidence

Leaders make decisions. That's what they do. Good decision making is one of the reasons people trust a great leader.  But what, exactly, is a 'good' decision? 

In a business context it's all about seeing the wood for the trees, making informed decisions based on what's best for the business, fearlessly loyal and tightly focused. The best leaders make even the biggest decisions confidently, with no obvious prevaricating. 

5. Conscientiousness – how thoughtful and dedicated are you? 

Conscientiousness is measured by how organised, thoughtful and forward-thinking a leader is. When you're dedicated, caring and detail-oriented it means you're better able to empathise with team members, deliver more insightful feedback, support people and drive forward a suite of solid short-term and long-term goals successfully. It means you genuinely care, something people will be able to intuit. 

6. Empowering – the fine art of trust

The best business leaders do much more than inspire other people through action. Some of the world's finest and best-respected leaders take great pains to empower others. Think Bill Gates and you get the picture. 

The idea is that empowerment builds trust, encourages openness, drives creative solutions and creates confidence. When a leader empowers their staff they clearly reveal their confidence in others, which always bears fruit. When someone feels confident in you and you know it, you act accordingly. 

7. Delegation – dare you hand over the important stuff? 

At some stage you're going to have to delegate tasks to staff, and you have to trust them with your vision of the way things should work. If you don't you risk getting stuck, unable to move that vision forwards. 

Delegation is a clear sign of strength and confidence, and the key lies in identifying your team's strengths. Usually, all you need to know is what each team member enjoys doing most to pin down what they're best at. And giving people responsibility for things they genuinely care about works wonders. 

8. Communication – knowing what influences whom

Give the same message to five people and they'll all hear something slightly different. Being able to describe what you need clearly is a vital leadership skill, including the ability to express yourself in a variety of ways to suit different personality types. 

Great communication is also vital for creating a genuinely productive work environment, whether you decide to have a chat with every team member every day or every week, put in place an 'open door' policy or make yourself available at specific times.  

9. The ability to inspire – powerful stuff

Every time you talk to an inspirational person you leave feeling buoyed up, excited, and dying to get going. It's a fantastic trait to have and one with all sorts of business advantages. If you've ever met someone who makes you feel inspired, they're leadership gold dust. 

When we feel inspired we're happier, more productive, more confident and we all pull on the rope together, in the same direction, harder than ever. 

10. Sense of humour – last but definitely not least! 

Humour is a great leveller. If you come across as senior and scary, the people you work with will appreciate a hint of humour. If something goes horribly wrong you need to guide your team through the issue calmly and positively. 

While humour won't change the impact of a disaster, it'll definitely make a difference to the way everyone deals with it. And because morale is closely linked to productivity, a sense of humour can pay off in all sorts of ways. 

Which leadership trait do you think means the most? 

If you've ever encountered a spectacularly good leader – or you're one yourself – what do you think is the most important personality trait?

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