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Mastering Leadership Skills: Definition, Examples, and Resources

Mastering Leadership Skills: Definition, Examples, and Resources

Whether you’re early in your career or have many years of experience, mastering leadership skills is not just a desirable trait; it’s necessary for anyone looking to excel in their career and stay relevant. Leadership transcends job titles or where you fall on the corporate ladder; it’s a quality that can be cultivated and harnessed by anyone willing to invest the time and effort. 

In this article, we will explore the core aspects of leadership, starting with a definition of leadership skills, why it’s essential to master these skills, the top ten leadership skills you need today, examples of leadership skills at work, and a free leadership skills pdf to help you develop these career critical skills.

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Leadership Skills Definition

Leadership skills are the abilities, qualities, knowledge, and behaviors that enable a person to effectively guide, coach, inspire, and influence others to complete the activities needed to achieve a common objective. These skills are comprised of interpersonal, communication, and organizational knowledge and abilities essential for leaders to motivate their teams, make sound decisions, and navigate complexities and challenges.

As McKinsey puts it, leadership is “a set of behaviors used to help people align their collective direction, to execute strategic plans, and to continually renew an organization.” Leaders must possess the right knowledge and skills to demonstrate these leadership behaviors.

Leadership Skills Definition (1)



Importance of Leadership Skills: What The Research Says

With 56% of American workers claiming their direct leader is mildly or highly toxic and 75% agreeing that dealing with their manager is the most stressful part of their workday, it’s clear that most people leaders lack leadership skills. For a company to succeed, it must have leaders equipped with the right skills and behaviors to lead a motivated, happy, and productive team.

Six recent research studies highlight the importance and benefits of developing leadership skills.

Relationships with Management Matters 

86% of employee satisfaction is tied to their relationship with their manager, promoting the need for managers to have the leadership skills to build trusting relationships. - Stop Wasting Your Most Precious Resource: Middle Manager, McKinsey, 2023


86% of employee satisfaction is tied to their relationship with their manager - McKinsey  (1)

Leadership Behaviors are the Number One Predictor of Toxic Company Culture

Leaders at all levels set the tone for the organization's behaviors, attitudes, and norms. Leaders reinforce norms and behaviors through their actions. When they don’t have the skills, awareness, or knowledge of effective leadership behaviors, poor management leads to poor culture within a team, department, or across an organization. - How to Fix a Toxic Culture, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2023


Leaders Need Modern Leadership Skills to Meet Employee Expectations

Traditional leaders are out. Employees want “modern leaders” who are collaborative, provide coaching and development, and empower their people to do great work. Yet, only 17% of leaders have the leadership skills to be considered a “modern leader.” - Global Culture Report 2023, O.C. Tanner


Only 17% of leaders have the leadership skills to be considered a “modern leader.” O.C.Tanner,  2023 (1) (1)

Companies Who Invest in Leadership Development Reap Benefits

Despite only 12% of organizations reporting confidence in their bench of ready-now leaders, those organizations that have invested in leadership skills development and are confident in their bench of leaders perform better than their peers. - Global Leadership Forecast 2023, DDI

  • 10x more likely to have employees rate their direct leader quality as “very good” or “excellent”
  • 6x more likely to retain their top talent
  • 5x more likely to prevent employee burnout
  • 3x more likely to be a financially top-performing company


The Pipeline of Ready-Now Leaders is Lacking (Especially in the Public Sector)

Robust leadership development is needed in local government, as only 25% of respondents rated their leadership pipeline as good or excellent, and only 29% have the budget allocated towards leadership development. - 2023 State of Local Government Leadership Pipeline, Government Leadership Solutions



Yet, Companies Want People Who are Ready to Lead

Management, communication, and leadership skills rank as three of the top five most in-demand skills recruiters seek. - The 2023 Most In-Demand Skills List, LinkedIn

Management, communication, and leadership skills rank as three of the top five most in-demand skills recruiters seek. - The 2023 Most In-Demand Skills List, LinkedIn (1)

Top 10 Leadership Skills

The historical, old-school playbook for leadership, where hierarchical, command and control, in-person management style no longer works. Employees no longer stand for this leadership style, and those who continue to deploy it will struggle to find and retain the best talent.

Leaders must meet the new set of expectations for motivating and inspiring their teams, requiring new leadership skills to be successful. Today, leadership is more about collaboration, trust, communication, authenticity, and agility. Many years ago, Bill Gates predicted this to be the future of leadership when he proclaimed, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Another leading authority on leadership, Josh Bersin, supports Gates' prediction and has coined “human-centered leadership” for what modern leadership is. The concept is relatively simple - Human-centered leadership puts people first. It shifts leader’s mindsets to the wellbeing of their people, as happy, motivated employees lead to better business outcomes.

So, what are these people-focused skills leaders need today to be successful? Here are the top 10 leadership skills to hone now.

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Communication
  3. Delegation and Empowerment
  4. Accountability
  5. Building Relationships and Connections
  6. Collaboration
  7. Adaptability and Agility
  8. Developing Others
  9. Team Culture
  10. Growth Mindset


Top 10 Leadership Skills (1)


Emotional Intelligence

Any current leadership skills list should include emotional intelligence near the top, as it is a central skill that has an impact on everything a leader does. Oxford References defines emotional intelligence as the “Ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour.” 

It’s such a critical skill for leaders that Josh Bersin said it is the root of human-centered leadership. He broke emotional intelligence for a leader down into three crucial areas: empathy, vulnerability, and humility. 

  • Empathy: Listening to other people’s perspectives, recognizing your bias and privilege, and expressing care and concern for employees and their challenges and obligations that may get in the way of work.
  • Vulnerability: Admitting when things go wrong or when you’re wrong, asking for feedback and input, and practicing self-reflection.
  • Humility: Focusing on learning over looking smart, prioritizing development opportunities like mentoring, coaching, and learning for yourself and your team, and encouraging collaboration and innovation due to a belief the best ideas come from anywhere.



How can a leader inspire the people around them without the leadership skill of effective communication? The answer is they can’t. Poor leadership communication skills have a significant impact on the workplace, as found by The Economist. Respondents of their survey said communication barriers at work led to failure to complete projects (44%), low morale (31%), missed performance foals (25%) and lost sales (18%). 

The good news is communication is a skill; like any skill, it can be developed with proper communication training. Everyone in a leadership position should regularly hone this critical leadership skill as it impacts every area of their effectiveness.


Delegation and Empowerment

Today, employees want to receive their tasks and responsibilities and be given autonomy to make decisions and ownership over their work. When team members feel trusted and empowered by their leader, they’re more motivated, engaged, and innovative, leading to increased productivity and a positive work environment. Developing and utilizing these leadership skills enables leaders to harness the full potential of their people, drive team success, and cultivate future leaders who are accountable and can find solutions to problems on their own.



Having the skills to hold employees accountable is vital as it establishes a team culture of responsibility and performance excellence. When leaders can set clear expectations and gain commitment from employees to take ownership of their successes and shortcomings, it motivates employees to complete their tasks, overcome obstacles, and strive for positive outcomes. Accountability across every employee on a team not only drives individual and team success but also promotes a healthy work environment where fairness and transparency are central.


Building Relationships and Connections

Building relationships and connections is a vital leadership skill because it is the foundation for effective teamwork and influence. Leaders who invest in strong interpersonal connections establish trust with their team members, and trust is key for open communication, delivering feedback, and resolving conflict at work. Beyond building connections with their direct reports, leaders with these skills build a network of allies and stakeholders, enhancing their ability to drive personal, team, and organizational goals, gain buy-in and support for their initiatives, and navigate complex challenges.



Hand-in-hand with building relationships and connections comes the skills to be collaborative and have others embrace collaboration. Collaboration is a crucial leadership skill as it fosters synergy, brings together diverse perspectives and knowledge, and unites everyone around a common goal. Effective leaders recognize that they don’t have all the answers, resources, or expertise needed for success; thus, they must tap into the collective skills and experience their employees and peers bring to drive the best possible outcomes.

Adaptability and Agility

Today, leaders must be able to successfully navigate the evolving landscape of business. In the era of constant change we’re faced with, leaders must have the skills to pivot quickly, lead their people through change, demonstrate resilience, embrace new ideas, and adjust their strategies and approaches in response to shifting circumstances. In times of uncertainty, leaders who embody agility and adaptability inspire confidence and gain their employee’s trust, and are better positioned to respond to challenges and seize new opportunities.

Developing Others

Employees want a leader who develops their skills and helps them excel in their careers. So much so, one study found that employees who report to a leader who is an effective coach who develops their skills are 40% more engaged, display 38% more discretionary effort, and are 20% more likely to stay with their current employer. Every leader should acquire the skills to coach employees, deliver feedback, have career conversations, and give stretch assignments.

Team Culture

Culture in a workplace can be defined as the sum of a group's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. So, it’s no surprise that an employee’s direct leader wields the biggest influence on the type of culture formed. That’s why leaders need the skills to foster positive work environments, where they personally demonstrate the behaviors and actions that lead to psychological safety, belonging, collaboration, and goal achievement and coach and require their people to do the same.

Growth Mindset

The rate of change isn’t slowing down, requiring leaders to embrace continuous learning, adaptability, and resilience, all of which come from having a growth mindset. This mindset is where a leader believes that abilities and intelligence can be developed through learning. By demonstrating a growth mindset themselves, they encourage their team members to do the same and, in turn, embrace challenges, learn from failures, and constantly seek ways to improve.



Leadership Skills Examples

When learning leadership skills, real-life examples provide concrete and tangible situations you can learn from, relate to, and visualize yourself being in. Examples make it easier to grasp complex leadership concepts and how these skills are used in practical scenarios at work. Here are two examples of leadership skills in the workplace.

Leadership Skills Example 1 - Emotional Intelligence - Vulnerability
The sales team leader, known for their confident and charismatic leadership style, failed to meet their quarterly sales target, leading to a financial loss for the company that quarter. Instead of giving excuses, blaming their sales reps, or pointing to a weaker economy, the sales leader decides to own the results and does so with vulnerability.

During the all-hands meeting, the sales leader stands before the company and openly acknowledges that they’ve fallen short of their sales target. They admit their shortcomings, disappointment, frustration, and how they will learn and change from this situation. In this moment, they showed the company they are not immune to setbacks and that they, too, can fall short and make mistakes.

Leadership Skills Example 2 - Accountability
The manager of the client relationship team oversees an employee responsible for a critical client who misses a deadline, and what the client finally receives is below the company’s quality standard. Instead of reprimanding the employee, the manager of the client relationship team took this setback as a teachable moment about accountability.

The manager met with the employee one-on-one to discuss what happened. During the meeting, the manager actively listened to the employee's perspectives and asked open-ended questions to understand their challenges and obstacles better.  The manager acknowledges their role in not setting expectations nor having the employee agree to their accountabilities up front.

By acknowledging their role in the situation, the employee is now open to coaching and constructive feedback, as well as, co-creating an action plan to ensure this does not happen again. To ensure the employee stays on track and meets their future accountabilities, the manager regularly meets with them one-on-one to monitor their progress and offer support. In these conversations, the manager gets the employees to take ownership of their accountabilities and provides insight into how the team’s success depends on everyone meeting their commitments.



Leadership Skills PDF - 30-Day Challenge

The 30-Day Leadership Challenge WorkbookBy now, you’re likely asking yourself, how do I start learning or upgrading my leadership skills? While leadership training, where you work alongside your peers and skills facilitator as you build knowledge and practice skills, is always the most effective way to do so, if you’re looking to start now, the next best choice is to dive into a leadership skills PDF, such as the free 30-Day Leadership Challenge. You’ll receive a self-paced workbook, where you’ll receive a micro lesson, a task, and a to-do for your action plan for each of the 30 days of the challenge. This leadership skills PDF covers sections on managing yourself, leading a team, developing employees, and taking ownership of your career. It’s everything you need to start building your leadership skills today.


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