There are many different leadership styles. Some lead by silent example, and some make their presence known while charging the mountain without hesitation. Of course, those are just two of the many possibilities. If you’d like real-life examples of these styles and more, paying attention to current world leaders and top businesspeople should prove more than sufficient.
However, upon further observation of these leaders, and others, you may also notice some universal leadership skills set the best apart from the rest. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, highlighted one such skill, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
Empowering others is just the tip of the iceberg if you want to be an effective business leader. You should possess many more additional skills to be seen as and become a successful leader. But which specific skills should you work on? A lineup of experienced businesspeople is here to help.
1. A Listening Ear
Successful leaders know where their group should be moving, and they are consistently mindful of the best interests of their group. This tricky balancing act can only be executed by paying close attention to the feedback of the people you’re leading.
“However you conduct business, find time in your schedule to speak with employees outside of a meeting setting,” says Christy Pyrz, Chief Marketing Officer of Paradigm Peptides. “Some of your greatest insights and growth moments can come about because of such conversations.”
Doing this can help you become more in tune with your employees. You’ll find that your leadership capabilities will be much greater than before as a result of doing so.
2. Clarity in All Communication
Many professionals can recall a time when they experienced a moment of hesitation or stress when speaking publicly. Every person walking this planet has made a mistake when communicating, but successful leaders stand out from the crowd in every area of communication, even when they slip up.
“People, more specifically, your employees, will not be willing and eager followers if they experience confusion or feel out of the loop,” says Drew Sherman, VP of Marketing at RPM. “You’ll never be a perfect communicator, but you can keep an attitude of improvement, so everyone sees how serious you are about whatever it is you’re after.”
This idea extends to every form of communication, from text messages to formal business propositions. Regardless of the circumstances, successful leaders inform their followers of everything they must know.
No two successful leaders are the same. They don’t possess the same personality traits, nor do they have the same backgrounds and experiences that made them the people they are today. Yet, these people are well-respected within their circles. Their self-confidence is one of the largest factors in making this so.
“Strangers, friends, and family members can sense when a person lacks self-confidence because it’s readily apparent,” says Chris Bridges, CEO of VITAL Card. “When they do, each party is less likely to incline themselves towards this uncertain person. To lead well, you have to be confident.”
There is no recipe for manufacturing personal confidence. However, many find it useful to gain as much experience in their field as possible while actively reflecting on themselves and their strengths.
4. A Firm Hand
A successful leader holds fast to the guidelines they set while keeping their entire following in check. That’s not to say that you should be striking fear into the hearts of your employees—fear can be a motivator, it’s true, but not one that will serve you well in the long run. Instead, focus on being steadfast in your convictions.
“There’s nothing leaderlike about being wishy-washy, no matter the context, big or small,” said Omid Semino, CEO and Founder of Diamond Mansion. “This will be a daily challenge, but creating, enforcing, and respecting rules and processes is not going anywhere anytime soon.”
Think of a successful leader as a lifeguard who is on active alert for chaos. It’s your job to create boundaries and guidelines and ensure that they’re followed for the good of the team.
5. Applicable Knowledge
The phrase “Fake it until you make it” is not as universally applicable as it is made out to be. If you’re hoping to become a strong leader, it’s important that you come to the table with the knowledge, foresight, and information that you’ll need to succeed. You can’t lead well without being well-versed in what’s to come. So, buckle down and get to learning.
“The best leaders have a thirst for knowledge that can’t ever be quenched,” says John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner of Berry Law. “Anyone eager to cement their leadership status should take a similar approach.”
The options at your disposal for learning are endless. Of course, there’s the traditional route of attending an academic institution. But internships, volunteer work, and even a simple Google search can teach you as well, whether you’re gaining practical experience or more niche information.
It’s a long way to the top if you want to be successful. For leaders, this reality could not be more true. Employees will come and go. Markets will change. Heck, the globe might shut down temporarily. But through it all, successful leaders persevere.
“A never-give-up attitude is the largest asset to anyone looking to create a following for themselves,” says George Fraguio, Vice President of Bridge Lending at Vaster Capital. “Not only is it an admirable quality, but it’s also an easy one to get behind.”
If you feel that perseverance isn’t your strong suit, know that this is one trait you can train in much the same way you’d train a muscle. It takes consistent practice, but you can shift your mindset over time.
7. Problem-Solving Capabilities
Being a successful leader is no walk in the park—it will push you to personal and professional lengths you never dreamed of, starting the moment you assume the position. Possibly the most prominent example of this is when an unforeseen issue impedes the growth of the entity you’re leading. To combat this, you must become a multi-skilled problem solver.
“Each day as a leader is vastly different from the one that came before it,” says Andrew Chen, Chief Product Officer of Videeo. “To survive all this change, you must lead with flexibility and adaptability in mind—ready to reinvent your plan of action at a moment’s notice.”
Once again, this is a skill you can train, and there are several methods for doing so. From traditional puzzles to word games, keeping your brain sharp will make a difference in your leadership problem-solving.
8. Excellent Foresight
Most (if not all) occupations demand high-quality leadership. Potential issues can arise without the leader’s careful planning and thoughtfulness toward the future.
“A successful business leader is not psychic, but they have a better idea of what the future holds than their subordinates do,” says Sumeer Kaur, CEO of Lashkaraa. “Ideally, this quality should be utilized to steer your business towards the best outcome possible.
Sometimes the best outcome possible is just preemptively recognizing and avoiding a potential pitfall. Thinking ahead and exploring all possible outcomes will help ensure stable growth for your team.
9. Everyone Is Included
No successful, long-standing business relies on the work of just one individual. There are too many responsibilities for one person to manage. Teams of people are what make the management of businesses possible. High-level teamwork like this is only possible if the boss leans on their people for support and inspiration.
“The best ideas in business come about because of team unity and unique minds working together,” says Matt Miller, Founder and CEO of Embroker. “As the leader of such a group, you can take your company to the next level by making space for every employee’s opinion.”
At first, your attempts to pull this off may result in some meeting room awkwardness. People are often hesitant to speak up in a group. In such cases, it would be wise to focus on the overall comfort levels of your employees before anything else. Once you’ve fostered a culture of inclusion and thoughtful consideration, employees will feel comfortable sharing their ideas and collaborating in the long term.
10. They Think of Themselves as Leaders
Do you imagine Tom Brady, one of the most accomplished athletes of all time, walks around thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was a great athlete’? Hardly. More likely, he thinks of himself as a great athlete on a more than hourly basis. This secure mindset comes with time and experience, but it doesn’t begin to bloom without investing in it.
“Positive self-talk is one of the key tools that allows you to step outside your natural comfort zone and grow your skill set,” says Max Ade, CEO of Pickleheads. “Just the mental act of telling yourself that you can do something or are already skilled enough to do something makes a world of difference.”
After reading everything above, no one would blame you for feeling overwhelmed as you evaluate your next steps as a leader. But, before you get stuck in that spiral, consider the words of a professor at Harvard Business School, Frances Frei: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”