Top 11 Self-Development Skills for Leaders
Organisational leadership is a very broad field of study, encompassing numerous skill sets, each of which includes a multitude of individual task-specific management skills. Effective leadership also entails a wide range of leadership qualities, which are largely self-developed personal attributes. Learning all there is to know about it is a lifelong proposition. So, along your journey of continuous self-improvement, take stock of your progress from time to time, and identify areas of learning that have become priorities for the next phase of your leadership career development. Below is a look at what’s included in the general categories of necessary self-development that apply to all organisational leaders and a brief discussion of how to improve leadership skills in each of those areas.
Start by choosing one or more general leadership skill sets for your self-development plan from the following list. Or, combine suggested skills sets or individual skills from within one or more of the sets from this list with areas for improvement that you’ve identified on your own, to include in your self-development plan.
1. Sales and Closing
Persuasion is the largest part of leadership. Therefore, the first goal of leadership should be to inspire — as that is the highest form of persuasion. Even the greatest idea needs its champion. For any mission to succeed, people must buy into the value of it.
First, in order to generate commitment to quality and performance pride, it is necessary to obtain buy-in from the employees who are charged with producing and selling a company’s product or service. Then, the prospective customers who are presented with those must be brought literally to buy. So, forms and degrees of selling pervade all facets of organisational leadership, as they do virtually all other aspects of life.
Receive training in sales and closing per se, to build on foundational public speaking and interpersonal communications skills. Studying general selling and closing techniques is a great start. Seek to improve your analytical skills and knowledge of sales psychology. Practice memorising basic presentations and molding them to your personal style, roleplay sales closing, objection handling, active listening, and types of selling approaches. Understand buyer personas, lead qualification processes, and global culture. Practice communicating more clearly and concisely. Then, immerse yourself in your company’s own sales, production, and service training, to help you build on general skills with the specific knowledge needed to represent your business’s mission ideally.
2. Relationship Building
Leaders have a lot to accomplish. Turning your attention to the people priority can get lost on the endless To Do List. But, business goals and building relationships are not mutually exclusive priorities. On the contrary, financial goals are much more efficiently achieved through the power of strong, trusting workplace relationships.
There’s a difference between establishing shared goals and dragging people along and, in effect, coercing them to act as mere tools for helping you reach your goals, as if they have no personal stake in their own work. This latter attitude toward employees, even from the liveliest of smiling managers, dehumanises workers, reducing them to instruments of business utility. Shared values and mutual respect and support are the collective currency of good relationships. Successfully directing the productive force of these bonds to achieve a group’s common goals is a top-tier leadership quality.
Foster a culture of mutual support among staff members. Ask people about their interests and issues, and practice listening. Develop your emotional intelligence, which means learn how to recognise and support others’ feelings. Give genuine praise, and be consistently fair and kind. Cultivate a sense of teamwork. Collaborate freely. Lead the team, by setting expectations and boundaries, and by living the example of attitudes and actions that you want to see reflected in employees under your leadership.
Excellent organisational skills are the foundation of the most highly-effective business leadership. Having employees and customers discover you buried in a horde of messy paper files and general office clutter is not an image that inspires trust in the professionalism or potential for long-term consistency in a leader or in an organisation. Setting such an example for staff is a dangerous precedent, which can lead to utterly chaotic environments that become notorious for duplication of efforts, missed opportunities, missed deadlines, excessive errors, undue stress, lost documentation, and general procedural ineptitude.
Immature leaders who insist that they work best in an extremely messy environment have given up on developing their ability to get and stay organised, and they may never learn how much better they could have performed if they had organised appropriately. Everyone on any team, including its leader can operate with greater efficiency, and with less stress and uncertainty in a well-organised work environment. This makes strong organisational skills one of the most broadly applicable of good leadership qualities.
Learn to use modern project management tools (some form of Agile), if applicable. Use a customer relationship (CRM) platform, virtually always applicable. Use a resource management system (emulating SAP functionality) if applicable. Implement your favorite version of Lean program in your offices, production facilities, service areas, and all functional spaces. Schedule routine brief team and individual communications sessions. Get good at delegating. Set group and individual goals. Emphasise time management, and build a workplace culture of maintaining organised workspaces and processes and commitment to timely, quality delivery on obligations.
4. General Business Administration
To be most effective in organisational leadership, you need to be fully educated on how your business works, including how resources are managed, how your market functions, how each business unit operates, and so on. Acquire a solid foundation in general business administration skills, with emphasis in your area of specialisation.
Immerse yourself in obtaining a complete education, from formal courses, on the job learning, and through informal study of the business area in which you will fulfill your leadership role. Whether that is in accounting, finance, marketing, production, sales, information technology, HR, or elsewhere, become one of your company’s foremost experts on the business unit.
Spend time talking with the leader of each department and working side by side with employees. Study the company’s financials, strategic business plan, revenue channels, departmental metrics, operating procedures, marketing plan, and current budget. Acquire sufficient knowledge in business ethics, business needs analysis, managing growth, business finance, strategic planning, and change management. Take training courses, as needed to bring yourself up to a level of knowledge that you find necessary for your particular leadership role and for the highest future role that you aspire to reach.
5. Business Technology
Technology is the operational bedrock of modern business. It facilitates everything from turning on the office restroom lights to driving the integrated networks and enabling the powerful platforms that constitute the entire virtual structure that effectively houses all activity of the enterprise. Tech enables all your marketing, sales, services, communications, production, delivery, recruiting, and financial transactions. For conglomerates and mum ‘n dad shops alike, up-to-date information and communications technology is indispensable in the modern business sector. It enables you to operate in today’s digital economy.
Therefore, as little inclined as you may be to take an interest in business technology — as is not an uncommon attitude among leaders of non-tech companies — technology must mean much more to you than a tedious but necessary inconvenience. Familiarise yourself at least with the general infrastructure and essential platforms, individual software programs and key features of your business’s technology.
Obtain at least a summary introduction to your system’s basic backups and security features, servers and UI’s. Understand the critical relationship between your website and Google. Know your options in consumer data (big data) for target marketing for sales and HR recruiting, and how data analytics work. Acquire literacy in data security, data management (warehousing), social media engagement, social media analytics, CRM for your sales pipeline, your HR recruiting pipeline, project management software, and others. Keep up on new technologies that may render yours outmoded or obsolete.
6. Company Culture Building
A company’s workplace culture affects everything the enterprise needs to accomplish in order to grow and build a strong brand. A strong workplace culture impacts how employees feel about their work and how they believe their employer feels about them as contributors to the progress of the mission. Organisations with positive cultures help workers perform their best. Good leadership qualities are most apparent in the workplace culture in which team cohesion is strong.
You don’t need a trendy rec room packed with bells and whistles to build a great company culture. You do need a consistent effort to ensure that employees stay fully engaged with their work and with the company. Leaders need to nurture a sense of performance pride, and to build loyalty and minimise stress. So, build a culture of fostering employee development and recognising accomplishments, and that dissolves the separations between workers and management.
Features of a company culture that is conducive to the highest and longest-sustained success include strong employee engagement, recognition, employee satisfaction, customer focus, collaboration, mutual support, experimentation, safe risk-taking for innovation, urgency, healthy competitiveness, respect and dignity, fairness and consistency, professional ethics, team agility, clarity of mission and vision, constructive feedback, and involvement in social impact programs.
7. Team Building
Strengthening team bonding increases efficiency of working relationships. Learn methods for actively working to forge bonds between team members. Provide opportunities for discussion, problem solving, and developing mutual trust and familiarity between employees, to help increase team and individual motivation. Practice encouraging sharing creative ideas, building workers’ self-confidence, and fostering innovative risk-taking. All of the above measures help cultivate the genuine team enthusiasm that increases productivity and quality.
Teams whose members are more comfortable working together and who have greater mutual trust levels can be more effective in identifying and resolving problems together. Team building further helps close the classic divide between management and staff, instilling a greater sense of being on the same team, of working together.
Formal and informal team building activities can improve morale, communications, and relationships — all of which are necessary to helping maximise efficiencies and staff retention. Team development, team engagement, team training, and team meetings are all good leadership skills to learn, in order to build a more effective team.
8. Employee Development
Developing talent tends to be low on the list of many leaders’ more obvious priority initiatives for success, like launching new products or value-added services to promote customers’ success. Thinking ahead, even to future quarters, can feel like an extravagant gamble when that bottom-line, the benchmark for your own success, is glaring at you from the financial report. It can seem as if a trade-off must be made between focusing on shorter- and longer-term gains. However, that leadership perspective misses the reality that your ability to meet your major business goals depends upon your employees. So, making room in the schedule and the budget for your employees’ development is an investment your company cannot afford not to make.
Benefits of employee development are actually both short- and long-term. The increased effectiveness of an employee who has just received additional training can realise benefits for the company now, such as increased productivity, quality, engagement, and job satisfaction — all of which lead to increased staff retention.
Excessive staff turnover is problematic at any time, and even more so during periods when concerns about margins loom so large that you think you cannot afford to put time or energies into employee development. As part of your personal leadership development, learn about the essential business need for every employee to have a well-designed development plan, and organise to ensure that appropriate rates of progress are maintained on each one of those.
9. Conflict Resolution
The potential for conflict is ever-present in any endeavor involving more than one person. That is why development of conflict management skills is a core leadership skill. True mastery of conflict resolution is among the most highly prised of leadership qualities. As a leader, your self-discipline skills serve employees and peers when you are able to perform as an impartial, objective and dispassionate arbitrator. Countless professional relationships are preserved by the sound guidance of well-prepared leaders in conflict resolution, while innumerable others end in unresolved workplace disputes in which parties did not have the benefit of such intervention.
There are practical methods of conflict resolution, all of which involve specific strategies for negotiating resolutions and techniques for navigating dialogues during conflict. Develop listening skills, learn how to guide parties to find common ground and to find points of agreement, and to convert conflicts into opportunities to collaborate in seeking win-win resolutions. Training in working with difficult people is also useful in conflict management skills development.
10. Safety and Security
This area of necessary skills for leaders is not the most glamorous, but it’s the most important. Though we’ve placed it down the list, for purposes of the self-development discussion, it should really be first on everyone’s list of organisational leadership skills priorities. Even so, arguably, a greater number of otherwise high-performing leaders overlook this particular area of their most basic responsibilities than any other. The fundamental responsibility for ensuring safe, healthy and secure environments for workers belongs to leadership.
So, require routine thorough safety and security inspections. Obtain lists of action items from those inspections, order necessary fixes, and consistently follow through in a timely manner to ensure that corrective measures are in place and are effective. Provide abundant routine safety training and re-training for employees, as applicable. Know OSHA, and other federal, state and local workplace safety and security requirements, and ensure full compliance.
All the development of specific business management skills in the world will not sustain a leader who does not practice self-discipline. There are no substitutes for a strong work ethic, efficient time management, appropriate organisation, and consistent follow-through. Habitually demonstrating patience and resolve are other key behavioural traits of the well-disciplined leader. Living as an example of self-control, adhering to sound principles, and consistently making good decisions is what it is to be a leader of the world’s highest order.
To gauge your success in self-discipline, rate your record of overcoming tendencies to procrastinate, lose patience or willpower, and review your record of standing on business ethics, role modeling consistency and fairness, and of staying committed to growing in mindfulness and in broader continuous learning.
Lifelong Learning for Leaders
There are endless useful resources for self-development in the above skills and in virtually any other area of leadership knowledge. Just becoming aware of these many necessary skills and qualities is a good introductory lesson in what you need to succeed in the modern leadership environment.
Of course, the nature of the spectrum of leadership skills is that it is ever-evolving. Therefore, perhaps the takeaway message here should be that whatever industry you choose as your career base, the first knowledge needed for long-term success is that the route to sustained leadership success in that field, through the inevitably changing times ahead, is a lifelong habit of learning.Therefore, ongoing leadership training and other work used to develop your leadership skills and qualities and to become the best possible version of yourself personally are the primary requisites for optimal progress in self-development. Lifelong learning and self-improvement is also the path to greater success and happiness in professional and personal relationships of every kind. And, of course, it is the quality of your working relationships as the leader of a team with a shared mission that determines the level and duration of your success in the endeavor.