5 ways to Develop Essential Leadership Skills

In today’s fast-paced work environment, you need many competencies to be an effective leader. The current times are extremely competitive, and you always need to be at the top of your game to deliver results.

The good news is, some fundamental skill sets drive your ability to lead. These basics of leadership like communication, people management, and strategy building, are the framework of your management proficiency.

Once you acquire these skills, it’s about continually applying, reskilling, and upskilling them to fit your business scenarios. In this article, we will discuss how you can improve your leadership skills to get the desired results.

However, let’s first understand the basic building blocks of leadership skills.

What are the primary leadership skills?

According to a study by career builder, 26% of managers said they were not ready to lead when they began managing others. Also, 58% said they didn’t receive any training.

Why are such a large number of managers not in sync with organizational expectations?

Many of them may possess the essential leadership qualities. However, they may not have applied the required leadership skills to be successful.

I’m sure you don’t want to be one amongst them. Isn’t it?

So, how can you be ready for the challenges that you may face as a leader? The first step is to be aware of the necessary skills, and the next is to execute them. Let’s discuss the skills first.

You need to focus on two types of skill sets to cultivate effective leadership.

The first ones are related to knowledge in your niche and expertise. These can include your competencies in strategy, planning, and delivery of your organizational objectives.

The second set is your soft skills. These are your personality traits related to your ability to interact and communicate with people.

Strategic thinking:

You need to develop strategies to achieve your organizational goals. If you have clearly defined targets of turnover, profit, and headcount, you get a good idea of where you are heading. However, you need to develop strategies to get the required results.

Strategy building is not simply about following numbers to get outcomes. It is about analyzing complex problems and devising methods to solve them.

How will you design your approach?

You need to gather information from a variety of sources: market intelligence reports, customer feedback, latest technology updates, among others.

Then, you need to analyze the data to know your market and customers. And finally, prepare a strategy to target these areas: you may have to design new projects or upgrade older ones to meet client requirements.

Planning and execution:

Once you have designed strategy, you need to back it up with planning and execution.

You need project management skills like ‘scheduling’ and ‘cost management’ to plan out things. You will need to identify the budget of your projects and the time by which they have to be delivered. Also, you need to plan the number of resources you will need to complete the projects.

You also need to have a risk management plan in place to focus on the weak links in your projects that can prevent timely delivery.

You now have strategies and plans ready to process as per the expectations of the market. What’s next?

You will need to execute your plan with your organizing skills to complete projects on time. You need to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills.

When your plan is getting executed, you need to solve complex issues and make swift decisions. You may also have to quickly go back and make changes in your plan to attain delivery objectives.

People management:

What is the most important resource in your organization?

It’s the people. You can have the best strategy and planning for your organization’s vision. However, it will not suffice until you have employees that align themselves with your goals. Hence, you need people management skills as a leader.

You need to motivate people to achieve organizational objectives. This will require persuasion and influential skills.

How do you influence others?

You will need emotional intelligence to understand varied mindsets and then sync your goals with individual interest by delegating tasks. A clearly defined job helps employees to focus their energies and generate requisite output. With effective delegation, your employees are empowered, and their morale is high.

For instance, you can link incentives of employees to the profit of the organization – if they meet targets, you allocate them a monetary bonus. Such techniques assure that your employees take responsibility for their work.

But, is delegation enough? What if your employees are stuck and projects are not completed on time?

You need to ensure that tasks are accomplished on time by always being in touch with employees. If they are not meeting deadlines, you have to intervene and correct what’s wrong.

Hence, you also need to give feedback as a leader. It will help you to monitor and track the performance of your subordinates.

There are times when outcomes get impacted due to ego clashes between your employees. When people work as a team, there are bound to be differences in opinion. You need to have the skill to find a peaceful solution that satiates all the parties involved. Your conflict resolution skills help to manage a healthy work environment.

Communication skills:

One mandatory skill that all leadership experts will point out, without which you cannot be a leader, will be effective communication. You transfer crucial information, which is necessary for the success of your organization with your communication skills.

Communication skills include your listening, presenting, and speaking skills. You build a rapport with your colleagues and subordinates with these skills.

Another important aspect of productive communication is that it should be timely. For instance, if there is a technical bug in your product, this needs to be escalated to the concerned team quickly. Letting such a product reach the customers can be detrimental to the brand image of your organization.

Communication also plays a crucial role in disruptive times, like natural disasters or PR crises. You need to be proactive and take swift action – get in touch with various stakeholders and keep in touch. Effective communication in difficult situations can subvert the impact of the crisis.

Now that you are aware of the primary leadership skills, you need to build them through constant practice.

Following are 5 steps to develop these skills.

5 Steps to Develop Leadership Skills:

1) Identify your leadership style

First of all, you need to be aware of your leadership style. This will help you analyze your current standing as a leader. It will also check if you are using the right leadership techniques as per your business needs.

Next, you need to set your leadership goals: where do you see yourself as a leader? Which are the leadership styles you admire? How can you apply these styles in your work culture?

Once you have the answer to the above questions, you are aware of two aspects: your current standing as a leader and your expectations from yourself. The difference between these two can help you figure out a plan for developing leadership skills.

For instance, if you are an authoritarian leader, but realize that a transformational leadership style suits your current business scenario, you can switch your method. To make that change, you can do away with micromanagement techniques and develop a collaborative culture in your organization.

2) Find your weak areas:

To develop or improve your leadership skills, you need to know where to focus. You can have excellent technical and functional knowledge, but lack soft skills or vice versa. As a result, you may not be able to get the desired results from your team.

For instance, if there are operational issues in a project, you may be quick to point them out and propose problem-solving methods to resolve them. However, you may not have the ability to motivate people to work towards the suggested solutions.

Sometimes, you can be good at some aspects of a skill but may need to work on it as a whole. In such cases, you only need to work on particular features of a skill.

For example, you may be very good at describing your thoughts in an email, but find it hard to express them effectively while speaking. Hence, you will need to work specifically on public speaking, a subset of communication skills.

Furthermore, you may also take this leadership trait test and narrow down the pain points in your leadership armory.

3) Find resources to fill in the gaps:

By now, you have identified the leadership style that you should adopt, and the areas that you need to work on to develop the necessary skills.

What next? You need resources to fill the gaps in your leadership skills – this is the most crucial step.

Where do you get the information necessary to improve yourself as a leader?

Here are some ways to obtain these resources.

Participate in leadership training courses or workshops, listen to podcasts, attend conferences and get into discussions. Experts in these sessions can help you with tips that can be a game-changer in your journey to excel at leadership.

You can also install software to help you with the tools required for your leadership.

Further, find a mentor, someone who has carried out leadership roles. There is no substitute for experience. You can get a lot of practical methods to develop your leadership skills from your mentor. Be cautious: before you apply these methods, get in touch with your HR, and make sure they are in line with your company policies and protocols.

Last but not least – read. All successful leaders are readers. You should never stop taking in new information. Read business books and magazines. You can also read books on leadership or on specific skill sets you are looking to target.

4) Develop flexibility to adapt:

There is no right way to lead in all circumstances. The one characteristic you need to develop as a leader is to adapt to the situation. You cannot afford to be rigid and expect the same methodologies to work in every case.

For example, you may need to change your leadership style from democratic to autocratic, if there is a sudden surge in millennials joining your organization. Likewise, if there are more experienced people in your project, you may alter your style to laissez-faire.

When you are flexible to changes, you gain situational awareness. You become proactive and anticipate issues before they occur. As a result, you increase productivity and deliver better results. All these factors contribute to developing better management skills in you.

As a flexible leader, you are open to new ideas. You are ready to change your methods and allow information to sink in from all sources. Thus, you welcome change. Also, you develop the ability to change your plan as per the situation.

5) Take additional responsibilities:

To become a great leader, you need to embrace challenges and get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just stick to your job description; take the initiative, and get involved in additional work. This can include having more projects, more departments, or greater involvement in business decisions.

How does taking up more work help you in improving your leadership skills?

The methodologies that are effective in your roles and responsibilities may not give you the desired results in the additional assignments that you take up. This will push you to adapt and learn. The more you do, the more you learn.

Additional responsibilities also expose you to a variety of situations. You test your problem-solving skills and task competencies.The increasing number of interactions alleviates your soft skills.

Can you learn leadership skills in the work environment only?

Not really. You need not wait for standard conventions or official assignments to apply leadership skills. You can use situations that are not related to work – take charge of various organizational events, like team building activities and competitions. You can imbibe analytical and soft skills from these ventures.

Final thoughts:

You need not confine yourself to corporates and workplace environments to cultivate leadership skills. Every time you find a situation that calls for a leader, take up the opportunity, and exhibit your skills. The worst outcomes will only teach you to become a better leader.

Constant learning is also an essential attribute to become a great leader. You need to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest requirements in business and align your leadership attributes accordingly.

What are some leadership skills that you would like to acquire? How are you going to adapt to them? Let us know in the comments below.


9 Common Leadership Styles: Identify yours

Different leaders have different ways to achieve the desired results. Some motivate through strong decision-making, some inspire with their charisma, while some are task-oriented. The efficiency and performance of their teams are directly related to the behavioral methods exhibited by them to get the required outcomes.

Hence, it is essential that you, as a leader, focus on the techniques you use to govern your team; this can be the differentiator between your success and failure. For instance, if you push your decisions on a team that is driven by collaborative behavior, you are bound to fail.

It is your leadership style that can help you decide which procedures, methods, and techniques to choose.

So, what is leadership style?

The pattern of your behavior while leading others defines your leadership style. It is your approach to achieve leadership goals by implementing plans and motivating people.

Your personality traits and organization’s culture play a significant role in deciding your leadership style. For example, if you are ambitious and your organization is growth-focused, you may be a task-oriented leader. You may also have a mix of styles, with a few being your dominant ones.

But why should you know leadership styles?

Awareness of leadership styles can help you evaluate your current standing as a leader. You can alter your style to suit the demands of your current and future leadership roles.

You can also find out which leadership style fits your business scenario. It can help you identify the traits that you need to develop to enhance your leadership potential.

Let’s discuss the most common leadership styles and find out the environments in which you can use them.

1. Democratic (Participative) leadership style:

Democratic leadership style is about taking input from each of your team members to make a decision. It is also called as Participative leadership style.

In a meeting, for example, you will give decision-related options to your team. After discussing those options within the team, you will consider the inputs to arrive at the final decision.

This style of leadership increases the engagement level of your employees. Work satisfaction improves, and they are more committed to the goals of the organization.

On the downside, the productivity is less than other leadership styles. If there are a variety of inputs from the team members, it will be difficult to arrive at a consensus.

Where should you use a democratic leadership style?

The democratic leadership style can be used in all types of organization. It works best in a team of highly experienced professionals who can give valuable inputs to make decisions. You can use these inputs to make better decisions.

However, this leadership style is not effective when you want to arrive at a decision quickly.

2. Autocratic Leadership Style

An autocratic leadership style involves making decisions without taking input from anyone. You need not consult employees and can expect them to abide by the decision you take. You issue commands and exhibit control, i.e., you tell your employees what to do and exactly how to accomplish it.

This leadership style is effective in raising the productivity of your employees. It removes confusion by assigning clear responsibilities. However, your subordinates can get demoralized. They can feel ignored and restricted. In some cases, autocratic leadership can lead to an increase in absenteeism.

When is autocratic leadership style effective?

In an environment of strict guidelines for compliance with processes and operations, this style can drive discipline in the system. For example, if your organization or project is data sensitive, or you constantly need to meet strict deadlines, this style can help you increase productivity.

When you want to make quick decisions and focus entirely on results, autocratic leadership can push employees to give their best. If your business provides emergency services, or your project sends and receives crucial information of customers, you may use this leadership style to improve efficiency.

You can also use it if you need to supervise professionals with little or no experience. Autocratic leadership can help you inculcate discipline in them.

3. Laissez-Faire (Delegative) Leadership Style

The French term Laissez-Faire translates to ‘let them do.’ In this style of leadership, you delegate tasks to your team members and do not intervene further, i.e., you allow them to complete the work assigned by choosing their methods themselves. Hence, it is also called Delegative or hands-off leadership.

You delegate tasks, provide your team with the resources they require, and don’t give any further guidance. Your group members are expected to solve problems on their own. They also have the liberty to set deadlines for themselves to complete the work assigned. Thus, there is no need for your supervision.

These methods allow your team to have independent thinking and develop problem-solving skills. However, it can cause an impression of you being uninvolved. Also, not giving direction to your employees can confuse them on their roles and responsibilities. As a result, they may blame each other in case something goes wrong.

Where does this leadership style work?

– In young startups where you need not make any significant office policies like work hours and deadlines.

– If you have self-motivated employees in your team.

– If you are leading a creative team who need independence and are at their best when left alone.

– If you are leading people, who are highly qualified experts.

4. Transformational Leadership

This is the most effective and sought after leadership style. As the name suggests, leaders with this style, transform an organization for the better. They have a vision and use intellectual stimulation to motivate employees to achieve the objectives of this vision.

Transformational leaders inspire people to achieve common goals. They accomplish this by giving employees a list of tasks along with deadlines to complete them. They challenge the conventions and alter the status quo of an organization to achieve transformational objectives.

Transformational leadership helps in creating a positive work environment. According to a study by the University of Cologne, Germany, transformational leaders result in well being of their group, which in turn lowers attrition rates and turnover costs.

However, as a transformational leader, you are primarily concerned with the organizational objectives, which can lead you to miss the aspirations of individuals.

When is the transformational leadership style most effective?

This style can be used by organizations that are undergoing changes like corporate restructuring, mergers, acquisitions. It is also useful in disruptive times like negative economic impacts or the advent of new technology.

Growth-oriented companies use the transformational leadership style to achieve desired results. However, when applying this leadership style, you need to remember that change is never easy. You can find it hard to make alterations in systems where the current processes are valued.

5. Transactional Leadership

In this style, the leader-follower relationship is a transaction. It’s a give-and-take system, in which you set the business objectives of your group members. If they achieve the goal, you reward them with incentives or bonuses, usually monetary. Else, you punish with disciplinary action or penalties.

For instance, if the marketing team generates a certain number of leads, you reward them with coupons for their favorite restaurant. If they don’t, you punish them by reducing their incentives. Thus, you use the self-interest of your subordinates to attain business goals.

You set up the roles and responsibilities of employees as a transactional leader. As a result, there is no confusion among your employees as expectations are clearly defined. Thus, you can achieve short term goals quickly. However, you do not inspire people and focus on maintaining established procedures.

When do you exhibit the transactional leadership style?

This leadership style works best when there is a structured environment with set procedures; the roles need to be clearly defined to accomplish specific tasks.

It is also useful when the model of your organization is revenue-oriented, and you aim to generate profit by achieving organizational targets.

However, this leadership style will not work with creative teams or with teams that require out of the box thinking.

6. Coach-style Leadership

In this leadership style, you adapt the qualities of a coach or a teacher. You find the strengths and weaknesses of employees and constantly motivate them to improve. To achieve this, you need regular interaction with the team, set goals, and check progress through feedback sessions.

For instance, you can head a meeting to analyze the performance of your employees in the last quarter. Then, reward the top performers and set new goals based on the accomplishments and areas of improvement for the team.

Thus, you are not involved in problem-solving or delegating work. Instead, you encourage your team to try something new on their own. As a result, your employee’s skill set increases, and they become capable of making it through a difficult situation.

This leadership style takes a while to generate results as your team will need time to improve their weaknesses and achieve goals. However, according to a report by the Manchester Review, the ROI on coach-style leadership is 5.7 times the cost. Hence applying this coaching in your organization is worth the investment.

Coaching is particularly effective if your employees lack a particular skill or knowledge. It works by motivating them and assisting in developing new skill sets. Note that you will not be able to apply this style if your team is extremely resilient to changes or is not willing to learn new things.

7. Bureaucratic Leadership Style

This leadership style is a rule-based leadership framework with a clearly defined hierarchy of your organization. In this style, you act as a bureaucrat, i.e., you focus on implementing the rules, laws, and ideas of your institution. You have to function according to the official regulations defined by your superiors.

The administrative needs in your organization, like the compliance procedures and safety norms, form the basis of this leadership style. These requirements define the set of rules and procedures that you strictly need to follow. You implement a ‘go by the book’ approach that does not allow any deviation from set procedures.

This leadership style does not encourage new ideas, creativity, or out of the box thinking. Hence, you do not focus on innovation, skills, and knowledge upgrade; instead, you want employees to abide by the rules.

Sounds redundant? Following are some situations where the bureaucratic leadership style is effective:

  • If you are a part of an organization where there is repetitive work and safety procedures are crucial: like manufacturing units or work related to hazardous chemicals, construction, or dangerous equipment.
  • If you are working with an institution in which compliance plays an important role, like a government organization, you should apply the bureaucratic leadership style.
  • You can also use this style if the focus is on the accuracy, like work related to cash-flow in banks or other financial institutions.

8. Charismatic Leadership:

The charismatic leadership style has the basis in your charm and persuasiveness. You need to have excellent communication, interpersonal, and oratorical skills to exhibit this style. You use these skills to evoke a response from your audience and commit them to take action towards organizational goals.

To develop the Charismatic leadership style, you need to use the “others-centered” approach: you are empathetic and relate to the emotions of others. You take a cue from their body language and social status and make them feel comfortable.

For instance, in a meeting, you have eye contact with everyone and let them speak their point of view. You listen carefully and value their inputs.

This leadership style has the downside of being too dependent on you. If your energy levels are down, fewer people will follow you. Another disadvantage is that you compel people to follow your vision, which results in inhibiting their own creativity. This, in turn, may lead to a change in the value system of your followers.

However, the flip side of this style is that you build healthy connections and emotional appeal with your employees, which creates a positive work environment and results in improved productivity.

Charismatic leadership, due to its open communication, makes people feel welcome. Hence it is effective in preventing attrition in your company; people follow you more than your organization.

9. Servant Leadership Style:

The basis of the servant leadership style is that the leader is second to employees. Hence, you need ‘people first’ mindset to apply this style. You need to highlight individuals or your team as opposed to yourself.

If you want to get the best out of people through this style, you have to fulfill their personal and professional requirements. Hence, you should focus on satisfying the needs of employees, which also helps in keeping their morale high.

How do you identify the needs of your employees and satiate them?

Here is a tip- Have regular one-on-one meetings with your employees to discuss questions, thoughts, and concerns about improving your products or services. Such open discussions with your employees, help in finding their needs; it also enables you to evaluate the requirements of people who are using your products or services.

In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek also explains how you can you focus on investing time and energy for the betterment of your group members. A small step from your end, like a discussion on the aspirations of your employees, can go a long way in enhancing their performance.

Though this style can work in all types of business, it is suggested for non-profit organizations or other types of humanitarian enterprises. This style does not work with organizations where you need to follow tight deadlines and make quick decisions.

Here is how you can change your leadership style

Now that you know leadership styles, assess which one is yours. Is your style the best fit for your leadership role? Do you need to change it to enhance your leadership potential?

You need to analyze the requirements of business before choosing the leadership style that fits you the best. Then, you may have to alter your leadership style to get the desired outcomes.

For instance, if there is a sudden increase in the number of millennials and attrition of experienced professionals in your team, you may have to move to an authoritative leadership style.

Let’s find out how can you make this change in your style.

Exhibit Patience: First things first. You cannot change your leadership style in a week or two. Give yourself time to work on the changes you need to practise.

Check your habits: Keep an eye on how you operate. For instance, if you are an autocratic leader and want to move to a democratic leadership style, reduce the number of status reports and micromanagement techniques.

Practise: Read books, install softwares that help you in altering your leadership style. Check your progress against your company benchmarks and protocols.

Mindset: Your leadership style is all about your mindset. You will have to alter your attitude organically. For instance, if you are naturally inclined to ask questions and take advice, you will need to change your psyche to get into an autocratic leadership style.

Feedback: You need to ensure that your leadership style works for the betterment of your organization. Feedback sessions from HR and senior leaders can help you assess if your leadership style is in the right direction.


Leadership style is a reflection of your personality. However, you can train yourself to adopt a style that fits your role requirements. As you go up the hierarchy, competencies like functional expertise take a back seat, and the emphasis is on relationship building.

You constantly need to revisit and reassess your style to bridge the gap of your current role and what the next one entails.

What is your leadership style? Do you wish to alter it? Let us know in your comments.