Top 10 Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills Employers Look For

Stephen Covey attends day two of the Leaders Causing Leaders event on November 7, 2010 in Long Beach, California.
••• Stephen Covey attends day two of the Leaders Causing Leaders event on November 7, 2010 in Long Beach, California. Mark Sullivan/WireImage/Getty Images

Whether one is an office manager or a project leader, all good leaders require a number of soft skills to help them positively interact with employees or team members. Employers seek these skills in the candidates they hire for leadership roles. Here are the top 10 skills that make a strong leader in the workplace.

Incorporating Skills into Your Job Search

You can use the skill words listed below as you search for jobs. For example, apply the terms in your resume, especially in the description of your work history. You can also incorporate them into your cover letter. Mention one or two of the skills mentioned here, and give specific examples of instances when you demonstrated these traits at work.

You can also use these words in your interview. Keep the top skills listed here in mind during your interview, and be prepared to give examples of how you've exemplified each.

Each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully, and focus on the skills listed by the employer. These words will be especially useful when answering questions about leadership. Also review our list of skills listed by job and type of skill.

Top 10 Leadership Soft Skills

••• Illustration by Alison Czinkota. © The Balance, 2018

1. Communication

As a leader, you need to be able to clearly and succinctly explain to your employees everything from organizational goals to specific tasks. Leaders must master all forms of communication, including one-on-one, departmental, and full-staff conversations, as well as communication via the phone, email, and social media.

A large part of communication involves listening. Therefore, leaders should establish a steady flow of communication between themselves and their staff or team members, either through an open-door policy or regular conversations with workers. Leaders should make themselves regularly available to discuss issues and concerns with employees. Other skills related to communication include:

2. Motivation

Leaders need to inspire their workers to go the extra mile for their organizations; just paying a fair salary to employees is typically not enough inspiration (although it is important too). There are a number of ways to motivate your workers: you may build employee self-esteem through recognition and rewards, or by giving employees new responsibilities to increase their investment in the company.

Leaders must learn what motivators work best for their employees or team members to encourage productivity and passion. Skills related to effective motivation include:

  • Allowing employee autonomy
  • Asking for input
  • Assessing interests of staff
  • Convincing
  • Mentoring
  • Open to employee concerns
  • Persuasive
  • Providing productive and challenging work
  • Providing rewards
  • Recognizing others
  • Setting effective goals
  • Team-building
  • Thanking staff
  • Understanding employee differences

3. Delegating

Leaders who try to take on too many tasks by themselves will struggle to get anything done. These leaders often fear that delegating tasks is a sign of weakness, when in fact it is a sign of a strong leader.

Therefore, you need to identify the skills of each of your employees, and assign duties to each employee based on his or her skill set. By delegating tasks to staff members, you can focus on other important tasks. Some skills that make a good delegator include:

  • Accepting feedback from employees
  • Allotting resources for employees
  • Assessing employee strengths and weaknesses
  • Defining expectations
  • Evaluating employee performance
  • Identifying measurable outcomes
  • Matching the task to the right employee
  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Setting expectations
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Training
  • Trust in employees

4. Positivity

A positive attitude can go a long way in an office. You should be able to laugh at yourself when something doesn't go quite as planned; this helps create a happy and healthy work environment, even during busy, stressful periods. Simple acts like asking employees about their vacation plans will develop a positive atmosphere in the office, and raise morale among staff members. If employees feel that they work in a positive environment, they will be more likely to want to be at work, and will therefore be more willing to put in the long hours when needed.

 Some skills that help make for a positive atmosphere in the workplace include:

5. Trustworthiness

Employees need to be able to feel comfortable coming to their manager or leader with questions and concerns. It is important for you to demonstrate your integrity – employees will only trust leaders they respect.

By being open and honest, you will encourage the same sort of honesty in your employees. Here are some skills and qualities that will help you convey your trustworthiness as a leader:

  • Ability to apologize
  • Accountability
  • Business ethics
  • Confidentiality
  • Conscientious
  • Consistent in behavior towards employees
  • Credibility
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Moral compass
  • Reliability
  • Respectfulness
  • Standing up for what is right
  • Thoughtful

6. Creativity

As a leader, you have to make a number of decisions that do not have a clear answer; you therefore need to be able to think outside of the box.

Learning to try nontraditional solutions, or approaching problems in nontraditional ways, will help you to solve an otherwise unsolvable problem. Most employees will also be impressed and inspired by a leader who doesn't always choose the safe, conventional path. Here are some skills related to creative thinking:

  • Analytical
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Conceptualization
  • Critical thinking
  • Curiosity
  • Embracing different cultural perspectives
  • Foresight
  • Identifying patterns
  • Imaginative
  • Innovative
  • Listening to others’ ideas
  • Making abstract connections
  • Observation
  • Open-mindedness
  • Problem solving
  • Sound judgment
  • Synthesizing
  • Visionary

7. Feedback

Leaders should constantly look for opportunities to deliver useful information to team members about their performance. However, there is a fine line between offering employees advice and assistance, and micromanaging. By teaching employees how to improve their work and make their own decisions, you will feel more confident delegating tasks to your staff.

Employees will also respect a leader who provides feedback in a clear but empathetic way. Some skills for giving clear feedback include:

  • Being open to receiving feedback
  • Building confidence in employees
  • Clarity
  • Clearly laying out expectations
  • Coaching
  • Following up
  • Frequent feedback
  • Listening to employees’ responses
  • Mentoring
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Providing specific advice
  • Respectful

8. Responsibility

A leader is responsible for both the successes and failures of his or her team. Therefore, you need to be willing to accept blame when something does not go correctly.

If your employees see their leader pointing fingers and blaming others, they will lose respect for you. Accept mistakes and failures, and then devise clear solutions for improvement. Here are some skills and qualities that help leaders convey their responsibility:

  • Acknowledging mistakes
  • Being open to customer feedback
  • Evaluating best solutions
  • Forecasting
  • Learning from past mistakes
  • Listening to feedback from employees and managers
  • Project planning
  • Reflectiveness
  • Resolving problems
  • Transparency
  • Trouble shooting

9. Commitment

It is important for leaders to follow through with what they agree to do. You should be willing to put in the extra hours to complete an assignment; employees will see this commitment and follow your example.

Similarly, when you promise your staff a reward, such as an office party, you should always follow through. A leader cannot expect employees to commit to their jobs and their tasks if he or she cannot do the same. Some skills related to commitment in the workplace include:

  • Applying feedback
  • Commitment to company objectives
  • Determination
  • Embracing professional development
  • Following through
  • Keeping promises
  • Passion
  • Perseverance
  • Prioritization
  • Professionalism
  • Team player
  • Work ethic

10. Flexibility

Mishaps and last-minute changes always occur at work. Leaders need to be flexible, accepting whatever changes come their way. Employees will appreciate your ability to accept changes in stride and creatively problem solve.

Similarly, leaders must be open to suggestions and feedback. If your staff is dissatisfied with an aspect of the office environment, listen to their concern and be open to making necessary changes. Employees will appreciate a leader's ability to accept appropriate feedback. Skills related to flexibility include:

  • Ability to learn new skills
  • Ability to respond to new problems or issues
  • Adaptability
  • Improvising
  • Negotiating
  • Open to feedback
  • Recognizing individuals’ strengths and skills
  • Treating employees as individuals

What are the types of leadership?