Leadership Skills

Meaning, Examples, Types, Importance and Improvement Tips

They may have been born more than 170 years apart but George Stephenson and Steve Jobs had a lot in common. Both Stephenson, who built the first steam locomotive engine, and Jobs, who gave us the iPhone and so much more, were crystal-ball gazers who saw the future and then went out and built it.

Many would describe this attribute – the ability to think up a revolutionary idea backed by the gumption to execute it – as the defining leadership skill that separates dreamers and fools from visionaries and change-makers.

Does this mean that creativity is the only thing that distinguishes a visionary from the rest of us who haven’t a hope in hell of becoming the next Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Ingvar Kamprad?

Ingvar who? Better known as the founder of IKEA, the world’s largest furniture store, Kamprad was just 17 when the proverbial light-bulb went off.

He was trying to fit a table into the boot of his car when a friend suggested that they take the legs off. And, just like that, IKEA’s signature flat-pack was invented.

More than creativity, Stephenson, Jobs and Kamprad had the ability to see the dots and then connect them differently.

So, whether a new product, or a service, or the result of a merger or an acquisition, individuals who can predict trends and turn that into something new and different usually turn into great corporate leaders.

What Are Leadership Skills?

Visionaries turn leaders when they lead a group of people to achieve a shared goal. Translated into corporate terms, this means launching their own companies to take an out-of-the-box idea, disrupt the status quo and come up with a unique result.

Here are some traits (in no particular order) associated with leaders.

1. Strategic Thinking

The top spot in the leadership skills toolkit goes to strategic thinking.

All it takes is one person with the ability to study current trends, identify one that has the potential to evolve into something big, project into the future and draw up a strategy that will take them, step by step, towards a clearly defined goal.

All too often, dreams fall by the wayside because so-called leaders have assumed a magical leap from their brilliant idea to the future goal, without a roadmap that will get them there.

2. Seeing The Future

Soon after Walt Disney made his first animated film, one of the biggest innovations of its time, he also envisioned Mickey Mouse & Co as household names; he imagined them leading an entire industry in film merchandising; and how his animated creations could drive theme parks one day.

It was the same quality that allowed Bezos to visualise how amazon.com would one day be the world’s largest e-commerce store, not just a virtual bookshop.

Individuals with great leadership skills can see how an opportunity can lead to more opportunities that no one else can see just yet.

3. Organisational Skills

This one might sound unexciting, considering the two skills we’ve listed above but it is an essential tool in the arsenal of effective leadership skills.

A good leader has the ability to identify what’s important and what’s not. He or she is a good time manager who is action-oriented but who also knows how to delegate work, leaving himself or herself free to focus on the big picture.

4. Risk Management

While working on something that has no precedent is the very basis of innovation, executing a remarkable idea also comes with risks.

A good leader is able to formulate an effective risk assessment strategy with his or her team, identify possible pitfalls, quantify them and decide what action to take if those pitfalls become a reality.

5. Interpersonal Skills

This is a must-have leadership skill if you’re piloting a venture of any sort. A good leader has excellent soft skills, is a brilliant communicator and a superb team player.

These are leadership skills he or she has honed over time and are now second nature to them.

Read more about interpersonal skills.

6. Charisma

An individual with effective leadership skills is able to inspire, influence and guide people to achieve a new goal.

Call it charisma, call it the ‘X’ factor – it’s that intangible quality that enables some people to carry an entire company along with them towards a common objective.

In the case of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, make that ‘the ability to inspire an entire generation of consumers’, by presenting the world its first personal computer or launching ‘earth’s biggest bookstore’.

How To Improve Leadership Skills

The most oft-asked question is: can leadership skills be learnt? Can one build effective leadership skills? Noted 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle had said that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men’, implying that great leaders are born, not made.

This theory was highly debated and even replaced with those that were diametrically opposite. It was ultimately discredited but there has always been a nagging feeling that Carlyle had hit upon a nugget of truth.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that people with certain traits are probably more effective leaders than others. But even that doesn’t fully explain it.

The point is, there are only so many Steve Jobs, Ingvar Kamprads and Warren Buffets in this world but there is still enough brilliance to go around.

Relationship / Difference between Leadership And Management Skills

This topic has been discussed ad nauseum, so we’ll be honest with you – a good manager and a good leader are two very different animals. Now if you’re ready to rate yourself on these two essential corporate skills, we’ll get right down to it.

Can you guess who we are referring to? He or she keeps the team/organisation functioning. Their job profile calls for planning, budgeting, staffing, quantifying performance and problem-solving.

They also make sure targets are met, productivity levels are maintained or increased and that quarterly numbers keep management happy.

Here’s the other one: He or she challenges the status quo, thinks out of the box and sets future goals. They steer the company in a new direction and align staff and colleagues to their own vision. They also inspire and motivate employees, or the organisation as a whole, to achieve these goals.

Try this to remember the difference between leadership and management skills: a manager appeals to your head while a leader appeals to your heart; while the former has subordinates, the other has followers; and while one roots for stability, the other roots for change.

Each one – a manager and a leader – has a bunch of people working under them yet each couldn’t be more different from the other. And every company needs both.

Back to the list of key skills.