Ready to make an enquiry? Contact us to discuss your requirements today.

Looking to increase the shock and awe in your leadership style? Workers can be shocked at how little awe their leaders sometimes inspire. Leadership isn’t easy. Power might come with the job, but creativity and vision can be hard to find. We don’t all have a dream, the promised land can be hard to reach and getting your team to eat out of the palm of your hand is tricky now that people are working next to their fridge.

Help is at hand. Here, in one place, is the Working Voices guide to leadership skills. Everything you need to know, reflecting the thoughts of our expert consultants developed over 20 years.    

What is leadership?

In its simplest form, leadership in business is managing flexibility and delivering growth while protecting your resources. Taking risks might help growth, and pedestrian performance might feel safe. But true leadership walks a line between the two. Each day is different. Some days you might be championing your ideals, like a superhero. Other days, storm clouds might gather in the business or beyond. Leadership relies on the flexibility to cope with either and treat them both the same – so that your team only see a consistent, positive sense of direction.

Success in leadership lies in getting the most from your people. Without them, you’re working alone. Of course, isolation calls for leadership too, in the form of self-management or self-development. For now though, the focus here is on leading a team.

There is no one-size-fits-all in leadership. There are many different leadership styles, and the best bosses are able to chop and change between them according to whatever’s happening at the time,  relying on a range of leadership skills, from vision and clarity to decisiveness and empathy.

Leadership skills

What are the core skills of leadership?

“If you want to find out the effectiveness of a leader, ask those who are led” – so wrote leadership experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman.

Folkman, a behavioural statistician, looked at comments made by 300,000 people regarding approximately 30,000 managers. He and Zenger then ranked the leadership skills that were most widely regarded as important for success. They concluded that “our research identified 16 competencies that separated the top 10 percent of all leaders from the rest. We believe these are the competencies on which most leaders should focus.” They are:

  1. High integrity and honesty
  2. Technical/professional expertise
  3. Solves problems and analyses issues
  4. Innovates
  5. Practices self-development
  6. Drives for results
  7. Establishes stretch goals
  8. Takes initiative
  9. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  10. Inspires and motivates others to high performance
  11. Builds relationships
  12. Develops others
  13. Collaboration and teamwork
  14. Develops strategic perspective
  15. Champions change
  16. Connects the group to the outside world

Whether many of these skills feel familiar to you or ever so slightly out of reach, all leadership qualities can be learned. Here a few thoughts on where to start:

1. Strategic leadership skills

Leading with impact and presence

People can choose to follow you, or not. To inspire creativity, enthusiasm, commitment and confidence in a team, wherever they happen to be working, it’s important to win hearts and minds. People need to have confidence in you, which only comes once they believe in you. They need to see in you the ability that you’re looking for in them.

Leadership is not an emotional island. No-one wants to be a Robinson Crusoe, talking only to themselves. To win over an audience, it helps to begin by considering their needs. What are the needs of your team? What are they looking for in you? In showing what you expect of them, show them the motivation that drives you. Energy and commitment speak volumes. Qualities such as passion and belief are infectious, they are the objectives of solid leadership.

Training in Leading with Impact and Presence

eLearning, with Learnflix

Executive presence

Confidence and authority come from self-belief, the sense of self-awareness that makes us walk tall and be noticed. These qualities are collectively known as executive presence. Executive presence is a state of mind. It’s the secret sauce that makes people sit up and listen, and it’s developed by paying attention to style, substance, and character.

One way of developing others’ confidence in you is by building rapport with them. There’s no way to cheat this. Rapport comes from maintaining a genuine interest in people. What are their challenges? How can you make things easier for them, or at least show you understand them? By remaining consistent in your actions and decisions, particularly under pressure, you’ll be able to nurture rapport, build confidence and develop executive presence.

Insights articles:

Executive presence – the key to great leadership, by Andy Day

“Being a standout leader requires more than just knowing how to do your job – it takes extra charisma, energy, gravitas and presence.”

6 character traits of leaders with executive presence, by Andy Day

“Character is the sum total of you: your values, beliefs, talents and formative experiences. A combination of all the intangible qualities that make you uniquely you.”

Developing executive presence: using stories to create substance, by Andy Day

“Substance is the what of your communication, it’s what you are choosing to say to your listener.”

Training in Executive Presence

eLearning, with Learnflix

The inspirational leader

Become an inspirational leader by developing your command of emotional intelligence. For example, by better understanding what drives and motivates your team you’ll be able to develop their desire to learn. This is beneficial to you as well as them. It gives you a motivational tool, making it easier for you to stir up a sense of purpose. You can then develop this, for example through using recognition as a reward.

Learnflix blog: 5 steps towards becoming an inspirational leader, by Dan Parry

“Leadership skills begin with an inspiring sense of vision. Pursuing clear-sighted objectives and taking people with you along the way are qualities that separate great leaders from average managers.”

Training in Inspirational Leadership

eLearning, with Learnflix

The inclusive leader

How does your company treat a new hire? Do they spend their first few hours filling out paperwork? In getting the best from your team, it’s important to sustain an inclusive culture, where people feel like people from the start. Diversity and inclusion strategies should inform company culture, replacing tick box exercises with wholesale change. You can lead the process the moment someone new joins your team. For a great example on how this is done by a squadron commander in the US Navy, visit here.

Insights article: Adding D&I to your cultural DNA, by Dan Parry

“Like green shoots in spring, recent growth in Diversity and Inclusion is a healthy sign of bigger things to come.”

Training in Inclusive Leadership

eLearning, with Learnflix

Women’s leadership: the executive

In executive roles, women may choose to develop their communication styles in ways that enhance presence and gravitas. By building an authoritative style that fosters loyalty and respect while maintaining authenticity, leaders can develop their rapport with the audience and create the loyalty and respect they’re looking for.

Insights article: Silence your inner critic, with women’s leadership skills, with Jennifer Logue

“Jennifer, executive coach with a focus on women’s leadership, is supporting the themes of International Women’s Day, particularly with regard to managing biases.”

Training in Women’s Leadership: The Executive

eLearning, with Learnflix

Body language/voice

Body language says as much about us as anything we choose to say. To be seen as confident, capable and engaged, let body language do the talking for you by managing your gestures, expressions, stance and distance. Remember that these can be influenced by the hormones that shape behaviour, by energy levels and by a mix of conscious and subconscious emotional characteristics. As well as body language, learn to control tone, energy and emphasis in the use of your voice. By managing all aspects of body language, you’ll be able to keep control of your message.

Insights article: Want to hold the room? Talk like a boss, by Sara Hollamby

“What makes bosses, bosses? Why don’t they stutter when speaking in meetings, or start their sentences with ‘erm, well it’s like, I hope it’s not a stupid question but…?”

Learnflix blog: Body language speaks volumes to anyone reading the room, by Dan Parry

“Body language is an open book on how we’re feeling. Offering sneaky glimpses of things we might prefer to hide, it gives away more than anything we choose to say.”

Training in Understanding Body Language

eLearning, with Learnflix

More information on strategic leadership:

Winter of complexity demands a ‘surfing’ approach to leadership, by Tom Cassidy

“In my training sessions on Leading for Complexity, I support teams and leaders navigating intensely difficult situations. I believe we can bring these skills into our daily lives and use them to restore a much-needed sense of control.” 

Using a leadership framework, be the boss you want to be, by Tom Cassidy

“Creating a specific leadership framework requires you to consider what it is that you’re trying to achieve.”

Next steps in communication and leadership training, by Gene Douglas

“As a Working Voices Trainer, I’m frequently asked by clients and students about what I see as the next wave of communication and leadership training.”

Good news’ brand of leadership is risky, by Paul Hill

“Boris Johnson doesn’t like to deliver bad news, or to be associated with it.”

Strategic leadership skills

2. People management skills

Coaching and mentoring

Coaching is a rewarding chance to help someone develop in a task, in their job or in their broader career. It only works through a sense of partnership. Guided discovery techniques can help you listen to the person you’re coaching, recognise their skills and identify their weaknesses. This is a relationship marked by trust. By trusting your intuition, you can help them trust theirs, in a process that ultimately will enable them to maximise their potential.

Training in Coaching & Mentoring

eLearning, with Learnflix

Women’s leadership: becoming a leader

In being heard in the workplace, much comes down to changing your own and others’ behaviour. Your focus would be to develop confidence, own your space and develop a level of presence that you’re comfortable with. Skills that may help you get to where you want to be include personal dynamism and assertiveness, enabling you to build a strong personal brand that inspires loyalty and respect.

Learnflix blog: Assertiveness begins with a laser-like sense of focus, by Dan Parry

“Being assertive can be a tricky balancing act. To avoid underselling yourself without overstepping the mark, you need a laser-like focus on the outcome you’re looking for.”

Training in Women’s Leadership: Becoming a Leader

eLearning, with Learnflix

Managing difficult conversations

Difficult conversations, such as turning down a client’s request or disappointing a colleague about a pay rise, can be managed by focusing on the outcome. The update you need to convey might be clear to you. But how do you want to leave things afterwards? In approaching the conversation, it helps to find the right mental attitude. Find the emotional intelligence to deliver your news with empathy, clarity and above all accuracy. No-one is going to be helped by your desire to soothe battered feelings if you end up giving false hope or falling short of what needs to be said.

Learnflix blog: Emotional intelligence, the best way to win hearts and minds, by Dan Parry

“Emotional Intelligence is key to making people feel the impact of what you have to say.”

Training in Managing Difficult Conversations

eLearning, with Learnflix

Delivering compelling feedback

Factual reports that are disciplined, logical and almost scientific in their approach are more likely to prompt a positive response than something that inadvertently could be taken personally. By showing a genuine desire for an individual’s success, using positive phrases and making clear requests, you’ll be able to shift behaviour and improve performance.

“A relatively new senior leader in an overstretched and underfunded organisation comes up against what they perceive to be feet-dragging and a lack of cooperation from their junior subordinates.”

Training in Delivering Compelling Feedback

eLearning, with Learnflix

 Conflict resolution 

By developing an understanding of the causes of conflict, leaders can help to unpick issues that might have been missed by those involved. Communication styles, values, opinions and beliefs can all inflame tensions at work. Listening to people, making consistent judgements and trusting your emotional intelligence will help to restore calm and cohesion.

Training in Conflict Resolution

eLearning, with Learnflix

More information on people management:

Is there really a difference between Leadership & Management?, by Nick Smallman

“There is a real difference between managing and leading.”

A New Way of Tackling Imposter Syndrome, by Tom Cassidy

“Imposter Syndrome is that feeling of being slightly out of one’s depth, not really belonging. It’s the fear that other people at work believe you don’t know what you are doing or are faking it…”

3-Step Strategy for Leaders Tackling New Mindsets at Work, by Dan Parry

“What can leaders do to preserve loyalty, protect job retention and focus on growth?”

3. Day-to-day leadership skills

Delegating and time management

In delegating and time management, the vital part of the equation is people. By knowing what to delegate, and who to, you enhance time management by freeing yourself for other things. If the other things, however, end up including micro-managing the person you’ve delegated to, then this needs to be recognised. If a job’s worth doing, you’re better off giving it to someone else only if they’re up to the task of doing it. Time management is especially difficult in a hybrid work environment. It’s worth devoting time to preparing clear plans in advance, rather than checking up on people afterwards who weren’t quite sure about what you needed in the first place.

Learnflix blog: Keep in calm control with effective time management skills, by Dan Parry

“Time management is not a family forte at the best of times. Last summer, our two weeks in Crete got downsized to four days in Suffolk, which due to a ‘listing error’ turned out to be Essex.”

Training in Delegating & Time Management

eLearning, with Learnflix

Thinking on your feet

Since leadership doesn’t come with a script, it requires a certain level of imagination and creativity. In managing setbacks, such as a pandemic or a freeze in supply chains, you can restore momentum by trusting your instincts and looking for flexible solutions. By learning to overcome fears about criticism or getting things wrong, you’ll come to own your space. This will make it easier to change your mindset, to be agile in your thinking, to overcome biases and to find creativity.

Training in Thinking On Your Feet

eLearning, with Learnflix

Building resilience

Challenges are inevitable, in facing them your team will take their cue from you. The need to show resilience in these moments can be testing but you don’t have to play the stoic hero, hoping no-one will see the emotion that’s affecting your state of mind. Instead, you can convert workplace pressure into positive impetus by learning to get a stronger grip on perspective and staying in control of your reaction to whatever’s unfolding around you.

Insights article: Managing a team in a downturn needn’t be an uphill struggle, by Andy Day

“It’s not much fun being a manager when results are bad.”

Training in Building Resilience

eLearning, with Learnflix

Running effective meetings

Meetings can get bogged down and lose momentum. When this happens, you’re in danger of losing focus, increasing fatigue and taking time away from other tasks. Keep things moving by calmly, fairly but firmly managing progress. Recognise and overcome the challenges of remote meetings, remember to properly include everyone on the call. Finally, don’t let things end at the end of the meeting. Define the actions required to keep momentum going after the meeting’s over.

Insights article: How Handforth Parish Council went viral, and how to avoid being next, by Paul Hill

“Think your virtual meetings could be better? You may already have watched the 18-minute long, edited extracts of last December’s extraordinary meeting of the Handforth Parish Council which was held on Zoom.”

Training in Running Effective Meetings

eLearning, with Learnflix

More information on day-to-day leadership:

Leaders learn from their inner battles, by Andy Day

“Know your own direction – so others can follow. Leadership is driven by values. This is a slogan that’s repeated more often than it’s understood.”

The sheer variety of skills required in a leadership role can feel a little daunting sometimes. By identifying areas to focus on, you can reframe your concerns and regard them as opportunities to improve. Hopefully these tips and suggestions will point you in the right direction.

For more information, take a look at our complete guide to Professional Development.

Phone icon

Speak to us


0800 389 2639

New York

+1 718 421 0200

Hong Kong

+852 6025 1101
Gender inequality at work
Email Icon

Email us

Get in touch with our dedicated team to discuss what we can do for you.