What does it mean to be a leader in 2021? Just think about it for a minute: we live in a time when digital transformation is changing the way how businesses operate and we live and work, a global pandemic forces everyone to work remotely, a generational shift is disrupting the workforce. While everything is changing, one thing is constant – a leader’s role. Leaders help organizations to address the new challenges and shift to a new paradigm of thriving instead of surviving.
As a leader, you understand that your skills need to be constantly evolving. The skill gap is growing fast, and it’s important to reskill and upskill yourself on soft skills. In this post, we will provide you with the current leadership state, crucial soft skills for your role in 2021, ways to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and how to boost your leadership development.
What are leadership skills?
Despite the popularity of the term “leadership skills”, it’s not so easy to describe it uniquely. Leadership is a broad concept with multiple definitions. If you search “The best leadership books” on Amazon, you will see over 20,000 titles that are very different from each other – from the one thing the great leader must do to hundreds of tips that help to become a better leader.
Gary Yukl defines leadership as “the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives”. There is no one right way how to lead as it depends on multiple circumstances, that’s why one of the main qualities of great leaders is their ability to adapt to constantly changing conditions.
9 Core skills leaders need
The list of competencies that are helpful for leaders is very broad, but it’s safe to say that some skills from that list are fundamental. We identify 3 clusters and 9 core leadership skills: 1) Social skills (Interpersonal) – Communication Skills, Emotional Intelligence Skills, Team Leadership; 2) Personal Skills (Intrapersonal) – Change Leadership, Self-Development, Diversity, and Inclusion; 3) Strategic skills – Decision Making, Goal Orientation, Planning & Organizing.
As Dianne Feinstein said: “Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want”. You can be a great strategic thinker, but if you can’t communicate your vision clearly, your colleagues won’t follow you. Strong communication skills mean that you can establish positive rapport, convey your thoughts precisely, listen to people carefully, and adapt your communication style to different people.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions. EQ was popularized by Daniel Goleman, who introduced its model in his book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ consisting of 5 components: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, social skills.
Emotionally intelligent leaders drive employee engagement even if their colleagues work remotely. Confident self-awareness and empathy help leaders to understand their peers and motivate them to achieve goals.
3. Team Leadership
A leader leads a group of people, it’s obvious. The success of a group largely depends on the ability of the leader to motivate the group, delegate ambitious tasks to their team, unleash the potential of team members.
One of the challenges for team leaders is efficient talent management which has been an HR function for a long time. Talent management has been an annual formal process instead of a constant process based on business goals and supported by leaders.
In addition to hiring talented professionals who fit the culture of your company, an ability to guide employees, mentor them and help them grow professionally is a must for modern leaders.
4. Change Leadership
Higgs and Rowland give a classical definition of change leadership: “Change leadership is the ability to influence and enthuse others through personal advocacy, vision, and drive, and to access resources to build a solid platform for change”. While it’s a good definition, it doesn’t represent the fast-paced world we live in with continuous disruptions and business models changed. Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta proposes another definition for modern change leadership: “Change Leadership is the ability to influence and inspire action in others, and respond with vision and agility during periods of growth, disruption or uncertainty to bring about the needed change.”
Change is difficult. Most people meet change with stress and anxiety, that’s why the role of change leaders is so crucial. Efficient change leaders identify the need for change, initiate it, and lead people through change by clearly explaining reasons, engaging stakeholders and employees, and supporting others if they have personal or professional barriers.
Change Leadership, we mentioned above, is impossible without the quick development of the necessary knowledge and skills to react to the changing environment.
You demonstrate a high level of self-development if you apply new skills and knowledge at work, take an interest in and seek feedback about your work, learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them.
6. Diversity and Inclusion
Quite recently the word “inclusion” was used by just a few organizations. Today, “diversity and inclusion” is a popular topic in the work world and has its acronym – D&I.
It’s hard to not agree with Josh Bersin’s words that companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers. According to the McKinsey survey, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Achieving greater diversity isn’t easy, but it’s a skill leaders need to work constantly on.
7. Decision Making
Decision-making skills show your mastery in choosing between two or more alternative options. There are three main ways to approach decision-making: using intuition, reasoning, or a combination of both.
We spend a lot of time and energy making decisions in everyday situations – while some decisions are small, many decisions are critical for a business. It’s important to improve your decision-making skills to reduce any stress and risks, save time, and increase business outcomes.
8. Goal Orientation
Goal-oriented means setting goals and focusing on them overcoming obstacles to finish what you start.
People who are not goal-oriented give up on tasks at the first sign of failure, procrastinate, constantly switch from task to task without finishing them.
Goal orientation skills are vital for leaders to achieve results in what they do and keep them moving forward.
9. Planning & Organizing
As with goal orientation skills, planning and organizing skills help leaders to succeed in their work. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Without planning you can’t say whether you making any progress or not, you are like a sailboat at sea. Planning helps leaders set expectations, contribute resources, hold people accountable, and reduce uncertainty.
Why leadership development is so important in 2021
Leadership development is going through a transformation. On one hand, TrainingIndustry.com said in 2019 that leadership training is a $366 billion global industry and it has kept growing, on the other hand, different surveys of executives show improving leadership development is still a priority challenge for their businesses.
If so much money is invested in leadership development, why is there a shortage of leaders and why has a leadership skills gap emerged?
In 2021 we see that leadership development needs a full reformation. In its current form, most leadership development programs fail – one of the reasons for that is “that development investments focus not on future leaders but primarily on a handful of potential successors”. We see a solution in making leadership development initiatives available not only for “people at the top”, but for people at every level of organizations.
Leaders make the future, and their role in this uncertain world is central.
Your current leadership profile
So, you are a new manager, experienced manager, or just someone interested in improving leadership skills, and you want to know where to start.
Leadership skills are soft skills. There are many ways to develop soft skills, but the first step is always the same – you should assess your current skills level and specify your strengths and weaknesses to put out your personal leadership profile.
Self-assessment is a relatively fast and easy method to learn more about your leadership style. In the Internet you can find a plenty of self-assessment tools for leaders, we recommend you to try one or a few of them as they will provide you with a ready-to-use questionnaire and a structure.
The leadership blindspot survey may be a good starting point to assess your blind spots about yourself, your team, your company, and your markets.
Another self-assessment tool is The leadership compass. This tool is also a PDF file where you can reflect on your leadership style. Pay your attention to the “Styles Taken to Excess” page – if you show any of those behaviors, it may be your development opportunity.
While a self-assessment is a very efficient instrument for emerging leaders and those who want to learn more about leadership, it lacks information on how colleagues see you – do they think you are a good leader, what is their opinion on what you do well, and what you don’t? Without feedback from your colleagues, you can’t answer these questions. There are different ways to request feedback from your peers. Via emails/messengers, formal and informal discussions you may get relevant feedback that will help you with improving your leadership skills.
Another method to get feedback from your work circle is 360-degree feedback. 360-degree feedback is a process through which feedback is gathered from and employee and their colleagues – manager(s), subordinates, peers, and supervisor(s). Most likely you have participated in 360-degree feedback activities organized in your company, and know how useful such feedback is. By assessing your leadership skills using regular 360-degree surveys, you not only increase your self-awareness and get insights from your colleagues but can monitor the dynamics of how the perception of your leadership skills changes over over time.
Your development is yours to own. Even if your company conducts 360-degree reviews once per year, it doesn’t mean you can’t collect 360-degree feedback on your own if you need more information about your leadership style or wish to get feedback from your colleagues more often. Traditionally 360-degree feedback setup admin administration was considered complex and time-consuming, but Aiday makes it easy for leaders to organize regular 360-degree reviews for themselves and their teams.
Collect feedback from your colleagues, analyze your skills gap, and create a meaningful development plan. We recommend conducting a 360-degree feedback cycle every quarter/half a year to monitor your progress in leadership development.
How to develop your leadership skills
Time is not an infinite resource while developing soft skills is a slow process. What (and how many) skills you should choose to develop in the near future to become a more efficient leader?
Strength-based leadership development
Many recent research show that a focus on strength-based positive development boosts trainee engagement and gives better results than a classical approach based on fixing weaknesses. Gallup’s data say that learning their strengths makes employees 7.8% more productive, and teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.
Most likely your company doesn’t need leaders with an average level of their skills – successful leaders are not those who have no weaknesses, successful leaders are those who have extraordinary strengths.
Choose 2-3 skills to develop in the next 3-6 months
Discuss your strengths and weaknesses with your manager or coach (or reflect on them on your own) in depth and prioritize your development based on your company needs. If you don’t have critical for your role weaknesses, we recommend to pick two-three of your “strong” skills to master in the next 3-6 months which are relevant to your company.
Why only two-three skills? It can be only one skill but keep in mind that many skills are interconnected and by developing one skill you may also improve another – that’s why picking one main skill and 1-2 skills connected to it may be more efficient than developing only one skill. We don’t recommend picking more than 3 skills to develop at the same time because it will be difficult to focus and you will be jumping from one subject to another without getting deep knowledge about them.
Create an individual development plan
Create an individual development plan (IDP) with the list of skills you want to improve.
The IDP is a formal document that includes a list of development goals and corresponding activities. For each goal, a list of activities (tasks) is specified. It is recommended to create goals and tasks in a specific format that helps plan owners determine what needs to be done and in what time frame. For example, employees can use the SMART format. SMART is an abbreviation, the interpretation of which is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.
Best ways to develop your leadership skills
1. Leadership and management courses
There is no shortage of different leadership online courses. MOOC providers like Coursera or Udemy offer various affordable programs in different categories like emotional intelligence, conflict management, relationship building, public speaking, etc.
If you are looking for fundamental management courses available in your city, you may be interested in checking findcourses.com.
A good mentor can change your life. You can look for a mentor or coach within your organization (some companies even have special mentor programs), on sites like LinkedIn, or special services like MicroMentor.
Before contacting a mentor, clarify your needs – make a list of what you would want to get from a mentor.
If you work with a coach, they may find 360-degree feedback very useful to analyze your current leadership profile and your progress. With Aiday you can share your 360-degree feedback results with a coach and give them access to your individual development plan on our platform.
Mentoring is also an efficient way to grow your leadership skills. By mentoring others you improve you become a better listener, develop your storytelling abilities, and broaden your horizons.
Feedback is crucial. Grant Wiggins says, “Feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval. That’s what evaluation is – placing value. Feedback is value-neutral. It describes what you did and did not do.” Make feedback a tool for improvement and continued learning rather than chastisement.
If you don’t receive the kind of feedback you need to grow, you may find Radical Candor very helpful. Radical Candor provides guidance on giving and receiving feedback using Caring Personally and Challenging Directly principles.
To get structured consistent feedback, we recommend conducting regular 360-degree reviews and analyze your results and progress over time.
4. Personal reflection
Personal reflection is a skill by itself and it can be developed over time. Without self-reflection it’s difficult to grow – you need to compare yourself with other colleagues, leaders, yourself. By understanding where you are, and what are your goals, you make plans which motivate you to keep going.
Use self-reflection to observe your inner self neutrally, avoid self-criticism which can reinforce false damaging ideas about yourself.
Here you will find a list of positive self-reflection questions for introspection.
Like in sport, if you want to master skills, you should also improve your supporting skills. By analyzing the empirical data, Zenger, Sandholtz, Joe Folkman discovered a fascinating phenomenon: leaders who scored in the top 10 percent on the differentiating behavior also tended to score very high on supporting behaviors which were statistically correlated with each of the 16 differentiating leadership competencies. They have called these supporting behaviors “competency companions”. This idea about growing skills by working on supporting behaviors opens a new door to leadership development.
Leaders can be made. Aiday’s mission is to help people to become better leaders. By assessing your skills via 360-degree feedback, analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, maintaining development plans, and reflecting on your progress, you grow into a great leader and make your organization succeed.