Developing Leadership Skills in Four Key Areas

by Simon Ashley on October 10, 2009

Developing leadership skills is essential to any organisations success and developing good leadership is one of the major challenges facing businesses today.

How to develop leadership skills

To develop good leadership you should develop the following skills and abilities. These can be grouped into four main areas and broken down into smaller segments.

These 4 key areas cover both people and task focused skills as well as individual and organizational skills.


Leadership Development Skills

Business Leadership Skills

Organisational awareness
Insure you have a clear understanding of the organisation’s mission, values and functions, and how it’s social, political, legal and technical systems work. You should also be aware of all the programs, policies, procedures, rules, and regulations of the organization.

Managing change
Managing change within organisations involves adapting to the business environment both internally within the organisation and externally against the competition. Change could involve relocating the company, hiring more employers due to increased growth, altering targets or policies within the organisation or outsourcing work to make the company more profitable.

Leaders responsible for managing organisational change do not generally fear change. They often thrive on it. Whenever an organization introduces change its workforce there will be difficulties however.

Participation, involvement and open, early, full communication are the important factors to prepare and facilitate change within an organisation.

Managing complexity
One of the major causes of profit loss and inefficiency in business, particularly large companies with larger product ranges is complexity

Due to the pressure for growth many companies have expanded their product lines substantially in an effort to encourage customer interest and sales. The consequence has been an increase in the complexity of their business which tends to increase the fixed costs of conducting their business. This can affect everything from the daily operation of the organisation to the strategic decisions of top level management.

Excessive complexity typically grows over many years and develops into structures, cultures, systems, and personnel that are difficult to rectify.

Reducing complexity can have a major impact on competitiveness by simultaneously lowering costs, improving customer benefits and cutting response times.

Here are some ways of reducing unnecessary complexity in your organisation.

  • Simplify and streamline administrative and IT procedures
  • Shift customers to standardized products
  • Select and concentrate on important customer segments
  • Automate business processes where possible
  • Discontinue less popular older products when launching new ones
  • Abandon unprofitable products, services and customers which are not required for financial or strategic reasons.

As a leader try to mange assets more flexibly, develop more efficient information systems, decentralise decision making and develop a workforce with more adaptable skills.

You should have a deep understanding of customer needs, and have cross-functional teams to evaluate costs of various design options and to move toward solutions using frequent customer input.

Also insure that there is a transparency of cost information available so that all factors influencing cost can be analyzed before important decisions are made. Having a broad and thorough understanding of complexity costs managers can then rethink decisions in all areas of the business.

General Skills & Knowledge

While developing and improving your skills and abilities can take time it is essential to your ability to lead effectively and insure your business is not left behind.

Various types of skills in this area include:

General Business Knowledge
General business knowledge can include rudimentary accounting knowledge, clerical knowledge, marketing, capital requirements, overheads, and legal requirements.

Communication Skills
Developing good communication skills comes with practice but there are a number of ways you can improve communication. These can include the proper use of body language, eye contact, listening before giving a response. Also making yourself clear and coherent and being sincere and truthful by saying what you mean will insure your communication is more natural and effective.

Time Management
Effective people use their time efficiently and get more done. They practice good time management skills.

If you believe your not using your time effectively track daily activities to find out where you’re wasting time. You can do this by setting specific goals and tracking them over time to see whether or not they are being accomplished.

Creating time management goals will help eliminate wasteful activities and focus your attention on the task at hand.

Use time management tools. There are various on the market and they can help you prioritize and manage your time more effectively.

Delegate tasks to others and outsource work as much as possible.

Establish routines which involve setting the same amount of time for regular tasks.

Automate your business as much as possible using technology which reduces the work load and increases efficiency.

Team Management
Team management skills are critical for your effectiveness as a manager to insure the business runs efficiently and that the diversity of skills and talents within that team are fully utilized.

Make sure that the team goals are totally clear and completely understood and accepted by each team member. Insure that all of the teams efforts are directed towards the same clear goals. This is where good communication is important.

You should insure that the skills and personalities of different individuals within a team complement each other and make the team stronger as a whole

Presentation Skills
Presentations are an effective way to communicate to large numbers of people at the same time. However, it is not just about communicating information, but more importantly, to have professional presentation skills as a leader you should be able to create interest and excitement in your subject and trust and enthusiasm in you.

Prepare before giving a presentation. Test any equipment you may use beforehand to make sure your familiar with how to use it effectively.

Use pictures, graphs, bar charts, diagrams where appropriate as images can convey more information then words alone.

There are now a number of Mind Mapping Software products on the market that can be combined with presentation software such as PowerPoint. Mind Maps are a great way of making a presentation more comprehensible, organising information and involving your workforce in generating ideas.

Use personal gestures or vocal inflections to put more energy into the presentation.

Interact with your audience whenever possible too keep their attention and get feedback.

Show enthusiasm and conviction and your audience is more likely to respond positively to your message.

Knowledge of Business Law
It is important to know about business law before starting a business as it will help you operate your business without the hindrances of ignorance. It is better to seek the expert guidance of an attorney and accountant to learn about the latest business laws that will affect your organisation.

Below is a list of the most important business laws.

Business structure laws
Zoning Laws
Licensing Laws
Trademark and Patent Laws
Employment Laws
Tax Laws
Environmental Laws
Health Department Permits

Group Leadership Skills

Various types of skills in this area include:

Awareness of Others
You should be aware of the motivations, strengths and skills of other individuals and groups to better enable you to harness these to facilitate the goals of the organisation. Be open to the best of what everyone, everywhere, has to offer.

Insure that the right people are given the right jobs where their skills can be best utilized and build a team committed to achieving the objectives of the organisation. Ensure that communications and relationships are good. If you are leading a large organisation you should check that the processes for managing, communicating and developing people are in place and working properly.

Be aware of the differences between yourself and others and have the capacity to understand and value those differences making others feel valued for a job well done and giving them credit for it.

Communication is critical. Listen, consult, involve, explain why as well as what needs to be done.

Inspiring and Motivating  Others
Prior to expecting anyone to follow, a leader first needs to demonstrate a vision and values worthy of a following. Communicate the mission and vision of the organisation effectively and then identify and remove any barriers preventing people from getting there.

Having personal conviction will make it easier to inspire and motivate others. You will come across as genuine and your message more convincing.

Express your vision in such a way that it impacts them at an emotional level.

Managing Relationships
Managing relationships is crucial in business and a business relationship will only last so long as your are satisfying that person’s or groups needs – whether that be with employees, customers, vendors or investors.

By effectively collaborating with others in your organization, you can make significant advances in profits, value, and financial results

Relationship management encompasses a number of social skills, including:

  • Being able to resolve and mediate conflicts productively
  • Being able to motivate and inspire others
  • Being able to influence or persuade other
  • Being able to communicate effectively

Firstly see people as facilitating opportunities, not causing problems. It is all too easy to see individuals, groups or organisations we must deal with as barriers or distractions to getting our job down. Whether you have to negotiate a complicated deal with a buyer, waiting for approval from a government regulator or keeping key decision makers informed.

  • Identify all potential partners and ask yourself what impact they have on your business and how they affect your ability to achieve your goals. Think in terms of opportunities and collaboration.
  • Identify the most important relationships in your business and those that have the greatest potential of bringing financial rewards.
  • Identify what you can contribute to the relationship. Knowing how you can benefit the potential partner gives them a reason to give something back in return.
  • Identify what you have in common with individuals you are doing business with. Shared values, goals and interests can maintain a productive relationship.
  • Identify steps to improving the relationship. This could involve better communication, further contracts or introducing others into the relationship.

Self Leadership Skills

Various types of skills in this area include:

Self Motivation
Being a leader you must motivate and inspire those around you to support your business vision. This must begin with self-motivation.

Motivation is the activation or energization of goal-oriented behaviour. When setting goals for yourself be specific and break up the goal into smaller parts called targets.

Visualise exactly what you want achieved and exactly how you will achieve it step by step. Visualise yourself achieving that goal and feel the emotions, the sense of achievement at having achieved it. This will not only give you greater motivation and confidence to achieve that goal it will also better enable you to see how it will be achieved and the processes involved.

Setting yourself smaller targets also gives yourself a sense of satisfaction and enable you to review the progress you have already made.

It is also helpful to reflect on past achievements and the reasons why you became a leader or manager can boost self-motivation

Build up your motivation with lots of positive self-talk. Your level of success, both personally and in business is a direct result of how you talk to yourself. Notice your self-talk that goes on in your head and ask yourself if it is reinforcing positive or negative views of yourself.

Using positive self talk can make a dramatic difference to how you view yourself.

Also take a step back and look upon problems as challenges that require solutions rather then obstacles.

Now take action and move towards your goal by achieving the targets you have set for yourself one by one.

Be flexible and creative. If the action you take is ineffective then respond and adapt. There is no point continuing down a path that is unproductive. There are usually many different ways of achieving the same goals by working differently.

Be persistent. Those who were successful are usually those who persisted while others would have given up. As Thomas Edison said “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”

Also remember that motivation is infectious. If you as a leader display self-motivation then this will be reflected in others.

Self Awareness
True leaders possess the ability to analyse their own motives and make objective judgements of their behaviour. These judgements can result in constructive improvements in how they relate to others and help identify unhelpful reactions or defences in themselves. Perhaps you have a tendency to control or dominate based on a fear of failure; perhaps you have a fear of conflict and a desire to appease others; or an excessive competitiveness that leads to distrust.

Self awareness enables managers to identify personal motives that are less distorted by unconscious bias and take corrective action and lead according to circumstance.

Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is more relevant to organisations today then ever before. It is used to help understand and asses people’s behaviour and serves as an important tool in areas like interpersonal communication skills, human potential, learning and management styles.

Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined EQ (Emotional Quotient) or EI (Emotional Intelligence) as made up of 5 elements:

  1. Self-awareness – Observing yourself and recognizing a feeling as it happens.
  2. Managing emotions – Handling feelings so that they are appropriate, Realizing what is behind a feeling and Finding ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger, and sadness.
  3. Motivating oneself – Channelling emotions in the service of a goal, Emotional self control and Delaying gratification and stifling impulses
  4. Empathy – Sensitivity to others’ feelings and concerns and taking their perspective, as well as Appreciating the differences in how people feel about things.
  5. Handling relationships – Managing emotions in others and Social competence or social skills.

EQ proponents argue that IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests, the traditional methods to measure intelligence, have failed to predict success, while EQ tests are more accurate. They also argue that emphasising cognitive skills does not contribute to people’s well-being , while emphasising EQ increases productivity, reduces stress for individuals and organizations, decreases conflict, improves relationships and understanding and increases stability, continuity and harmony.

As a leader you develop your emotional intelligence by taking responsibility for your actions and feelings. Don’t rely on others to make you happy.

Developing emotional intelligence may take some time and effort, but the most important thing is that you have to be conscious of your actions; you have to be conscious of not just your own feelings but the feelings of others as well.

Leadership skill development involves developing your leadership skills in 4 key areas. These areas cover both individual and organizational development and should involve both people and task focused skills.

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