7 Skills You Should Develop to Be an Effective Leader

Multicoloured ladders on wall. Pastel tones. Concept for success and growth.

Skill development is a never-ending process. Not only do the great ones in any field recognize this, but they have a borderline obsession to develop and improve their skills daily.

Merriam Webster defines a skill as “the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.” Skills are often divided into domain-general and domain-specific. For example, golf is a general skill; driving, putting, and chipping are specific skills that make someone an effective golfer.  

Leadership is a general skill; whereas, many domain-specific skills like coaching and empathy make a leader effective in performance. As a leader, you learn new skills every day. However, simply mastering a few skills isn’t enough to be a highly effective leader in today’s environment.

Just mastering a few skills isn’t enough to be a highly effective leader in today’s environment. 

As a ten-year veteran in the leadership coaching and speaking industry, I have been fortunate to have a front-row seat to many great leaders across various industries. If that wasn’t enough, the SkillsLoft Leadership Assessment has provided unbiased research of thousands of leaders. I want to share the seven leadership skills that are the most essential to your success.  

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Demonstrate Empathy

While many skills are essential in this new leadership era, empathy stands above the rest. Before you shake empathy off as a weak skill, let’s get clear on what it is, in the context of leadership. I have come to define it as how well you identify with others to understand their feelings and perceptions in order to guide your actions. I often describe it to coaching clients as “your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act differently because of it.”  

The one thing that every professional wants is to be understood, especially by their boss. 

Empathy is a critical leadership skill because people want to be understood, especially by their boss.

Feelings aren’t always directly communicated, so understanding them can be difficult to do and it’s an art that requires practice. If you want to improve your empathy skills, take a few lessons from an earlier column

Be a Great Communicator  

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams leverage the proper amount of communication and are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Consistent communication is tough, even for good orators. So often, quality communication is a skill that leaders believe they possess; in actuality, it is one of their most significant weaknesses. 

When leaders don’t communicate effectively, team members fill the silence with their own story.

Developing your communication skills around storytelling, writing, and listening is a lifelong journey. 

Act Like a Coach

A leader separates themselves from a manager in today’s modern business environment by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach their team members have never been more critical than they are today. If coaching is a skill, you want to improve, check out the new Coaching for Excellence Program here

Model Servant Leadership

It might seem odd to read that modeling something is a skill, but it’s not. We have all heard the saying, “talk is cheap”; it’s never been more true than in leadership. The best way to create more leaders is to model outstanding leadership in one’s actions and behaviors.  

“The best way to create more leaders is to model servant leadership in your actions and behaviors.”

How you exemplify the standards and behaviors you expect from your team is connected to how committed you are to living out your character and values. This is easy to write, but to do it well takes immense wisdom and self-discipline daily.

Have Great Focus

If there is one thing this Pandemic has taught us, it is how easily distracted we are. Staying focused and prioritizing is not only a skill, but it’s essential for leaders today. If you are anything like me, you suffer from “shiny penny syndrome,” and you act like a squirrel moving quickly from one thing to the next. 

Suzanne Anschutz, Regional VP and Director of Leadership Development at Cora Physical Therapy, said it well, “The leaders of today need to be able to be fully present. There is such a strong sense of urgency and moving quickly in today’s world, but we should not underestimate the power of taking the time to be present in the moment. Understanding what is happening “right now” will allow you to strategize for a better future.”

Unite People and Create Belonging

Making people feel like they belong and uniting team members is a leadership superpower. Look no further than the hit show Ted Lasso on Apple TV. The show portrays an American coaching a European Soccer club. Coach Lasso knows the team can’t and won’t succeed without the team members feeling like they belong, and are a part of something bigger than themselves.  

While Lasso does his coaching in person, most managers don’t have this luxury today when leading a remote team. For those teams that plan on staying 100% WFH, leaders must think about one or two in-person events a year, with its primary mission to create teamwork and belonging. 

Make Accountability an Obligation

Last but certainly not least is accountability. Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here or join an upcoming Leverage Accountability Workshop.


There are many other key leadership skills that just missed the list like; decision-making, emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, and vision. Which of the 7 key skills do you believe are most important? Which skills are missing that deserve to be on the list? Tell me in the comments.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

Coaching for Excellence: Ready to improve your coaching skills? Get the tools, the frameworks that the best coaches in the country use to grow and develop your people! https://bit.ly/3wCR8nF

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How Leaders Develop Better Employees

Employees stand in a row at the briefing

No one makes it alone. In business, in life, in reaching personal or professional growth, our journeys are filled with other people. Their influence, wisdom, and coaching can drive us towards accomplishing our goals. While the impact of anyone’s encouragement can propel you towards success, there is one person whose support makes a professional impact, unlike any other: Leader support.

Those professionals whose current or previous bosses have gone above and beyond to support their people’s growth and development have an enormous advantage over those who have not. In our preliminary research, employees who have a leader who prioritizes and supports their development get promoted 18% more often than those who do not. 

 Why Don’t Some Leaders Make Growth and Development a Priority?

Tom Peters famously said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Many managers and bosses have read, seen, or even agreed with his quote; but, their people aren’t developing beyond their role or the skills required to do the job. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Bandwidth Availability – There are only 24 hours in a day, and many leaders have so many responsibilities that their bandwidth runs out.
  2. Scarcity Thinking – Instead of having an abundance mindset around talent and people, some leaders have scarce thinking. They hold people back for fear of losing them. 
  3. Ego Driven – Unfortunately, some managers and executives think of themselves first. They use people as cogs in their wheel, stepping stones to get where they are trying to go.  

When leaders believe something is important, they prioritize, when it’s not, they rationalize. – John Eades

Personal and Skill Development Changes Lives

For the first 25 years of my life, I didn’t take my development seriously. I did enough to maintain an acceptable GPA and received the obligatory high school and college degrees, but my own personal development was never a priority. Everything changed when I went to work for a sales performance improvement company (now Richardson Sales Performance), and I reported to a VP of Sales that obsessed over employee development. The combination of seeing how great professional education could be immediately applied and having a boss that made reading mandatory changed my life. 

At first, I thought that my experience of growth under a dedicated leader was personal and unique. But after teaching, speaking, coaching, and watching others, I realized that it was universal. Growth under supportive leadership can and is experienced by everyone who embraces personal development because they start thinking like this:

Instead of thinking small, they think big

Instead of making excuses, they make results.

Instead of rejecting coaching, they embrace coaching.

Instead of believing success is for others, they believe it’s for them.

Instead of having bad habits, they form good ones.

Instead of being pessimistic, they become optimistic. 

Instead of struggling in their career, they thrive in it.

Last week, Brendan Burchard hosted a virtual influencer summit. In it, he shared a two-word lesson that should be a mantra for all leaders. He said, “Change Lives.” If every leader had the mindset of “changing lives” and asking themselves at the end of every day, “did I change someone’s life today?” we would be in a better place. 

How to Support Employee Growth and Development

You lead a team, and you wonder if you are doing enough to help support employee development. Start with this fundamental principle: “your example and the support you provide matter.”  If you want to improve how you support your employee’s growth and development, give some of these a try.

1. Ask Them Their Dreams and Ambitions

The best way to support team members’ development is to know where they want to go. Their dreams and aspirations might not be the same as yours; focus on helping them get where they are trying to go versus where you want them to go.  

The book Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly introduced a simple idea: the key to motivation for employees was not necessarily the promise of a bigger paycheck or a title, but rather the fulfillment of a personal dream. Many companies, like Lipper Components, have adopted programs to help educate, equip, and empower employees to live more intentional and engaged lives through personal coaching and connection.  

Since dreams and ambitions change as time progresses, make sure at least once a year you ask the question, “Is there a professional goal either inside or outside the organization you aspire to reach or grow into?”

2. Encourage Them to Do Things Where Failure is Likely

As I wrote in Building the Best, “Encouragement is rocket fuel for confidence, and confidence fuels perseverance during adverse times.” Achieving or completing anything that someone hasn’t previously accomplished requires courage, risk-taking, and behavior change. Part of a leader’s job is to be an encouraging voice in people’s heads, so they try things where failure is likely.  

Failure is not final, failure is feedback. 

Use words like: 

“You will,” “You can,” and “Don’t quit; you are on the cusp of making it.”

While these might sound corny, they are essential words to hear from someone else, especially your boss. 

3. Have Them Teach or Present to Others

Waiting too long to give an employee more free rein can result in them feeling bored or losing faith in their abilities. If we ask them to make too many decisions too early, we may increase the risk of failure and dampen their sense of competence. To help you gauge each employees’ readiness, I shared four distinct stages of development on a recent episode of “The Modern Manager” with Mamie Kanfer Stewart.

  1. Model. The best leaders first model how to do the expected behavior or task. If you don’t know how to demonstrate the skill, find someone to teach it who does.
  2. Observe. Have your employee demonstrate the skill, task, or behavior for you while you observe them. Don’t be scared to embrace “the uncomfortable pause.” Instead of offering advice or solving the problem, first, ask your employees questions when they are stuck. Then give them the space to come up with their own solutions.
  3. Report Back. Give your employee encouragement to go do it on their own and report back how it went.
  4. Teach. When your employee can teach or present to others, they have fully integrated the instructions and mastered the skill.


Supporting your employee’s development by asking about their dreams, encouraging them to do tough things, and having them teach what they have learned to others isn’t easy. It requires you to think of yourself as a coach and have endless patience. Often the effort put into personal development doesn’t yield immediate results.  

This means most managers and bosses ignore this massive responsibility because they think it’s less important than other things they do. Instead of embracing this mindset, relish the opportunity to support your people and change their lives.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.