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Your leadership toolbox: how to develop great leaders

8 min read
‘True leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders’. Bring out your employees’ potential with our rundown of the most important leadership skills and tools.

A newly-appointed business leader can look great ‘on paper’, with all the right qualifications, relevant industry experience, and references from their previous employer. But that’s only half the story. Great leaders also adapt to change, are receptive to feedback and new ideas, know how to value and support their employees.

And the good news is that leadership skills can be honed and developed over time, to benefit not only the business, but also the leader themselves. Leadership skills are entirely transferable, not just within the world of work, but to life in general.

Why invest in leadership development?

It’s not enough simply to hire leaders, then hope they will keep developing themselves. 93% of managers understand this, and want to know how to help and coach their employees better. When you include leadership development in your business strategy, you open the door to a whole range of benefits:

  • Attract and retain high-performing people
  • Performance and productivity will increase
  • Drive employee engagement
  • ‘Hidden’ leaders will be encouraged to emerge
  • Training and coaching will be more focused
  • Succession planning becomes more intuitive
  • Individuals will focus on improving their own careers

eBook: 360° feedback best practices

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What are leadership tools?

‘Leadership tools’ are a combination of the skills and actual online tools that can be used to assess and develop leaders.

These essential skills include:

Listening: Listening empathetically and mindfully to the team, a good leader understands that business success comes from engaged and enthusiastic employees. A culture of listening  empowers employees to share feedback, to say what they think, report issues, and make their own suggestions for improvements. And by listening to feedback, leaders are better equipped to  take action.

Communication: From simply discussing a piece of work with a colleague, to team briefings and discussions, management meetings, presentations to the board, and liaising with clients, clear, concise, and persuasive communication is paramount to the success of good leaders.

Motivation: A good leader gets the best out of their teamLeading from the front, fostering positivity, providing people with productive work(e.g.,more autonomy), and rewarding efforts are all important to keeping employees motivated, and enhancing their overall experience.

Strategic thinking: Seeing the bigger picture, thinking several moves ahead, situational planning, and making contingencies for the unexpected, all require the ability to think strategically. Strategy begins with a vision; a great leader achieves it.

Decision-making: Some decisions are easy to make. Others are more wide-ranging with  outcomes that may affect employees as well as the bottom line. Learning how to make decisions, even in the face of ambiguity, and ensuring team members are informed of these decisions is a critical skill for successful leaders.

Conflict management: We all face conflict: it’s part of any relationship, personal or professional. To be effective, leaders need adequate training in conflict management, perhaps through conflict resolution workshops, to learn how to deal with uncomfortable or difficult situations. This will also help to support similar behaviours within their teams.

Delegation: Leaders who can’t or won’t delegate burn themselves out and fragment their team. They also deprive others of the opportunity to grow, develop, and learn new skills. Being able to delegate shares the workload, upskills the team, and increases collaboration, communication and trust.

Team building: A leader is only as good as their team, and if the team becomes dysfunctional, it is a reflection of their  leadership. Initiating and engaging in activities that allow the team to bond, build trust, communicate openly, and collaborate effectively is an important part of inclusive leadership. It’s critical that leaders embrace diverse perspectives not only in an increasingly dynamic work environment, but also with diverse customers, markets, ideas and talents.

Mentoring: Good leaders have a duty to give back, and the best do it willingly. Mentorship programs to pass on the ‘tricks of the trade’, let employees sound off, and groom future leaders from new or rising stars are investments worth making.

Innovation and creativity: These essential skills go hand in hand; to be innovative, leaders have to be creative in their thinking. But creativity and innovation don’t just fall from the sky.  Brainstorming, knowledge sharing, collaboration, persuasion, risk-taking and even trial and error all feed into the creation of new ways of thinking ( processes)  and innovation. Who dares, wins.

The tools for assessing leadership include:

Communication technology: Email is so last century. And with the ‘work from anywhere’ revolution, digital communication and collaboration platforms such as Slack, Asana, Google Hangouts Chat, or Microsoft Teams are the smart leader’s preferred way of team working. Surveys can also be attached to such platforms, making collecting feedback from teams even easier.

Personality assessments: These tools measure leaders’ work-related personality traits. When working in group situations, it’s helpful to recognise your own strengths and those of other team members. Some people are more skilled at performing particular tasks than others, and by recognising and embracing these differences, you can assign projects better and collaborate to achieve goals. The most well-known is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that divides people into 16 personality types.

Behavioural assessments: Using work-related, customised scenarios, these assess people’s behavioural competencies at their jobs. They’re based on observing actions and how someone reacts to a situation. DISC is one such assessment that measures observable behaviour, and categorises people into four main personality profiles: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.

360 feedback

Feedback for leaders is more critical than ever before. And, a new  study by Qualtrics finds that employees who feel supported by their managers are three times more likely to be engaged at work than those who do not receive that support (79% vs. 23%).

360 feedback is a great way to gather holistic feedback about an employee and their performance. It’s a multi-rater assessment that asks direct reports, peers, managers, and colleagues and the employee themselves how they are performing. The primary purpose of 360s has always been employee development, but there is an increasing trend for companies also to use them within their leadership development, talent assessments and performance management systems:

  • 360 feedback for leadership developmentOrganizations invest millions in leadership training and development programs. Up until now, many expensive programs have failed to provide leaders and employees with accurate multi-rater feedback so they can reflect, act to build on their strengths, and improve weaknesses. With software such as Employee XM 360s, you can collect a seamless stream of qualitative development feedback. The resulting data provides insight for leaders, pinpointing which areas of their own careers need improving. As a result, they become better leaders, drive learning in their teams, and ultimately deliver better business outcomes for the organisation. And because the feedback is 360, the data provides insights into all employees’ strengths and opportunity areas , informing learning and development programs for everyone.
  • 360 feedback for talent assessment and performance management: When 90% of HR leaders say that the traditional performance review process doesn’t yield accurate results, and 9 in 10 managers are dissatisfied with how their companies conduct annual performance reviews, clearly something has to change. When you use 360 as part of your performance management in addition to other key performance metrics, you get a similar  stream of qualitative feedback as you do for leadership development. With the insights from this qualitative data, you’ll be able to make informed management decisions about things like career planning, promotions, succession processes, and transfers.

eBook: 360° feedback best practices