Leadership is a skill that’s cultivated (and then refined) over time. That’s true for everyone – even those born with natural leadership skills.
But which leadership attributes are most important, where should you start and (more importantly) how do you improve your leadership skills quickly?
That’s exactly what we’re getting into today. We’ll be covering 3 ways to improve your core leadership skills. And by core leadership skills, I’m talking about the foundational things that make leaders more impactful and effective.
Before we dive in, be sure to download my free guide of 8 science-backed strategies for building a resilient, confident mindset. This FREE resource will give you a leg up on creating the mentality of an effective leader. Grab your copy >>>here.
Table of Contents
What Leadership Skills Are Most Important?
Want to be an effective leader? It’s not enough to be a good manager.
Managers must cope with complexity, organize resources and think tactically through processes to achieve goals. But an effective leader must influence people. So that everyone organizes around a common vision and/or goal.
Which is why successful leaders share the following common attributes:
- Compelling Vision.
- Champion Others.
- Growth Mentality.
Notice that many of the above characteristics relate to emotional intelligence (also known as EQ), which is the ability to understand your (and other people’s) emotions, manage your emotions, empathize with others and influence others.
[Recommended Reading: What Makes A Good Leader (10 Essential Leadership Traits)].
3 Ways To Improve Your Core Leadership Skills
Your starting point for improving your core leadership skills is yourself. Begin with how you show up in the world. Which is why I recommend that you start with the following 3 strategies:
- Managing Your Mind.
- Leading With Your Values.
- Being Intentionally Present (For Yourself and Others).
Let’s break each one down, and why they’re foundational ways for improving your leadership skills and becoming a more impactful leader.
The #1 Way To Improve Your Leadership Skills: Manage Your Mind
Great leaders are calm under pressure, manage their emotions, refocus quickly and are resilient to stress. They have what’s called a growth mindset.
What that means is that it all starts within your mind…
What Is Mindset & Why Is It Important?
Your mindset is the combination of your assumptions, attitudes, emotions, thoughts and beliefs. It’s both what you think and your way of processing thoughts, events and emotions.
How you think – and how you relate to the thoughts you have – determines your behavior. And it also determines how others perceive you. Which means that it (heavily) influences your outcome.
You don’t have control over everything that determines your outcome but you DO have control over how you think.
Mindset is a big part of success (or lack thereof). Having a growth mindset creates an open, curious and innovative mind that makes people want to follow you. It’s inspiring.
That’s why I listed this attribute as my #1 way to improve your leadership skills.
[Recommended Reading: Why Mindset Is Everything: The Key to Success & Happiness].
The Mindset Of Effective Leadership
Good leaders believe in themselves and their abilities, which enables them to take calculated risks without worrying about whether it will work or what others might think.
And when something unexpected happens that throws a wrench in their plans, they’re ready. They see it as a challenge to be conquered instead of a roadblock that they can’t get past.
Most importantly, failure is a given
Good leaders don’t want to fail. They plan around potential problems. But they also understand that sometimes they will fail. And they’re okay with it because they seek to learn from failure, and then leverage that to succeed.
This mindset is called a growth mindset. And it’s a foundational characteristic to being an effective leader.
Taking Control of Your Thoughts
Successful leaders know how to:
- Effectively process charged emotions.
- Challenge difficult thoughts (even change them over time).
- Reframe negative thinking.
That’s what taking control of your thoughts is all about.
Let me be clear about something… this isn’t about thinking positive no matter what’s going on. That’s toxic. Nor is it about feeling happy all the time.
People who manage their mind still feel sad, frustrated, angry and so on. They have negative emotions.
It’s just that they’re more self-aware of their emotional triggers, and know how to process them (and the thoughts behind them) in a healthy way.
So that their emotions don’t take control.
Want to start taking control now? Grab 5-Minute Stress Solutions, which includes 8 exercises for (1) quickly calming your mind, (2) taking control of charged emotions and (3) rewiring your mind for stress resilience.
Here are a few tips to help you make this transformation into a success mindset:
Tip #1: Give Yourself Permission To Fail
Part of having a growth mindset means giving yourself permission to fail. So that you don’t get stuck overthinking your decisions.
Accept that failure is part of how you learn. And that it’s okay to sometimes make mistakes and (yes) fail. So long as you identify what you’ve learned from those mistakes and failures (and then use that information moving forward).
Learn more about how to fail-forward in this Life & Law Podcast episode about how to Give Yourself Permission to fail, feel your emotions and be imperfect.
Tip #2: Accept That Discomfort Is Part of Life
Contrary to popular belief, effective leaders aren’t fearless. Besides, there’s no such thing as being fearless (as in, without any fears).
Everyone has fear, worry and doubts. Sometimes these feelings are warranted (and are trying to tell us something important). Good leaders have – yet manage not to get stuck in – fear, worry or doubt.
How do they manage that? They accept the discomfort of being human. And of being a leader.
Because it’s vulnerable. And so are all the so-called negative feelings most of us don’t like to feel.
To improve your leadership skills, become more self-aware of your negative emotions, the thoughts behind your emotions, and what triggers these emotions. And get comfortable with feeling them instead of ignoring or pushing them away.
This will enable you to start processing your thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner. So that you can act despite these feelings.
Courage is nothing more than:
- Trying something new even though you know it might fail.
- Going out on a limb despite what others might think.
- Accepting that you don’t have all the answers.
Not facing your fears gives power to your inner critic. It’s how fear takes control of you. Don’t let that happen.
[Recommended Reading:5 Effective Tools to Stop Living in Fear and Worry].
Tip #3: Be Curious
You know the saying “curiosity killed the cat?” Not true. One of the most under-valued skills is curiosity. Start getting curious about your feelings, the thoughts behind them and their impact on you (and your decisions). Be a mind detective.
When you look at yourself in this way, it’s easier to stay emotionally neutral and not allow fear to get in the way.
To learn more about how to be curious, listen to my Life & Law Podcast episode that asks Are You Curious Enough?
Tip #4: Communicate To Yourself & Others Differently (By Changing Your Language)
Your mind is pre-wired to think negatively. And that results in lots of negative self-talk. Your inner dialogue is filled with thoughts such as:
- This is impossible.
- I don’t know enough.
- I’m too young/inexperienced.
Although this inner critic is a safety mechanism, meant to help you stay out of harm’s way, it’s also holding you back. It distorts your fears and doubts into thoughts that aren’t based in reality. You see them as truths (even though they’re not).
It’s time to go head-to-head with this voice and change your language.
- How you speak to yourself.
- How you talk about yourself and your capabilities.
- How you speak to the capabilities of others.
- How you speak about projects (especially more difficult ones).
What you don’t want is to be overly negative or critical.
So, when talking or thinking about a difficult project with a tight deadline, don’t say “This is near-impossible. It’s going to be hard to do.”.
DO say: “This is going to be difficult, but it’s not impossible. We’ve done something similar before. And the unique challenges of this project will make us better [list every area of growth].”
Be realistic in a positive way. And use reframing – a science-backed activity where you focus on what’s being learned or gained – to your benefit.
For more ways to change your mentality and your language (including how to use reframing), be sure to download my free stress management and mindset resource >>>here.
Lead With Your Values To Exponentially Increase Your Leadership Skills
Effective leaders have a clear vision. For themselves and their organization. But I’m not talking about having any vision. What you want is a values-based vision.
Your values are what drive you. Aligning around your values brings meaning and purpose to life. And it’s not just you (that’s true for everyone).
When you lead with your values, you have integrity. You stand for something. And everyone knows what you stand for because you uphold it within your day-to-day work and life.
Everything revolves around your values. From your daily choices to the industry you’re in (and your organizational mission).
This will attract people to you.
You won’t be attractive to everyone. But you’ll be a magnet to those who share your values. Which makes it easier for buy-in on your vision and path forward (creating a compelling common purpose).
And for those who don’t share your values? They’ll be more likely to respect you.
Leading with your values is a core leadership skill because it will help motivate people to go above and beyond… even when things feel hard. And to support the team and organization through it all (not just themselves).
There are 3 steps to leading with your values:
Step 1: Clearly Define Your Values
You likely have a sense about what your values are already. But have you thought deeply about what they mean and why they’re important to you?
Choose words that adequately describe each value. And then define what each one means (with specificity). Ask questions such as:
- Why is this value important? Write down at least 3-5 reasons.
- How do you show up in the world when fully aligned to this value?
- What motivates you to align to this value?
Step 2: Rethink Success
I want you to rethink what success means. Let go of society’s achievement-based definition and replace it with an input-based definition. A definition that measures success based on aligning your choices around your values.
Shifting your definition in this way will change how you view success, empowering you to transform your mindset to be more growth-oriented. It will also enable you to be more honest about your weaknesses, get help where needed and champion others without fear.
For a more in-depth discussion around how to redefine success in this way, listen to my Life & Law Podcast Episode about How To Redefine Success From The Inside-Out.
Step 3: Align Around What’s Important (and Let Go Of The Rest)
Once you’ve refined your definition of success, it’s time to take action. Which means aligning your choices to your definition while prioritizing properly.
This is about aligning what you do (and how you act) to what’s truly important. Something that sounds simple yet isn’t easy. Otherwise everyone would do this (but very few do!).
And note: prioritization begins with your values.
We tend to get caught up prioritizing based on urgency and deadlines. Although those things can impact how important something is, the thing that matters most is whether it’s aligned with your values.
Are the things you’re prioritizing related to your values-based vision and goals? Start there before taking into account anything else.
The Leadership Skill That Might Surprise You: Be Present
Good leaders are self-aware. They’re aware of their thoughts, emotions and triggers (which enables them to address them properly as discussed above).
They’re also good at reading other people’s emotions and motivations. This is what enables them to be empathetic. And the foundation for motivating and influencing other people.
So…how do you develop these skills?
Start by being more present. For yourself AND others.
Being Present With Yourself
This is about taking care of yourself. Not just physically but psychologically, emotionally and mentally. The starting point is learning to be more present and attuned to what you’re thinking and feeling (and why).
Not only will this impact your wellbeing but it will help you manage your mindset.
Not sure how to get started? Begin with a simple mindfulness exercise:
- Set aside 10-15 minutes per day for quiet reflection. Take away all distractions and have a journal handy.
- Begin by breathing slowly through your nose while focusing on your breath for a minute or two.
- Allow your mind to think freely. Be curious about the thoughts that show up for you.
- Jot down anything that feels important or that you want to make note of.
This exercise will allow your subconscious thoughts to bubble up to the surface, making you more self-aware. Use it as often as needed (and at least once per week).
For more exercises to help you become more present and self-aware, be sure to download 5-Minute Stress Solutions here:
Practicing mindfulness will increase self-awareness around how your behavior impacts those around you. So that you can change it in a positive way, enabling you to reach a fuller potential of what you’re capable of (which is inspirational to others).
Be Present With & For Others
Mindfulness isn’t just about being present with yourself. It also includes being present with and for others. What that means is paying attention to what’s happening around you so that you can become more aware of your surroundings, events and other people’s motivations.
This is what enables you to read others intuitively and respond more appropriately. It’s what makes you more influential (in a positive way).
Being present for others starts with servant leadership. Servant leadership was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, and is defined as someone who first and foremost wants to serve (and aspires to lead through service). When your focus is to serve others through your leadership, you’ll be more open to boosting engagement, building relationships and trusting others.
But it goes beyond merely changing your focus to be more service-oriented. You must also practice being more present with others. That means listening deeply, noting body language and picking up on subtle messages.
How do you do that? By training your mind through simple mindfulness exercises.
Here’s another easy one to get you started:
- Pick a couple of peers, colleagues or team members who you regularly interact with face-to-face.
- Observe them when you’re together. Note their posture and body language. Pay attention to their choice of language and other invisible clues as to what they’re thinking.
- Take a couple of minutes daily to jot down what you’ve seen, noting the emotions you believe they were reflecting during your interactions.
This might feel awkward at first. But over time you’ll get better at accurately reading their feelings and emotions (even guessing their thoughts).
And then you’ll be able to use this information to serve them more effectively.
The best way to improve your leadership skills is to begin with those attributes that make good leaders so effective. Which means starting with your mindset, leading with your values and being intentionally present (with yourself and others).
What’s the final thing you need to know about how to improve your leadership skills?
The leadership attributes listed above build upon one another. They’re interconnected. Which means that you don’t just improve one at a time. Focus on the 3 strategies discussed in this article to improve many of your leadership skills (not just one of them).
Get started now with my FREE resource for how to rewire your mind to be calm, confident and in control here: