Developing Leadership Skills

March 08, 2022 •

11 min reading

Developing Leadership Skills to Become a Strong Leader

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In an ever-changing world, it comes as no surprise that great business leaders require an evolving and particular set of skills if they are to afford their companies a competitive edge in the global arena. Developing leadership soft skills is now a priority, beyond the traditional tenets of managerial training, such as strategy and finance. These hard skills are now joined by a host of essential soft skills such as empathy, negotiation, and influence which help to cultivate a human-centric company culture where individuals under their leadership can thrive. This article explains why and how leaders can hone in on people-centricity.


How to be a better leader: Three critical soft skills to hone in

According to DDI's Global Leadership Forecast, developing the next generation of leaders is one of the top challenges for CEOs and, while some people naturally develop leadership qualities throughout their careers, those traits and skills need to be brought out, refined, and directed to the new realities high-performers in the making are facing nowadays. In this perspective, developing leadership skills that facilitate constructive human interaction in global environments and focus on delivering positive outcomes is highly sought after across all industries and positions.

When interviewed by The European Business Review, Gina Lodge, CEO of The Academy of Executive Coaching, emphasized: "We’re in a new era where it is a purpose that drives organizations forward, and that is partnered with a shift from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism. That brings a fresh demand on leaders to demonstrate a new willingness to listen, to celebrate diversity of thought, and to do and say the right thing to effect change for their organization and society at large."

For executives eager to hold their own in business, this altered work environment brings the demand for leadership skills to the fore, with particular emphasis on leadership soft skills. Heightened people-centricity and a newfound need for service have taken over from a command-and-control leadership style. Take it from Harvard Business Review: ”The skills many organizations are looking for range from empathy and team management to understanding how to look ahead, set strategic goals, and influence stakeholders from diverse backgrounds.”

Dr Achim Schmitt, Full Professor and Dean of Graduate School at EHL, adds: “We believe teaching leaders the principles of people-centricity is fundamental in the 21st century because leadership is about people, not self!”


1. Influencing skills: improve your personal connections

Influence skills include being able to motivate others to do as you wish, but also successfully discourage them from undesirable outcomes. While aspects such as praise and effective presentation skills can feed into the former, the latter will require you to criticize others respectfully and productively. You will also need to resist the urge to get defensive in the face of any resistance you encounter.

Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, transparency can also prove to be an important part of exerting influence. As we learn to see through the high gloss of social media, being aspirational is no longer strictly synonymous with airbrushed perfection. By showing vulnerability and being open and honest, high-performers can win over employees for their cause. Naturally, pulling this off relies upon carefully embedding news of any short-term struggles into the longer-term, being crystal clear about the strategic bigger picture, and clearly sharing what's at stake in times of crisis.

Are you an effective influencer? 3 questions to ask yourself

  1. Have you clearly identified what stakeholders you need to influence?

  2. What do you need to know about them?

  3. Have you developed a compelling argument to win them over?

2. Negotiating skills: a question of sensitivity

Striving to be fair and considerate while also pushing forward with your own agenda encapsulates what effective negotiation entails. Indeed, as new demands are brought forward on leaders’ activities to satisfy employees, colleagues, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and even the local community, making strides among their intertwined interests and goals requires negotiation on all fronts. Developing leadership skills that effectively support an effective mindset in any negotiation can be a game changer for any executive looking to move the needle organizationally and push personal career outcomes forward.

As any good leader would assess, self-awareness is a big component of becoming an effective negotiator: strive to understand yourself, and what it takes for you to be effective in negotiation before being able to read to room.

Key questions to ask yourself to improve your negotiation skills

  1. How can I put myself in the other party's shoes?
  2. Who will be affected by the outcomes of the negotiation?
  3. Do I have concrete facts and the right data at hand to lead the negotiation?

3. Embracing empathy: what is it that people need and want?

Suppose we, as individuals, as component parts of companies and organizations, and as members of a larger-scale community, are to be guided increasingly by purpose. In that case, we will need to truly understand what it is that people need and want. Not only what will best convince them to get their wallets out, but what moves and inspires them. This can only be done by forging meaningful connections, by tapping into our emotional intelligence.

Empathetic leadership is more pertinent than ever in a hybrid workforce. The anonymity that comes with not showing your face at the office needs to be counteracted with an increased emphasis on team spirit and inclusivity, acknowledging that we all have lives outside of work and that it is human to need support.

Are you an empathetic leader? Key questions to ask yourself

  1. Is what you are saying aligned with how you are saying it?
  2. Are you driven by finding concrete solutions or are you reacting to a situation?
  3. Am I promoting empathy within my team?

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Developing leadership soft skills to fully unlock your potential

Do you have a growth mindset?

“Ambitious future leaders need to understand that success depends as much on a tight business plan as it does on the people-centricity of their team and mindset”, Dr Inès Blal, EHL Executive Dean.

In a bid to maximize executives’ potential, sidestep complacency, and encourage accountability, tomorrow's executive leadership development will have to fully integrate the belief that satisfied employees will down the line create satisfied customers. In this perspective, the people-centric leadership style puts the focus on making both individual and collective impacts that actually drive all stakeholders. In the end, it’s about empowering others, building commitment, and communicating in empathetic yet effective ways to make others committed to delivering their best. Conscious leadership means you are aware that your role is not to shine yourself but to encourage others to shine; being tuned towards the collective more than the individual self.

All these are attitudes that require keeping the human as much as the business in mind. Unlocking your full potential as a leader in a global organization will then require to develop a growth mindset grounded in self-awareness, open-mindedness & genuine curiosity, appreciation of diversity & understanding of inclusivity.

Are you promoting a growth mindset within your team? Key questions to ask yourself

  1. Are you setting goals based solely on performance or are you promoting learning and development opportunities?
  2. Do you approach feedback in a constructive way?
  3. Are you fostering a growth mindset through your managerial approach?

Fundamental skills to hone to land an executive position

Besides looking for well-rounded, emotionally intelligent leaders with the right set of soft skills and the right mindset that fosters collaboration, efficiency, and innovation, recruiters and organizations looking to promote internally hunt for individuals with the following skills to fill executive positions.

  • Visibility: Are you able to demonstrate enough agility to master a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) landscape and practice professional change leadership?

  • A broad scope of awareness teamed with intentional focus: Are you able to demonstrate the intentionality required for targeted action without losing sight of significant issues lurking on the periphery?
  • Ability to juggle short-term deliverables and future vision: Can you deliver results in the short term while also setting the course for future success?

  • Conflict resolution: To what extent are you able to mitigate friction?

  • Cultural sensitivity: Are you able to draw upon multinational and multicultural experiences for a better understanding of country-specific market realities and customer needs?

  • Objective analysis: Are you aware of your own biases and able to distance yourself from them in decision-making?

  • The art of facilitation: Are you able to facilitate learning for others?


How to assess your leadership skills: The to-do list

The concepts of lifelong learning and personal leadership development align well with one another. In fact, it's often impossible to pursue one without the other. If you are looking for ways to grow personally and professionally, here are some elements that you should consider including in your individual plan.

Start with self-awareness

Taking a moment to personally reflect on your vision, goals, and gaps will jumpstart your leadership development plan with focus and clarity. Start by formalizing these questions:

  • What major gaps have hindered my performance as a leader?E.g: With new challenges arising from remote working, it has become challenging to foster a positive atmosphere within my team.
  • What is my personal leadership development vision for the next year?E.g: over the next few months, I want to focus on developing my soft skills such as communication skills with my team by being able to clearly articulate our goals while being able to receive feedback in a constructive way.
  • Why do I want to expand and deepen my level of knowledge?E.g: I want to ensure I can advocate for my team in times of need while being able to promote a motivating spirit.
  • What are my ultimate career objectives (both short-term and long-term).

Identify the leaders around you and get inspired

Whether it's a skilled colleague from whom you could learn or a vendor with in-depth, specialized knowledge of the product that they supply, look for people who could benefit from a working relationship with you and who could benefit you in return.

Identifying leaders you look up to and reflecting on key traits you believe make them great at what they do can be a powerful way of developing your own leadership development goals. Then, reach out to them to initiate a conversation.

Seek proactive feedback

Whether through direct feedback within your organization or a more personal approach through a personality assessment, the goal is to identify your strengths and weaknesses in relation to your leadership soft skills and outline what you should focus your learning objectives on.

E.g: I learned that although I am excellent at communicating shifts in operational priorities, I need to do a better job at providing a clear context and articulating clear objectives.

Set a timeline

Your development plan needs to be full of the above-mentioned action items that come with their own deadlines. From taking a week to reflect on your own vision to getting feedback and completing a self-assessment, committing to a deadline will go a long way to act on your goals.

How to really activate your leadership development goals?

There are many types of learning available to self-motivated individuals today. Formalized classroom education is one of them but there is a plethora of options available for lifelong learners. Whether you have the opportunity to get additional formal training through your company or take a more personal approach in your free time, these are the major options to consider:

  • Formal training(either in-person or virtually) is a great way to deepen your business knowledge with a group of like-minded learners in a classroom or online setting. Organizations often offer formal training opportunities to their leaders. Taking the time to build a business case to get additional training is a great way to approach your manager or HR department.
  • 360-degree feedback helps managers and leaders deepen their understanding on their own performance from their peers, subordinates, and superiors. 360 feedback can be facilitated through your HR department or through coaching.
  • Developmental job assignments can be a powerful addition to formal training. Through relevant job rotations, leaders can focus on honing newly acquired skills from formal training and have the opportunity to concretely apply what they have learned “on the job”.
  • Coaching and mentoring: A one-on-one approach with a trained, certified coach or a mentor identified within an organization can help leaders take their leadership skills to the next level. Not only will coaching and mentoring be of tremendous help to developing personal goals, they are also powerful ways of aligning developmental goals with an organization’s business objectives.
  • Self-directed learning: This type of learning may involve a structured curriculum or sequence of tutorials — however, students are able to learn at their own pace, and on their own time. YouTube workshops are one example of self-directed learning.


Personal Leadership Development: why graduate management education is worth it

The success and agility of employees, employers and entrepreneurs alike depends on decisive, targeted investment in learning and development. By replenishing our skillset with high-leverage tools, and honing the leadership soft skills that are lacking, you can start to plug the skills gap and adapt to a market environment that is being ravaged by the current disruptions. In this framework, graduate management education helps break deep-rooted patterns or habits and equips individuals with the tools adapted to a new leadership reality.

Organizations often identify leadership development as a priority, and MBA graduates represent one crucial source of future leaders. Nearly 60 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 100 firms earned an MBA.


Source: Graduate management Admission Council.

Applying fresh knowledge and skills to familiar challenges reveals avenues to novel solutions. Diving in personal and professional growth has a tendency to usher in creative thoughts – new ways of thinking, of being, of doing business.

Studying alongside other executives is also an expedient way to diversify and expand one's network, not to mention the benefits of joining a new community of alumni.

Even if generally satisfied at their current place of work, executive education candidates generally wish to accelerate their career progression. If this is the case, having completed an MBA program or upskilling via short courses for instance signals to employers that they have the skills required to assume greater responsibility and solve more complex business problems.


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"It is about developing the leadership skills and people-centric sensitivity beyond just business knowledge, to help people drive change and continuously adapt, be agile and navigate uncertainty. Creating this people-centricity in future leaders will allow them to build empathy, purpose, and commitment towards all stakeholders in the future. This will become a fundamental pillar of their success in an increasingly digitalized world." 
More on this topic: Industry 4.0 - why people-centric leadership is key