Date of Publication: 26 April 2021
What makes a great leader?
Sadly, there isn’t one answer that fits all to this question.
There’s so much that goes into being a great leader. And those with good leadership skills are highly sought after within school, university, and by most employers.
Effective leaders can have incredible impacts on not only the team they manage, but amongst the wider community as a whole. Those who work with them tend to be happier, more productive, and more motivated to the wider goals of the organisation – which has a ripple effect on everyone else around them.
Mainly, this comes down to the ability to organise, delegate, and ensure projects get completed on time.
But leadership goes beyond just being able to delegate with great authority. In fact, many of the most effective leadership skills you’ll see on this list focus on building trust, empathy and clear communication amongst teams. After all, you need to rely on those around you to be able to meet your goals.
14 Effective Leadership Skills
Take a look below at 14 of the most effective leadership skills to have. With a combination of interpersonal and great organisational skills, being able to master these skills will make you one of the strongest future leaders.
1. Great communication
It goes without saying that effective leadership starts with excellent communication skills.
Whether it’s on a daily, weekly, or even yearly basis, all leaders will need to communicate with other members of their organisation. And the way you choose to communicate can have a tremendous impact on the success of a project or business.
Those in leadership positions often run and manage projects, meaning they are in constant dialogue with those also working on the project. To portray their ideas and vision at a level that makes sense to everyone and ensures the project is finished on time – clarity is needed.
But clear communication goes beyond just project management. CEOs and business owners need to be able to share their vision for the future clearly and in a way that inspires employees. Likewise, even those who are taking the lead on a school project with one other classmate need to also be able to communicate their ideas clearly and coherently – so that work can be completed correctly and in a timely manner.
2. Excellent organisation
In addition to being an effective communicator, one of the most effective leadership skills you need to manage teams and projects with success is excellent organisation.
While it’s important to be personally organised and self-motivated to complete your work and other projects on time, this skill is perhaps even more important for you to be able to plan and deliver group work.
There are so many factors to consider when managing a group project at home, school, or in the workplace. As the leader, it ultimately falls down to you to ensure that all these factors are looked at and considered before the deadline.
Yes, you could have someone supporting you with this process, but you need to be organised enough to tell them everything they need to manage in the first place. And, if they fail to deliver by your deadline, it’s likely that the responsibility still lies with you for not having kept up-to-date with the timing of the project.
3. Efficient delegation
Your ability to assign tasks to others and manage your own time effectively is another good leadership skill to have for the future.
Now, this doesn’t just mean assigning tasks to anyone who has capacity, but doing so with a strategy. An effective leader will select the best team members for the task and provide them with clear instructions for fast but quality task completion. It’s all about getting to learn the skills of your team members and using them to your advantage.
Not only will this ensure your projects are completed on time, but you’ll be making the most out of the skills on your team – leading to a happier, more fulfilled team.
4. Establishing trust
Establishing trust amongst your team is one of the most effective leadership skills to have. Without it, you and your team will be less productive, less efficient, but ultimately, less satisfied.
Aside from just being honest with your team and giving them complete transparency over a project, it also means holding up your end of any deals you make. If you commit to helping someone complete a task for example, sticking with this commitment will go a long way to building trust with the team.
Over time, and as you build this trust, your team and wider members of your school, organisation or workplace will be more inclined to let you adopt more leadership roles, as you will have demonstrated your ability to manage projects with success.
5. Being knowledge-hungry
All great leaders are inspiring. And what makes someone more inspiring than to see their desire to learn more and expand their knowledge as much as possible?
Great leaders usually know what they’re talking about (of course, it’s also okay to make mistakes from time-to-time). But, having a strong base of knowledge about your industry, project and team can go a long way. After all, who will your team be turning to when they have questions about the project?
Even those in the highest leadership positions are always educating themselves. To make sure you’re the very best for the job, you need to make sure that your level of knowledge is above the rest. And that means always continuing to train and educate yourself.
Empathy, according to research, is one of the most overlooked soft skills amongst teams and organisations. But, it’s also one of the most important skills for success.
Being an empathetic leader means having the ability to read and understand the needs of others, and being aware of their thoughts and feelings. Those with high levels of empathy will be skilled to understand a situation from another person’s perspective and act with compassion.
If you can step into the shoes of someone else in your team and really understand how they’re feeling, you’ll form more trusting relationships with your team members – leading to a more productive team.
Remember, empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is typically defined as the ability to feel pity and emotion for another person, without really understanding what it’s like to be their situation. However, empathy refers to the ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experience emotions and opinions of that person.
7. Taking accountability
Being accountable in your role as team leader is one of the greatest and most effective leadership skills you can exhibit. But what does taking responsibility in this way look like?
Depending on your team and the task at hand, accountability can mean many different things. From doing exactly what you say you’re going to do and following it through on-time, to owning up to any mistakes you allow your team to make, accountability really means to be as transparent, honest, and committed to the team and project as possible.
If you can show accountability and responsibility to your team and wider members of school or an organisation, they’ll be far more likely to trust your word and believe in any future projects you may take forward. It’s all about cultivating yourself as a capable leader by being honest, transparent and reliable.
8. Being generous
Good leaders don’t just delegate and manage projects. But they go above and beyond to give something back to their team.
Now, this doesn’t just mean buying a thank you gift for everyone’s hard work at the end of a project. In fact, an effective team leader will ‘act generously’ throughout a project to demonstrate their appreciation to the teams’ efforts.
Whether it be training someone how to perform a task, giving advice or guidance for the future, or even offering to help share the workload – you can do so much to inspire and motivate your team by being a little bit generous.
9. Demonstrating your passion
Demonstrating your passion for a project, cause, or organisation is another good leadership skill to have in your arsenal. Enthusiasm is contagious. And you should use this to your advantage.
If your team members, friends, and colleagues see that you really care about a project or business you’re working towards, they’ll be even more excited to work hard and support your mission.
Whether it be leading meetings with vigour, sending motivational emails and messages celebrating your team’s work, or simply staying late to help out a teammate on their side of the project – doing everything you can to show your commitment to a project will help keep your team motivated throughout.
10. Ability to manage difficult decision-making
Often, being a leader can be an extremely rewarding experience, especially when you can complete projects with great success. However, it’s also important to remember that the role doesn’t come without its difficulties.
Sometimes, being a leader means needing to make fast, but difficult decisions, often with limited information. Whether it’s asking a team member to step down from their role or simply needing to find a quick solution to an issue that arises within a project, it’s likely that you’ll face one or two of these during your school years and future career.
If you do have to face a tough decision, start by thinking about what you need to achieve and balance this out with the likely consequences of any decision you make. Make your final decision with conviction, take accountability and follow it through.
Being a resolute and confident decision-maker will earn you the respect of your team and make it easier for you to deal with any difficult scenarios. Ultimately, your team will be more motivated, and you’ll find it easier to manage any future difficulties.
11. Empower others
Great leaders understand that for people to give their best efforts, they need to have a sense of ownership over their work and believe that what they’re doing is impacting the wider group for the better.
When it comes to delegating work, you can empower others by allowing them to take accountability over the tasks which are assigned to them. Communicate clear goals and deadlines to your team, and then give them the autonomy to decide how this gets done.
But this also goes beyond just allowing your team to take ownership over their own work. Remember to recognise their hard work and determination when tasks are complete to encourage them to continue to work hard. It will lead to a happier, more productive working environment.
12. Ability to teach and mentor others
One good example of a leadership skill that sets you apart from others is the ability to teach and mentor others.
Think about your favourite subject at school. What makes you enjoy the classes? Is it your teacher, who has the ability to inspire and teach you new information in a way that just totally makes sense to you? Teaching and mentoring others is a skill that is often overlooked in leadership, but one that can be greatly beneficial for your team.
This, as a skill, can be hard to master. It requires you to think less about yourself and more about how to make your team as a whole more successful. This may mean teaching the more junior members how to complete certain tasks, offering more 1:1 time with those individuals who need more tailored instruction, or running team training sessions to help improve the overall skill and motivation of your entire team.
Just remember, the better mentor you can be, the more inspired your team will be, the more they will trust you, and the more satisfied they will be with the overall running of a project, team, or workplace.
13. Recognise success
Frequently and consistently recognising the achievements of your team is one of the most powerful and effective leadership skills you can adopt.
To encourage your team to stretch themselves and continue to contribute their best efforts, they need to know that their hard work will be valued and appreciated. Not only will this help to boost morale, but it will also strengthen the wider team and their motivations to earn their own recognition.
As a leader, you should find ways to celebrate the achievements of your team members, even if it’s just a simple pat on the back with a ‘well done.’ Only you will know what works best amongst your team; some will appreciate a larger, more public celebration, while others will prefer a low-key praising for their efforts.
Finally, to be the most effective leader possible, you should take some time to take stock of yourself, your own skills, and think about areas that you can improve for the future.
All great leaders periodically reflect on their own personal strengths and weaknesses and ask the question: “What makes me a great leader? And what can I do to improve?”
Knowing your areas of weakness does not make you weak. In fact, it allows you to be a great delegator, giving those with better abilities than you to complete a task more effectively than you may have done. After all, you’re all working towards one common goal, so why not reach it in the most efficient way possible?
Working on your areas of self-development will improve your leadership ability – and even better, recognising them makes you more human – something your team will appreciate in the long-term.
How to Develop Leadership Skills
In leadership, one of the most popular sayings is; “great leaders are born, not made.” And to some extent, this is true. You do need to have an innate drive and desire to manage and care for others in your team.
However, learning how to be a more effective leader is within everyone’s grasp – whether you’re leading a small group project at school, or planning to one day lead your very own enterprise.
Take a look below at just three easy ways you can begin to develop your own effective leadership skills.
1. Give yourself an opportunity to put them into action
When it comes to learning and your own self-development, one of the best ways to grow is to seek opportunities that allow you to challenge yourself and put your skills to the test. And the same goes with leadership.
This is particularly important if you have ambitions of taking on a leadership role in the future. You want to be able to demonstrate on your personal statement and future CVs that you’ve been able to test your leadership skills out with success. So you need to seek the opportunity to do so.
If you have little experience in a leadership role, it’s best to start in a relatively low-risk environment, such as at school or at university. In these settings, you could look for extracurriculars that allow for a leadership role, such as captaining your sports team or chairing your school council or other clubs and societies.
Make sure you do all the basics which are expected of you in these roles, such as booking team matches and ensuring all accounts are held up to date. But also seek opportunities to grow and go ‘above and beyond.’ Can you enter your club into a new competition? Could you arrange some charity work for your club that gives back to the wider community?
Anything you can do to go above the usual terms of a leader will help you to demonstrate your abilities and expand on them for the future.
2. Ask for feedback
Asking for feedback is a critical step in being able to improve your leadership skills. After all, how can you ever improve if you don’t know what it is you need to improve on?
Understandably, some of your team members may feel apprehensive to criticise your leadership style, especially if you are managing a school team voluntarily. This is where your skill at building trust as a leader is critical – your team needs the psychological safety to know that any feedback they give will be held in a professional manner, and will never affect any personal relationships you may have with them.
To seek honest feedback, it might be worth sending an anonymous survey around to the team or those who have been managed by you. Even better, if you have a close friend or colleague within your team, you could even pull them aside and ask for them to be honest with you – it’s much easier to go into detail and discuss their feedback when it’s face-to-face.
Aim to make this feedback actionable wherever possible. For example, if they say “you could have handled this situation better,” try to work out why? Is it because you weren’t organised enough? Was your communication ineffective which led to an error? Remember, your feedback is only helpful if it allows you to make improvements for the future. So try to seek practical guidance whenever you can.
3. Attend a Leadership summer school
Finally, what better way to improve your leadership skills than to attend a Leadership summer school?
Studying on a 2-week intensive summer course, you’ll learn crucial interpersonal and communication skills that translate to all industries and career paths. At Oxford Summer Courses, everything is taught by established, world-class tutors for an authentic, enriched experience.
You’ll be joined by other students from around the world, who are all committed to taking future leadership roles and share similar passions to you. It’s a chance to learn from the masters, gain honest feedback from your peers, and find new ways to put your skills to the test.
Not forgetting that your entire summer school experience will be rounded up with an enriching extracurricular timetable of activities. Expect thrilling extracurriculars, inspiring day trips, and the chance to explore a new city with friends from around the world. Is there a better way to spend your summer?
Apply for a Leadership summer course
Interested in studying Leadership with us this summer?
Get the head-start you need for your future career on a 2-week intensive summer course. We have courses available in both Oxford and Cambridge; two inspiring cities to put your skills into practice and motivate others.
Build confidence, clarify your vision and feel empowered to influence people in business and life. All while learning from one of our expert tutors – many of whom have studied or taught at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Our past students have gone onto fulfilling leadership positions in politics and the business world. And now it’s your turn.
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