What Are The Top Skills That Make A Great Leader?

What Are The Top Skills That Make A Great Leader?

John Eades 28/05/2021
What Are The Top Skills That Make A Great Leader?

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.  


1. 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

2. 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. 

3. 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. 

4. 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.

5. 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."

6. 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. 

7. 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.

Share this article

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • No comments found

Share this article

John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

Cookies user prefences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics