How to build leadership skills in 7 simple steps

a woman stands at the front of a boat with a telescope to see what is ahead while two people row the boat is an example of leadership

The term 'natural leader' has made the rounds in popular culture, but with the leadership role becoming more complex, is there still such a thing?

While some leadership skills come naturally, these days modern leaders need more skills than anybody could be born with. What's more, leadership skills are increasingly recognized as one of the most crucial elements to organizational success.1

That's why at Fingerprint For Success (F4S) we’ve put together this guide on how to build leadership skills, for senior and aspiring leaders alike.

Table of contents
What are strong leadership skills?
Understanding different leadership styles
How to develop your own unique leadership skills
Our favorite leadership success stories

What are strong leadership skills?

In the modern business landscape, what we mean when we say ‘leadership skills’ is expanding. Today, leaders need to be a jack of all trades.

They need to have active listening skills, be emotionally intelligent with an astute awareness of other people’s motivations. They need to be inspirational, aspirational, and capable of communicating organizational goals in ways that align with the personal goals of their team.

On top of all of this, they need to be resilient, and capable of weathering bitter organizational or economic storms all while maintaining a brave face.

In short, the current business landscape demands a wide range of skills of its leaders. Too wide, in many cases, for leaders to be successful without adequate coaching or training.

Why developing leadership skills is important

Great leadership skills are the key to organizational resilience. They increase your agility and ability to respond to change in the face of shifting global markets. Companies that don't invest in leadership fail to perform to their potential.

In short, there are many reasons to invest in leadership skills. Companies who invest will perform better, and aspiring future leaders who invest will increase their career agility.2

Before we learn how to improve leadership skills, it's important to understand the different leadership styles.

Understanding different leadership styles

Individuals and organizations are different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Before setting out to develop your leadership skills, it's useful to understand the different approaches. This will help you work out what fits best and, importantly, what type of leader you want to be.

Participative leadership

A participative leadership style includes all members of the team in contributing ideas, asking questions, and assisting in the decision-making process.

Also known as democratic leadership, participative leaders invite team members to participate in conversations and influence choices with their own suggestions.

Situational leadership

As the name suggests, this style of leadership is situational. It acknowledges that different situations and/or employees require the leader to adopt a different approach. For instance, a leader may find it's less effective to adopt a democratic approach when it comes to junior employees, but that this style works for senior employees.

Servant leadership

These leaders are focused on serving their followers. They ask: ‘What can I do for you?’ rather than what their followers can do for them. This style of leadership is built on the principle of reciprocity, and it often inspires followers to go the extra mile.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leaders are all about inspiring and motivating their teams. They achieve this by instilling a sense of purpose and a shared vision, driving organizational growth and encouraging positive change.

How to develop your own unique leadership skills

Keeping in mind that your journey toward being a more effective leader is a personal one. Here are the steps we recommend to hone and develop as a leader:

Assess your current skills and motivations

The journey to becoming the leader you need to be begins with a vital first step: a thorough, and honest self-assessment of your leadership competencies.

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, you will be best placed to understand where you need to go, based on where you are. This includes:

  • Gaining an understanding of your motivations and unique workstyle.
  • Soft skills (active listening and communication skills, emotional intelligence and resilience)
  • Decision making
  • Strategic thinking
  • Conflict management and resolution
  • People skills

A process of self-reflection, and understanding where you are now, will lay the foundations for development as a leader. Keep in mind that we all have biases and blindspots when it comes to self-assessment. If you're looking for a way to jump-start the process with a precision reading on what makes you tick at work, F4S's scientifically backed self-assessment is a great place to start.

Take the free self-assessment to understand your work style motivations.

F4S dashboard shows you traits so you can build leadership skills
F4S dashboard

Set clear long-term goals

Now that you've understood your skills and motivations, it's time to think big and consider where you really want to go. What kind of leader do you want to be? What kind of impact do you want to have? Dream big, here. These objectives can be used as your true north, offering direction and purpose in your quest for growth as a leader.

By defining where you aim to be in the future, you can chart a deliberate course towards achieving those aspirations.

Once you’ve taken the F4S motivational assessment, there are plenty of suggestions to guide you to set your goals.

F4S guides you in goal setting

Understand the benchmark

Next, it's important to understand how you stack up against top performers. This is where the F4S benchmarking tool is handy.

Understanding how you compare will help you chart your course towards becoming the kind of leader you aspire to be.

F4S xfactor chart in your dashboard shows how your motivations compare with venture success
F4S XFactor results

Set short-term goals

Now that you know where you are, where you want to be, and what standard you need to reach to get there. Great! The next thing to do is set clear short-term goals to get you there. Remember, long-term goals can only be reached by breaking them down into small, actionable, bite-sized goals.

Over time, achieving these short-term goals will culminate in bigger, more audacious goals that you ultimately want to achieve.

For help with goal setting, check out F4S’ in-depth guide.

Find a professional coach

If you're looking to turbocharge your leadership growth, you can't go wrong with a professional coach. Through personalized guidance and support, they act as a sports coach would toward an athlete.

They offer one-on-one or group mentoring, powering leaders to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Sounds great, right? While professional coaching is becoming the norm in the c-suite, for aspiring, or upcoming leaders, they are often cost-prohibitive.3

That's why F4S devised a solution that everybody can afford, we have broken down the barriers to world-class coaching.

Team up with the world-first AI Coach Marlee

F4S programs were designed by world-renowned coaches. Sessions only take 5-15 minutes. Get started for free with your personalized coaching program now.

Personalized insights for your goal

Pioneering new things
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You like some variety, radical changes, doing new and different things in some of your work or business.

100% Match
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
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With a little bit of development you can become more socially aware of yourself and others.

61% Match
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Maintain your team's health and wellbeing

Healthy employees are motivated, focused and, unsurprisingly, take less time off work. Absenteeism due to workplace stress costs US companies billions of dollars per year.4 But, by taking a proactive approach toward team health senior leaders can improve this.

One critical part of keeping your team healthy is to foster an environment of psychological safety. This involves paying attention to everyone's mental health, interpersonal connections, and by providing a forum for people to speak freely without fear of judgment. Managers who promote these as a priority will end up with happier, more productive employees.

It comes down to getting people to understand core culture, the deepest, most important values the organization holds. It's what gets everyone up in the morning, excited for the day ahead. It could be a sense of pride, a commitment to creativity, a dedication to social impact, or the chance to make the lives of customers better.

Culture might be obvious to you as a leader, but if your team is only vaguely aware of it through mission statements and other surface-level communication, it's not going to spark their imagination.

This essential core culture gets into the heads of employees through 2 methods: training, and exposure. The first involves direct communication, which is documentation, messaging, and conversation.The second is indirect, it's the behavior that reflects those values, which permeates through the company over time. In short, if you act in accordance with company values, others will too.

Our favorite leadership success stories

Need some inspiration to kickstart your journey to becoming a successful leader? Here are some of our favorite stories of exemplary leaders along with the key leadership skills they're known for.

Ray Dalio

When it comes to a leadership style that's based around principles, growth and adaptability, the name Ray Dalio is the first to come to mind.

In his best-seller, Principles,5 Dalio lays out many of the leadership practices that led his company, Bridgewater Associates, to be listed as one of the most innovative of all time.

They are:

Radical transparency:

At Bridgewater, Dalio has built a culture of radical transparency. Employees are encouraged to speak their minds, and even junior employees are given a voice in decision-making processes.

Tough love:

Dalio is not afraid to give tough feedback and expects his employees to be resilient and open to criticism. This approach is meant to encourage personal growth and development.

Radical open-mindedness:

He encourages open-mindedness and the willingness to consider alternative viewpoints and adapt to changing circumstances. Even the most entrenched assumptions are open for debate in the search for smarter, more effective ways of doing things.

A culture of continuous learning:

Dalio is a strong advocate of continuous learning and self-improvement, which is reflected in his emphasis on self-reflection and the importance of learning from successes and failures.

Tim Cook

Being Steve Jobs's successor may have been a big pair of shoes to fill, but there was a good reason Cook was chosen for the top job at Apple and he is noted for his exceptional leadership skills.6 Cook is known for democratic leadership approach (notably, this was not Jobs's strong suit). Cook takes multiple opinions and perspectives into consideration and isn't fixed on his own. Though when he is certain his opinion or proposal is the correct one, his ability to persuade and convince people to come around is said to be unparalleled.

Under his leadership, Apple employees report feeling more involved in the decision-making process, encouraged to express their thoughts without fear of judgment, and are duly rewarded  for their insights and creativity.

Arianna Huffington

Here's one that we at F4S can really get behind.

Founder and CEO of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington's approach to leadership is centered around the belief that the best outcome is achieved through balance.7 If a work-life balance and healthy time off can't be achieved, then followers can't perform at their potential.

She advocates for:

  • Prioritizing health and wellbeing
  • Nurturing resilience and a growth mindset
  • The need for collaboration
  • Continuous learning and personal growth
  • Fostering a healthy work life balance

Ready to learn how to build leadership skills? F4S can help

Developing leadership skills is an important and challenging task. Wherever you are in your leadership journey, professional coaching will always serve you well, and that's where F4S can help. Start by taking the work styles assessment, you'll be surprised how much you learn about yourself in just 15 minutes!

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Our expert coaches developed a program to help you learn to see the big picture! You will increase your use of abstract and strategic thinking to gain a broad perspective in work and life. This will help with communication, leadership, selling, marketing and any situation where you need to get the gist of things quickly.

Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to personalize the program so you see results as quickly as possible.

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Show References
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  1. Pigeon, K, 2017, The Keys for Success: Leadership core competencies, Wolters Kluwer, https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wk/jtn/2017/00000024/00000006/art00004
  2. De Meuse, 2010, Learning agility: A construct whose time has come, APA PsychNet, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-13314-005
  3. Arden Coaching, 2023, Cost of Executive Coaching, Arden Publishing https://ardencoaching.com/cost-of-executive-coaching/#:~:text=More%20recent%20data%20from%20an,%24200%20and%20%243%2C000%20an%20hour.%E2%80%9D
  4. Folger,J, 2021, The causes and costs of absenteeism, Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/070513/causes-and-costs-absenteeism.asp
  5. Dalio R, 2017, Principles, Simon and Schuster, https://www.amazon.com.au/Principles-Life-Work-Ray-Dalio/dp/1501124021
  6. Financhill, Tim Cook Leadership Style, Financhill, https://financhill.com/blog/investing/tim-cook-leadership-style#:~:text=Tim%20Cook%20has%20a%20democratic,people%20to%20follow%20his%20lead.
  7. Nallalingham L, 2023, Leadership Lessons from Arianna Huffington: How to Create a Positive Culture of Success, LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leadership-lessons-from-arianna-huffington-how-create-nallalingham/

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