The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, in the Tao Te Ching, described the highest type of ruler as “one of whose existence the people are barely aware….The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”
But how does a 2,400-year-old text relate to the top leadership skills you should have in the modern workplace? In today’s evolving world of business, the qualities that make a great leader have changed from the top-down authoritarian characteristics that earned the respect of our baby boomer parents and grandparents. The traditional skills needed to excel in management are no longer the same as those required for leadership success. Instead, the leadership skills outlined by Lao Tzu over two millennia ago are more relevant than ever, especially in a post-COVID-19 working world.
What are Leadership Skills?
Leadership skills are the set of abilities that allow you to guide, direct, and influence others and are often divided into two categories: hard and soft. While hard skills include expertise like strategic planning and technical know-how, soft skills are traits such as interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence. The modern workplace demands a combination of both, but only 19% of organizations say they’re “very effective” at developing these traits within their leaders.
To develop your own leadership skills, it helps to first understand what characteristics great leaders possess and the behaviors they exhibit that make them successful. There are several theories about what these qualities might be, but no two individuals or roles will require the same set of skills. What’s most important to understand is that leadership skills can be learned. Here are the top five skills you should develop through self-study, professional courses, or work experience.
Five Key Leadership Skills for the Modern Workplace
Lao-Tze uses the term “self-effacing.” In short, this is the quality of being moderate or unassuming in the assessment of your abilities. The bottom line… have your ego in check. Success or failure isn’t about you. You should be able to take constructive criticism and acknowledge your areas of improvement.
Yes, active listening is still one of the top leadership skills needed for success in the modern workplace. “Scanty of words” is how Lao Tzu described it. Young leaders, especially, tend to talk a lot — wanting to persuade others to buy into their ideas. If you can relate to this, ask yourself these three questions before speaking:
- ‘Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me right now?’
When it is your time to speak, don’t interrupt. Instead, ask clarifying questions to show you were listening and reassure your teammates that their ideas have been heard and considered.
3. Team Building
In order to step back so your team can say, “We have achieved it,” you’ll want to develop this essential leadership skill for the modern workplace. Team building is the ability to nurture interpersonal relationships between team members so they’re set up to effectively work together and accomplish their common objectives.
In one study, team collaboration driven from team building activities resulted in employees focusing on their tasks 64% longer than those who were alone. The collaborating peers also reported higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels, and higher project success rates.
4. Personal Development
Similar to learning the skills needed to build an effective team, you need to continuously seek personal growth and development. Developing your leadership skills is one part of personal development, but it doesn’t stop there.
How self-aware and emotionally intelligent are you? Do you know how to set and reach goals? Looking at the transition to the next generation of leaders, 25% of organizations say they have skilled leaders ready to take over only 10% of key leadership positions. Develop yourself so you’re ready for that promotion when the time comes.
Flexibility means being open-minded about what’s possible and willing to adapt when circumstances change. As a leader, it also means providing flexibility for your team. Recent research found that 71% of workers in the UK want flexible work options to remain after COVID-19 is over. Remaining flexible will help you find solutions that work for both the business’ bottom line as well as for your team members when a crisis strikes or someone has to pick up their kid.
These five key leadership skills aren’t the only ones you’ll need in the modern workplace. But developing modesty, listening, team building, personal development, and flexibility will set you on a course for success so you’re ready for the leadership positions of tomorrow… even if they came from the pen of an ancient Chinese philosopher!
Now we want to hear from you! What leadership skills are you working to improve? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get practical leadership development tips delivered straight to your inbox.