If you’re like a lot of people reading this, you’re interested in learning how to be a better leader. Or, you’re interested in helping others become better leaders.
If that includes you, I have some information you’ll find helpful.
A new research study I’ve just completed with Dr. Reshma Shah and Emory Executive Education at Emory University sheds new light on leadership skills and leadership training.
The report has a lot of interesting findings:
- Most organizations provide regular leadership development training: 21% of those surveyed “always” have ongoing training and development programs. 48% have them “somewhat regularly” while the rest have them “occasionally” or “never.”
- The need for training and development is growing: 80% of respondents in the study said that the need for training and development is greater today than it was 5 years ago. This is driven, in part, by the growing need to attract and retain employees.
- Training and development budgets are increasing: 54% of those surveyed said they were likely or very likely to see an increase in their budgets in the coming year.
In my work as a global consultant, workshop leader, and keynote speaker, I see a lot of executives who are interested in learning how to become better leaders.
With that in mind, I’ve included more than a dozen skills you can put to use (or that you can share with your team) that will quickly improve your leadership skills.
They start with the 5 skills included in the 3-minute video below and then continue on with another 9 that are simple and effective skills you can start using right away.
Okay, ready for the next 9 leadership tips and techniques? If so, that’s great — let’s get started.
Leadership Tip #1: Great Leaders Have Three Traits in Common
For most of us, we associate good leadership with traditional traits like those seen in the image below.
But the newest research shows that the traits mentioned above might not be as important as some other traits.
What are the traits most good leaders have in common?
Trait #1: Humility is Not a Sign of Weakness. It’s a Sign of Strength.
In a new study highlighted by The New York Times, researchers learned that humility is a secret weapon that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
The study was conducted by Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren, a psychologist at Hope College in Michigan.
“Dr. Van Tongeren and his colleagues proposed several explanations for why humility, intellectual or otherwise, is such a valuable facet of personality,” reports The Times.
“A humble disposition can … nourish mental health more broadly, providing a psychological resource to shake off grudges, suffer fools patiently and forgive oneself.”
This finding might be counter-intuitive, but more and more research is being done that supports the premise that great leaders are not arrogant, they’re humble.
(Side Note: If I recall correctly, there was a guy in Galilee who said something similar about 2,000 years ago.)
Trait #2: Effective Leadership Begins and Ends with Empathy.
Another study out of Rice University identified a second counter-intuitive trait — empathy.
The study points out that managers who lead with empathy have happier, more productive teams.
According to researcher Danielle King, “Creating a work environment centered around learning and open communication is helpful as teams grow and take on new tasks.”
He goes on to say, “Leaders must reinforce this workplace culture with positive language that signals openness and a focus on their development.”
King’s study adds to a growing body of research showing that empathy is now recognized as an essential leadership tool.
Trait #3: The Ability to Bounce Back after Failure is a Predictor of Future Success.
The final tip is based on a comment from Shark Tank host Barbara Corcoran, who became wealthy from her real estate business in New York City.
Her comment is supported by numerous studies around the globe.
Ms. Corcoran was being interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show and was asked if she could spot the people on her staff who would ultimately succeed.
“Absolutely,” she said.
She pointed out that people who were going to have long and successful careers all had one thing in common — resilience.
The members of her staff (which numbered in the hundreds at the time) who let the inevitable business set-backs hold them down would struggle later in their careers.
The employees who took the inevitable set-backs and then paused for a minute, or 15 minutes, or 3 hours, but then “got back on the horse” were the ones who succeeded in the long run.
In other words, resilience is a predictor of future success.
I hope the three traits mentioned above are helpful to you. Let’s keep going with more leadership tips, shall we?
Leadership Tip #2: A Little Discomfort is a Good Thing
If you’re like a lot of managers and executives, there’s some aspect of your life that you’re not very happy about.
Maybe you could increase your salary by switching companies. Or perhaps you’re frustrated by the way your boss treats you. Or maybe you’re not connecting with a teammate you’ve been working with for the past 12 months.
No matter what it is, we all have things in our life that we’re not happy about.
The problem is that it’s sometimes easier to keep doing the same thing than it is to make a big change in our lives. So … we stick with what we’ve been doing all along because it’s easier and more comfortable.
The graphic below drives home a key point that might help you change your thinking on sticking with the status quo.
The idea behind this concept is driven home by research conducted by Steven Levitt, the University of Chicago economist and Freakonomics co-author.
Levitt’s research asked people who were having a hard time making a decision to participate in a digital coin toss on the website FreakonomicsExperiments.com.
Participants asked questions such as, “Should I quit my job?” “Should I break up with my significant other?” and “Should I go back to school?”
Heads meant they should take action. Tails meant they should stick with the status quo.
Here’s the big news — the people who got heads and made big changes in their lives reported being significantly happier than they were before, both two months and six months later.
“The data from my experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting,” Levitt said in a press release. “A good rule of thumb in decision making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo.”
Of course, we’re not recommending that you flip a coin for every major decision in your life.
But, as the research suggests, all things being equal, it looks as though people who took action are happier with their choices than people who continued with the status quo.
Action Step for You: Are you unhappy with your job? Are you stuck in a dead-end relationship? Are you thinking of starting a business?
If you’ve weighed all the pluses and minuses of a big decision and you’re left with no clear answer, then Levitt’s study shows that taking action — which might make you slightly uncomfortable in the short term — can lead to more happiness down the road.
If you’d like to learn more about the workshops I conduct that can help you with decisions like these, check out my Unspoken Rules of Leadership website.
Leadership Tip #3: Persuasion Can be a Tricky Thing
If you try to persuade someone with too much intensity, it can backfire. In fact, studies show that the more you push your point-of-view on someone, the less likely they are to be convinced.
Why does this happen?
Because people believe things for emotional reasons, not for logical reasons.
I know that goes against common sense, but research shows it to be true.
In marketing, brands know that people buy things for emotional reasons and then rationalize their purchases with logic.
For example, nobody in the history of the world has ever bought a Rolex watch because it tells better time.
What you’re buying when you buy a Rolex is prestige and bragging rights. Those are emotional components.
But if someone asks you why you bought the Rolex, you would rationalize the purchase with logic by saying, “It has 243 moving parts that are finely tuned to provide me the most accurate time possible.”
Key Point: People believe things for emotional reasons, not logical reasons. So using logic to persuade someone is a dead-end street.
Instead of trying to use logic, you should work to build a bridge between you and the person you’re communicating with.
You can do this by dropping the rope, a technique discussed in Unreceptive by Tom Stanfill.
Dropping the rope means eliminating your need to persuade anyone of anything.
I know, it’s counter intuitive. If you want to persuade someone of something, you should use logic and persuasion, right?
Actually, the opposite is true. Instead of working hard to persuade someone, you should back off, ask questions, and build a bridge between you and the person you’re talking to.
By dropping the rope, you’re creating a non-threatening connection between you and the person you’re working to persuade.
Here are some examples of the questions one executive might ask another executive using the drop the rope technique:
- What’s your goal or objective on this project/program/initiative?
- How would you define success?
- What have you done that has worked so far?
- What have you done that hasn’t worked?
- What have you learned from others who have done similar things?
- What are your plans on this initiative over the next 3 months?
See what’s going on here? The questions are intended to build a bridge between you and the person you’re trying to persuade. They’re not pushy, or sales-y. Instead, they’re designed to be inquisitive and helpful.
Once the person sees that you’re not trying to sell them anything — in other words, once they see that you’ve dropped the rope — they’ll let their guard down and will be more open to your ideas and suggestions.
Bottom Line: The secret to persuasion isn’t to use logic to convince someone of your point of view. Instead, the secret is to build a bridge between you and the other executive that’s designed to help them understand that you’re both on the same team.
Leadership Tip #4: Don’t Confuse Transparency with Authenticity
Let’s talk about the difference between being fully authentic and being fully transparent at work.
The challenge most people have is that they believe they’re the same thing. But they’re not.
Being fully authentic at work means that you are being your genuine self.
In other words, you allow the best aspects of who you are as a human to shine through.
Being fully transparent means that you are an open book.
In other words, you share aspects of your personal history in a fully transparent way.
The problem with being fully transparent is that at work you’re playing a role. In other words, you’re playing a role that shows others the best version of yourself.
To explain this further, think about your role as a parent.
Would you go to your children and admit drug use in your high school years at the same time that you’re trying to tell your children not to do drugs?
Of course you wouldn’t.
What you would do is play the role of a parent and help your child understand a better, more responsible way to lead their lives.
That’s being authentic without being fully transparent.
The same holds true at work.
When you’re in the office, you’re playing a role as a manager, boss, teammate, or co-worker.
And your staff or the people you manage don’t necessarily want to know that you had a blowout at the bachelor party in Las Vegas last weekend.
Being fully authentic simply means that you are true to your values it to yourself.
That’s a good thing.
Being fully transparent means you’re an open book. At the office, that’s not a good thing.
Leadership Tip #5: Your starting point for good communication is to build a bridge to the person you’re trying to connect with.
Bridge building starts with empathy and respect. If you don’t use those two things as your foundation, then any progress you make will eventually crumble.
Another good technique is to focus on the North Star.
We’ve all been in conversations where things get heated. A technique you can use to reel things back in is to shift the conversation from the emotion to the North Star.
As mentioned above, dropping the rope is another good idea. It’s a concept I learned from Tom Stanfill in his book Unreceptive.
Studies show that people will emotionally resist the logical points you’re making in a conversation. Until, that is, you drop the rope.
Dropping the rope means that you stop the tug-of-war you’re in with the person you’re talking to. Instead, you help them realize you’re just there to arrive at a mutually-beneficial outcome.
There’s much more to the communication skills workshop than I can discuss here due to the limited amount of space.
If you’re interested in learning how to improve your communication skills, check out the Unspoken Rules of Leadership online course which is being used by businesses around the globe to improve communications, increase productivity, and decrease stress in the office.
Leadership Tip #6: Good Communication Starts with Good Listening
Many articles and blog posts about leadership focus on communication skills. In other words, they focus on persuasion, articulation, and messaging.
Don’t get me wrong — communication skills are important. But learning how to listen is just as important (if not more so) than learning how to talk.
You can be a good leader by being a good listener.
Being a good leader involves a lot of things, including having empathy, confidence, and focus.
In fact, those topics are just some of the things built into the Four Pillars of Leadership discussed in the Unspoken Rules workshops I conduct at events and corporations. (See image below.)
But in order to be a good leader, you have to have much more than just empathy, confidence, and focus. You also have to have good listening skills.
A member of our global community named Brian Phillips sent me an article from Harvard Business Review that highlights what it means to have good listening skills.
The challenge most of us face is that we have a default way we listen to people. We may think we’re doing a good job listening, but in many cases, we might just be pretending to listen until we find a point where we can insert our next comment or point-of-view.
That’s not listening. That’s waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can pontificate for a little longer.
Leadership Tip #7: There Are Four Different Listening Styles You Should be Familiar With
Understanding how you listen is an important part of being a good co-worker, manager, or mentor.
It turns out there are four different styles most leaders use.
If you’re an analytical listener, you aim to analyze a problem from a neutral starting point.
If you’re a relational listener, you aim to build connections and understand the emotions underlying the message.
If you’re a critical listener, you aim to judge both the content of the conversation and the reliability of the speaker themselves.
And if you’re a task-focused listener, you shape the conversation towards efficient transfer of important information.
The best leaders (and listeners) all have one thing in common — they develop the ability to shift between these styles based on the task at hand.
That’s not easy to do, but it’s an essential part of being a good leader and being a good listener.
Leadership Tip #8: Five Ways to Improve Your Listening
The research shared in Harvard Business Review highlights five different ways you can improve your listening skills.
Here they are.
- Establish why you’re listening: When you first enter a conversation, pause for a moment and reflect briefly on what the goals of the conversation are and how you can best listen in that moment. Is the person you’re having a conversation with seeking an honest critique, an analytical reflection, or an emotional connection? If you pause for a moment at the beginning of the conversation and ask yourself, “What are my goals here?” you’ll end up being more thoughtful about your responses. (As Viktor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”)
- Recognize how you usually listen: Our default listening style might actually be sabotaging our goals. In our previous experiences, we might have received positive feedback for being efficient, funny, articulate, or supportive. As HBR reports, “Time-pressured environments often require task-oriented or critical listening styles in order to make rapid decisions. While that may be consistently effective at work, it may backfire when applied frequently at home to family and friends who may need something more than rapid decision support.” So remember — look inward at your own listening style before engaging with someone who may need you to shift styles for a moment.
- Be aware of who is the focus of attention: “We often assume that interjecting with our own personal stories is an empathetic and relationship-building move, but it precludes hearing the other’s whole message,” says the Harvard Business Review. The article goes on to say, “While it can be fun to interject, and is sometimes helpful to promote connection, when done without awareness it runs the risk of steering the conversation away from the speaker without redirecting back.” (That’s a powerful idea and one I know I need to spend more time on.)
- Adapt the listening style to achieve conversational goals: It’s not easy adapting your listening style. Your brain at work is under stress and focused on a lot of different things. But staying focused on the speaker and the goals will help you adapt to the needs of the situation. An easy way to remember how to do this is by thinking about your goals (e.g., relational, transactional, informational, etc.) and thinking about the person you’re speaking to (e.g., boss, employee, spouse, child, etc.)
- Ask: Am I missing something? As HBR reports, “It may be hard to ascertain the conversational goals if the speaker who initiates the conversation does not know what they are hoping to get out of it. Ambiguity about goals, uncertainty about sharing vulnerability, unexamined emotions, and logistical pressures may be part of the discovery process. Because we profoundly shape this process through the ways in which we listen, we should consider whether the conversation at hand seems to be productive and what we may be missing. Taking a couple of seconds to pause and think before an automatic response may help reveal a subtler, important opportunity.”
Leadership Training Tip #9: Learning to Lead is an Ongoing Process
You can’t expect to learn everything you need to know about leadership by reading a single blog post. That’s why I’d encourage you to sign up for my leadership e-newsletter by filling out the form below.
Each week, I’ll send you tips, tools, and techniques you can use to become a better leader, manager, and mentor.
I hope you’ve found this information helpful. If you’re someone who is interested in becoming a better leader or interested in helping others become better leaders, feel free to reach out to me about my leadership development programs.
But most of all, please remember this final tip: Information is like paint –– it’s not helpful until it is applied. 😊
About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Microsoft, Verizon and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. You may have seen Jamie in Inc., Entrepreneur, Business Insider, or Forbes. He’s also a regular guest on CNN and HLN, where he delivers segments on marketing, persuasion, and leadership. Jamie is the co-author of several essential business books. You can follow him on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.