Asian student group collaboration

Leadership Explained

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” – John Maxwell

Leadership skills are the skills you use when organizing other people to reach a shared goal. Effective leaders use their empathetic and interpersonal skills to guide and motivate, organize, prioritize, and inspire others to become their best selves. Leadership is an important professional skill because it empowers others, and encourages teams to reach their highest potential. 

Good leaders practice active listening, empathy, strategic thinking, and effective communication with their teams. Students demonstrate leadership skills when they care about and listen to the thoughts and concerns of others in their group.

What is often misunderstood about leadership is that you don’t even have to be a CEO, director, manager, team lead, or mentor to demonstrate leadership qualities. While we often hear and use phrases like “…he/she is a natural-born leader…”, the reality is that leadership is not some magical innate quality that you’re either born with or aren’t. True leadership is a set of skills that can be learned and a mindset that anyone can acquire. However, it takes commitment to develop and master these skills, and developing leadership skills is a lifelong learning process. The best leaders remember to “exercise” their leadership muscles daily, and receptive skills like listening and learning are an integral part of this process.

Important Leadership Qualities

What exactly are the qualities that make someone an effective leader? Knowing how to be a good leader starts with discovering the specific skills and qualities that you need to develop. It is important to remember that there is a difference between leading and managing others. While the best managers surely possess leadership qualities, many more are lacking in their leadership skills. Effective leadership is more difficult and time-consuming to cultivate than simple management of others. However, the payoffs are richer and can lead to happier, more effective teams.

Being a People Person
  • The best leaders are people-oriented and take the time to get to know their team
  • Leaders take a genuine interest in their colleague’s needs and overall mood, knowing that relationship-building is a vital component of success
Making Difficult Decisions
  • An effective leader can help offer guidance when faced with difficult choices and inspires trust in their team by taking charge and determining the best course of action
  • Being able to handle complex issues under pressure, whilst utilizing creative problem-solving
Inspiring Confidence
  • The best leaders remain positive, optimistic, and confident about their team’s efforts
  • Leaders must facilitate confidence in their team and can do so by publicly celebrating milestones and successes, while privately discussing potential criticisms and areas for growth
Visionary Thinking
  • Leaders must have a vision and purpose to inspire their teams
  • Through a clear mission and vision, leaders can develop strategic thinking that allows them to stay focused on their future goals
  • Mission and purpose will imbue leaders with the strength to overcome obstacles and challenges
Leading by Example
  • The best way to lead others is to set an example that they can follow, and leaders who are looking for a specific quality within their team would do best to exhibit that quality through their actions
  • Effective leaders also realize that training and education are paramount to achieving their vision, whether that means by pursuing additional knowledge themselves that can later be shared, or by facilitating collaborative learning opportunities for the wider team
Growth Mindset
  • One of the most important indicators of whether a business will scale and succeed is the mindset of its leaders
  • A growth mindset is different from a fixed mindset because it focuses more on the process and progress of a company than solely on the outcome
  • Leading with a growth mindset creates a healthy atmosphere where colleagues are allowed to develop their talents, abilities, and skills in a supportive environment
  • A fixed mindset hurts organizations by creating a culture of fear that stifles creativity and innovative risk-taking
Effective Communication
  • Leaders must be effective communicators who speak clearly and correctly, with no issues getting straight to the point
  • An important aspect to effective communication as a leader is also knowing how to listen and ask for feedback from their team

How to Demonstrate Leadership

Now that you understand the basics of leadership and the qualities needed in an effective leader, let’s review the ways that you can develop and demonstrate leadership skills in the workplace.

First and foremost, the will and desire to take on more leadership roles and responsibilities is the number one prerequisite to developing your leadership qualities. It is possible to be an effective leader without a strong desire to lead, but this can be an incredibly difficult and draining task. That is not to say that it is impossible. As Joelle Charbonneau states, “…sometimes the best leaders are the ones who have no interest in leading. Those are often the ones who are most interested in doing what is right, not what is popular.” Ultimately, the desire to make a difference will generate the most fruitful leader. Remember, being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you are directly responsible for managing a team.

  1. Think Positively and Be Solution-Oriented: When something goes wrong or miscommunication occurs, leaders don’t dwell on the negatives or assign blame. Demonstrate your leadership capabilities by creating a positive atmosphere at work or in your internship host company, as well as thinking up solutions to any potential problems.
  2. Listen and Learn: Great leaders listen to others and understand that collaboration and teamwork yield the best overall results. Remain open to new ideas and listen to your coworkers, boss, peers, and customers to understand the bigger picture. 
  3. Find a Mentor: Think about your career goals and find a mentor in your company or industry who can share professional knowledge and insights with you. Many successful leaders started with a trusted mentor. For example, Bill Gates, the world’s richest billionaire, credits his success to the guidance of his mentor, Warren Buffet.
  4. Master Your Work: Focus on your duties and constantly find ways to improve your efficiency and output. The best leaders lead by example!
  5. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses: Self-awareness is key to developing your leadership abilities. Spend time reading books and articles about self-development topics that interest you, set aside time to journal or meditate, ask for feedback from others, or take a personality assessment or two. Myers-Briggs’ 16 personalities is a great free resource to start with! Gallup’s StrengthsFinder is another popular test, although there is a small fee.

Another great resource you can use to develop leadership skills is by taking one of Pagoda’s online Skills Courses! Our Employability Skills course is a great place to start and is full of relevant activities, examples, videos, and additional resources that will aid you in developing and improving your employability, career development, professionalism, and leadership skills.

Why Are Leadership Skills Important?

“Leadership listens, inspires, motivates, and gives a direction, a common goal to aspire to.” – Jerome Taillard

Leadership matters because when more individuals take initiative, show interest, and pursue their personal mission to serve a greater purpose, society can benefit from solving its most complex problems. Good leadership benefits the individual as well as the collective. With the many different problems facing humankind today, we need more leaders who are motivated to make a positive impact.

Sources & Additional Resources

  1. How to Be an Outstanding Leader
  2. 8 Qualities and Skills to Develop for Effective Leaders
  3. Growth Mindset: Why It’s Needed for Successful Leadership
  4. 18 Best Ways to Improve Leadership Skills in the Workplace
  5. Three Famous Billionaire Entrepreneurs and Their Mentors
  6. 10 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership at Work
  7. Why is Leadership Important?
  8. TEDxTalk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action – Simon Sinek
  9. TEDxTalk: Listen, Learn…Then Lead – Stanley McChrystal
  10. TEDxTalk: A Life of Purpose – Rick Warren