Careers advice

The most important leadership skills managers need

O captain my captain!

We all recognise good leadership when we see it. That person who, seemingly effortlessly, is able to get the best out of their team while simultaneously ensuring these same people feel valued, satisfied and keen to work.

But how do they do it? Well, you can bet your bottom dollar they possess most, if not all, of the below crucial leadership skills. Check them out, and then take a look at our suggestions for how to boost your management credentials.

9 key leadership skills for NZ managers

1. Communication

Debates continue to rage in the business world as to what is the number one most important soft skill, but it’s rare that you’ll find a list where communication doesn’t make the top five. Heck, even the top three.

For managers, this skill becomes even more important. How are you going to effectively take a team forward if you can’t get your ideas and decisions across? But, there’s more to being a great communicator than just talking – you also need to listen well to ensure meetings, 1:1s and stand-ups are constructive for everyone involved.

Good communication skills also enable you to get to know your team as individuals, not just employees. This will help you work with them to maximise their potential and not just their productivity.

Without effective communication, you're ideas will go nowhere.

2. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as those of the folk around you.

The first part of this isn’t rocket science – an emotionally volatile manager is unlikely to provide the trusted steady hand needed to successfully lead a team. Being able to pick up on other peoples’ emotions, however, is more of an artform, and one that only comes with practice.

An emotionally intelligent manager, who understands their reportees’ personalities, motivators and weaknesses will be better placed to establish trust, respect and positivity in the team environment.

3. Decision making

U.S. President Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his Oval Office desk that read “the buck stops here”. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever be making calls quite as big as those of a national leader during your career, his mantra is a good one to adopt.

To those beneath you, you’ll be the escalation point for decisions they feel require more senior sign-off – i.e. the trickier ones.

As such, you’ll need to demonstrate you can resolve problem areas efficiently and effectively by drawing on your wealth of experience.

4. Oversight

Integrally linked to decision-making is oversight. You need to have a solid grasp of the different projects your reportees are working on, so you can quickly jump in if they ask for assistance. Top tip: this is where workflow tools like Trello come in handy, Once your board is set up, at the click of a mouse you can easily see what everyone is currently working on.

It also pays to have hands-on experience carrying out the responsibilities that your team members perform on a daily basis. Of course, a marketing manager is unlikely to have worked as a content producer, social media expert, graphic designer, SEO specialist and video editor in the course of one career. But knowledge of at least some of these areas will come in handy when discussing projects.

You need to have a firm understanding of how each team member is spending their time.

5. Delegation

As manager, it’s your job to ensure projects are delivered to deadline. That does not mean it’s your job to do all the work.

Good task delegation is, therefore, a key leadership skill. But how do you delegate well?

  • Know your team members’ strengths: who can you count on to deliver the best results for this specific job?
  • Set clear expectations: while this person is technically excellent at what you’ve asked them to do, they still need to know the precise scope of this task
  • Be trusting: once you’ve delegated, let that person get on with it, unless you want to earn the dreaded ‘micro-manager’ label. Especially with staff who are new to the workforce, or your organisation, feeling trusted does their self-confidence the world of good.

6. Integrity

You have to practice what you preach. This includes everything from company values to any working practices and methods your team may have devised for itself.

Leading by example is really important. For example, it’s hard to enforce punctuality if you’re always late and tough to encourage attention to detail if your presentations are riddled with typos. Set the standard, and your team should follow.

7. Guidance

Your team will likely look to you for guidance on their professional development as well as assistance with their day-to-day tasks. After all, as their manager, you were likely in their position previously, and have experience and insights that can help them grow.

Be proactive here, and show you’re invested in their upskilling. This could be through setting up personal-development-programmes, or allowing team members to participate in projects that will expand their hard or soft skills.

8. Team building

Team spirit doesn’t just appear out of nowhere – it requires careful cultivation. This means it’s on you to provide opportunities for your people to bond with each other. This can be through collaboration on projects, but also out of work events.

Another possibility, particularly relevant currently, is digital team-building. You can look to organise digital hangouts, and also share news of individual success stories as a way of continuing to recognise great work.

As part of this, it’s also important to be aware of any cultural and personal differences that exist in your team. For example, if you have members who don’t eat meat or drink alcohol, or who can never get involved in events on certain dates due to family, factor this into your thinking.

9. Positivity

And finally in our examples of leadership skills – positivity. As manager you set the tone, and even in tough times you need to show resilience and inspire your team to keep their heads up.

As a manager, you should be a positive influence over the members of your team.

How to improve leadership skills in the workplace

The good news is that many of the skills we’ve mentioned here will improve naturally, the longer you’re managing a team. However, that’s not to say you can’t supplement your own growth as a leader. Options include:

  • Taking courses: from specifics like public speaking, to general leadership courses, there are heaps of learning opportunities out there, both online and in physical training environments.
  • Setting yourself goals: you can set your own SMART goals and work towards improving specific particular aspects of your leadership.
  • Engage with your network: if you have contacts with management experience, ask them for any tips and advice they might have picked up along the way.

Remember to add any new skills or experiences you gain to your CV and Trade Me Jobs Profile as you go!