What is a Leader?

Leaders are defined as those who influence and guide other individuals. Leaders play an important role in moving the organization they’re at forward through innovation and helping those around them succeed.

Leadership vs Management Skills: Key Differences

Leaders and managers often must possess overlapping skills to excel in their roles. But there are key differences between the two:

  • Managers are responsible for managing teams and subordinates to execute tasks. Managers are typically going to be more involved in daily activities and responsibilities of their staff to push through to get projects executed and deadlines met.
  • Leaders are more focused on forward-thinking and innovation. Leaders aren’t as operationally focused, rather focused on moving the organization forward through new opportunities.

Managers have a responsibility to manage their staff. Leaders have a responsibility to manage the organization.

Both managers and leaders play crucial roles in an organization. Managers developing their skills are going to focus more on skills such as people skills and delegation. While these are also important for leaders, it’s advantageous to develop skills in other areas.

Know Your Leadership Style

Your leadership style becomes more evident as you grow and evolve in your career, but typically leadership styles fall into three buckets:

  • Autocratic: Leaders and those in charge have final decision-making power. Feedback and solicitation from others is little to non-existent.
  • Democratic: Everyone is given the same opportunity to contribute to the organization. Team members are encouraged to provide feedback.
  • Laissez-faire: Under this leadership style, team members are encouraged to take control of their decision-making. Team members are responsible for managing themselves with little input from leadership directly.

Both managers and leaders will fall into certain styles. If you’ve held a management position in your career, you may already be in-tune with which bucket you fall into.

Knowing your leadership style taps into your emotional awareness and allows you to better understand how your style impacts those around you.

Top 7 Leadership Skills

Though most think leadership ability is something you’re born with, many of the greatest leaders of our time have learned and methodically honed their skills over time. Here are the seven top leadership skills to familiarize yourself with.

Critical Thinking

A leader’s job is to move things forward. Moving things forward in an organization is never without its problems. Leaders need to have a sharp ability to critically think and weigh all options they’re presented. Like most leadership skills, they only get better with more experience and opportunity. When you’re up against an obstacle, take the time to flesh out your options but most importantly, feel confident in your decision.


Being a leader doesn't mean being an inventor—but it does mean opening yourself up to inventive problem-solving and continually seeking ways to better inspire, catalyze, and achieve. Learn how to foster innovation in others and in yourself, as well as how to implement research, risk analysis, and testing measures to take that innovation to the next level.


Businesses move fast and a leader’s ability to be quick and adaptable is a skill that will take you far. A leader needs to anticipate change and not get compliance in the way things are currently being done. Being adaptable also comes with being transparent and accountable with your teams and organization. As you experience change and learning to adapt accordingly, the more you’ll refine your skill.


A productive negotiation means both parties come to an agreeable solution. The most important asset at an organization is the people, and knowing how to best negotiate with employees is a skill leaders need to develop. A leader helps set the vision for the organization and employees help contribute to that. Ensuring that employees feel taken care of and heard will have positive benefits for the organization.

Motivation and Team Building

Leaders need to foster camaraderie and collaboration between the team members they oversee. That means identifying their strengths and passions, establishing clear but malleable frameworks for collaboration, keeping fairness top-of-mind to avoid inter-team resentments, and building out incentive models that reward working toward a common goal.


Being a leader requires making difficult decisions without losing the confidence of your team — often with additional hurdles, such as time and budget constraints. It’s important to learn how to keep calm and structure your thought process, as well as how to explain your reasoning to win team buy-in.


Leadership is a skill that is practiced over the long term, meaning establishing and maintaining integrity is a vital facet to having the respect of those you wish to lead. Knowing how to go about effectively communicating with high levels of integrity when in a new setting and how to identify situations in which integrity will be publicly tested will help you ensure you are seen as a leader.

How to Develop Leadership Skills

Developing your leadership skills is an on-going activity as you progress in your career. If you’re looking to kick-start development, here’s a couple ways to consider:

  • Make Goals: Think about the goals you want to set for yourself in your role. How can you create goals that challenge you and encourage you to develop your skills further? Goals help provide a framework for thinking about progress and gives you something you measure yourself against.
  • Take on Projects: There’s no better teacher than experience. The more projects you take on (especially projects that involve multiple stakeholders), the more opportunities you’ll get to flex your leadership skills in real-time. Ideally, those projects should align with the goals you’ve set for yourself.
  • Find Leadership Training: Consider taking structured leadership training that will provide a structured way to develop new skills and help you improve existing ones. Make sure to find leadership training from reputable organizations, such as American Management Association.

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