15 Leadership Skills for Career Success (As Told by Managers)

Lauren Pope
Lauren Pope  |  March 27, 2019

Forget following the leader, these days it’s all about creating your own path for success.

Maybe you’re looking to prove you deserve a promotion during your next performance appraisal, or you’re a manager looking to brush up on your talent management skills. Whatever the case may be there’s a lot to be learned about leadership.

It takes more than career experience to climb the corporate ladder – now more than ever companies are looking to promote people who have soft skills in addition to the right job qualifications.

Soft skills include things like communication style, problem-solving skills, ability to mediate, etc. They focus more on your social ability and how you relate and communicate with other people. 

Hard skills vs soft skills

What leadership skills do you need to be an effective leader?

Deciding what kind of leader you want to be is just one part of the puzzle. Whether you’re a Ginni Rometty (CEO of IBM) or more of a Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), there seem to be a handful of traits that all effective leaders share.

We asked managers from every industry to tell us what leadership skills they look for when offering promotions. Check out some of their answers!

1. Good leaders are curious

“As a CMO and agency head, one of the soft skills I look for is curiosity. I find that curious people are more open-minded. They have a strong desire to acquire knowledge and information, and a genuine appetite for learning.

“They tend to embrace change (or are, at least, less resistant to change) and are well-suited to working in dynamic industries and environments. And because curious people are motivated to understand, they're often creative (out-of-the-box) thinkers.

"All of these things make curiosity a quality which is both valuable and attractive in future leaders.”

– Jacqueline Burns, chief marketing officer at Market Expertise

2. Good leaders work to serve their employees

“I believe that the single most important leadership trait when it comes to promoting someone is their ability to serve others. The importance of such a leadership trait can influence the organizational well-being on many levels including the creation of more leaders, a more knowledgeable and able workforce, increased job satisfaction, and much more tangible as well as intangible benefits.

“It is worth noting that servant leadership should NOT come at the cost of expertise and/or technical knowledge necessary to accomplish the tasks at hand.”

– Kamyar Shah, founder at Kamyar Shah Consulting

3. Good leaders empower their employees

“A good leader needs to do more than look out for themselves. They must also act as talent developers. I believe that management is a privilege and one must actively earn that honor by helping employees achieve their best. That comes from focused feedback and consistent coaching.”

– Tim Toterhi, founder at Plotline Leadership

Tip: Learn more about how managers can promote professional development.

4. Good leaders have integrity

“The number one attribute I look for when promoting an employee to a leadership role is integrity. I entrust my leaders with the care of my employees, customers, and the business. They must have a strong moral compass to help my organization realize its full potential. It is a core value of my organization and I need my leaders to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

– Kelsie Beckfield, SHRM-SCP, HR manager at Great Northern

5. Good leaders are humble

“Leaders can't have a big ego. They have to be selfless and not be concerned about how much praise or recognition they receive from the outside world. An effective leader empowers employees, while bad leaders often make employees feel insignificant.

“Employees under strong leaders typically have more creative freedom and room for innovation and experimentation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, employees serving under bad leaders typically feel like they have to follow a rigid structure to get things done.”

– Matthew Ross, COO and cofounder of The Slumber Yard

6. Good leaders go above and beyond

“I look for people who are leading up. Leading up means advising your boss and guiding them toward the best possible solution to a problem. For example, an individual contributor is going to know more about the day-to-day impact of management's decisions on employee morale. The individual contributor can lead up by describing to their supervisor what impact new policies or systems will have on the team at the ground level.

“Additionally, I want to see employees willing to take on responsibilities that go beyond their job description. Are they willing to cut across job roles or departments to get things done? I would never want to promote a person who utters the phrase that is not my job.”

– Dave Lane, CEO of Inventiv Tools

TIP: Go above and beyond by sharing your expertise with 1 million readers.

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7. Good leaders face challenges head on

“The most important leadership skill to look for is someone who runs towards the company fires, not away from them.

“Every business has its challenges. Many people avoid tackling the difficult issues or stay within the confines of their defined role. But the people who notice the opportunities for growth and then try to do something about them are the ones to look for. They're the people who will inspire and lead people.”

– Josh Braaten, CEO and cofounder of Brandish Insights

8. Good leaders take the initiative

“I look for people who I like to refer to as clock changers. These are people who take the initiative and change what’s broken, figuratively or literally. For example, when I was the CMO at Kodak, I had a bunch of executives in a meeting room and everyone noticed the clock stopped working. Everyone commented about it, but no one did anything to solve the problem.

“It wasn’t until one of the female employees took her shoes off and climbed on top of a chair, fixed the clock, and moved on. In my mind, that was a clear sign of someone who was a natural leader and didn’t need constant supervision to get things done and move the needle forward.”

– Jeffrey Hayzlett, CEO and chairman at The C-Suite Network

9. Good leaders have great personalities

“When it comes to hiring, we always say at RotaCloud, ‘Hire people, not CVs.’ After all, if someone has the aptitude, interest, and enthusiasm, then they can always pick up new skills. Personalities, however, are a lot more difficult to change.

“We apply the same principles when it comes to promoting staff who’ve been with us for a while, focusing not just on what they’ve achieved with us so far, but on the kind of person they are.

“We consider things like the level of enthusiasm they’ve shown, not just for their current role, but for the business as a whole. Do their personal values chime with our brand’s? Do they see their job as a job or a part of a whole?”

– Joel Beverley, cofounder of RotaCloud

10. Good leaders own their mistakes

“Anyone in a leadership position needs the characteristic of taking ownership, not only for their work, but also for their mistakes. A person who is able to lead successfully is one who is able to confidently admit where they went wrong in order to seek a different avenue for success.

“Trustworthiness is built within the work environment when a leader eases into admitting fault, ultimately creating a learning experience. Qualify and promote someone who has the ability to propel value in learning further from their mistakes by taking ownership.”

– Chachi Flores, senior manager of e-commerce at Peacock Alley

11. Good leaders are great communicators

“Strong communication skills are what I look for when promoting internal talent. Knowing what to do to drive a business forward is one thing, but sharing that vision and getting those plans in motion is another matter entirely.

“Nothing sucks the motivation out of a team quite like a leader that can't, or won't, talk to their people. If you can't stand up and address your staff, or talk to them frankly one on one, then you can't hope to inspire the kind of confidence necessary to get the job done and blaze a trail to success. It takes a confident communicator to make sure plans and tasks are explained, delegated, and carried out effectively-to get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal as a unit.”

– Paden Simmons, senior vice president at Nigel Frank International 

See the Highest-Rated Internal Communications Software →

12. Good leaders are self-starters

“Being a self-starter demonstrates that an employee is confident enough to take on challenges and figure out something new on their own. Taking initiative on projects demonstrates that an individual isn’t afraid to fail, make mistakes, or take risks. When an employee takes initiative and can act as a leader without any prompting, it is a good sign they will make strides and be successful.”

– Matt Edstrom, chief marketing officer of GoodLife Home Loans

13. Good leaders are passionate

“I often look for employees who show passion and that they truly care about achieving great results. It shows me they care about the results of their team as a whole. I also look for someone who makes others better and knows it's about the team, not just themselves.

"They want to share their skills with others to make everyone better. It's also incredibly important to be a good listener and know that you are not going to know everything. It shows you are willing to sit back and listen to others no matter what level they are at in their career.”

– Michael Stahl, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at HealthMarkets

14. Good leaders are emotionally intelligent

“All skills and strategies can be acquired by any willing individual, but caring can’t be trained. To my knowledge, there is not a training program in the world that will make a person give a damn about something (job, cause, people, etc.) when they simply don’t.

“When you create a space where employees crave to be at, where they feel appreciated and validated, where they are the single most important entity, even before customers, it becomes a space in which authentic and enjoyable, customer experiences happen with every transaction.”

– Jon Pe'a, director of technical operations at Logmein

15. Good leaders are confident

“I look for leaders who are in tune with who they are and are cognizant of both their strengths and weaknesses. They feel confident in their ability to connect with people and feel comfortable following their gut when issues arise.”

– Ashley Fry, VP of development and quality at IQMS

TIP: Learn how to network with confidence (even when you don't feel it!) using these nine  networking tips.

Be the leader you want to see in the world

The most important piece of leadership advice you can take away is to be yourself. It’s impossible to be every type of leader, so use the tips from this article to find your perfect fit. Leading with authenticity will help take you far in your career.


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Lauren Pope
Author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a Senior Content Specialist at G2 writing about compliance, legal, and technology. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Atlassian, and here on the G2 Learn Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys listening to podcasts, watching true crime shows, and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene.