The Seven Core Leadership Skills and How to Use Them as an Executive

Anyone can be placed in a leadership role, but to be good and thrive in that position requires solid core leadership skills. The highest ranking companies hunt for people with well-honed core leadership skills to fill their most sought after executive positions.

But the question still remains: what are the must have core leadership skills people must acquire? How can these people management skills help land an executive position? After ticking off all items outlined in this article, you’ll have enough confidence to finally hand in your resume and apply for that job you’ve been working so hard for and become a great leader.

1. Relationship Building (The Foundation Of A High-Performing Team)

Some leaders will say they that they do not need to be loved in the workplace. This may be true, but to build a cohesive and more engaged team, great leaders need to learn the skills for building good working relationships in the workplace.

Good working relationships increase employee engagement and according to Gallup’s meta-analysis of employee engagement, business units with good employee engagement have 41% fewer quality defects and 37% less absenteeism. A 21% increase in productivity was also seen to result from higher employee engagement. So even if you think you don’t need to be loved in the workplace, you will definitely need to be skilled in building good relationships in order to be effective. If your team is highly engaged and happy in the workplace, you will likely be loved or at least well respected as a good leader.

Practical Tips:

Tip 1. Share More Of Yourself During Meetings.

Utilize meetings as a forum to let your team get to know you better. Allow them to learn from your stories, your experiences and the lessons you have learnt in your career.

Tip 2. Write Thank You Notes.

Let your employees know that you appreciate the work that they do, especially if they go above and beyond what’s expected of them. Send them ‘thank you’ notes, and make sure that their colleagues, peers, subordinates and even your leaders know the exemplary performance you are acknowledging them for.

Tip 3. Organize Team Building Activities.

You do not need an elaborately planned team building activity, a simple after office sport activity or a family day with your staff can be an effective way to connect with them. They will also get to appreciate that you are trying to support their work-life balance.

2. Agility & Adaptability (Stay On The Cutting Edge)

In a study conducted by Development Dimensions International in 2008, the top of the three most important leadership qualities, at 32%, is the ability to facilitate change. In 2018, adaptability is definitely one of the most important leadership skills as the business environment has changed so much and is continuously changing, faster than ever.

Effective leadership must be able to adapt to the changes - even if that means working out of your comfort zone - so leaders are not left behind by shifts in the industry, and can give their business a competitive edge. This leads us to explore Innovation & Creativity as part of the skill-set of the best leaders.


Be Accountable In Responding To Change.

You need to make sure that you have laid out a plan on how you should respond to organizational changes. Have a detailed outline of steps and an achievable timeline in tackling a policy change that you’re dealing with. Constantly check your progress on how well you are adapting to the change and how you are exemplifying this to your staff.

3. Innovation & Creativity (Push Your Boundaries)

What did it take for Apple to become a leader in the computer and mobile technology industry? They made innovations to products with users in mind, making their gadgets more user-friendly, as customers who wanted this feature were willing to pay for their pricier products.

Steve Jobs led the innovation and creativity for Apple Inc. by continuously forging ahead of the competition, and this probably made him one of the most influential leaders in the tech industry to date. In a global study on creativity, findings showed that unlocking creative potential is key to economic and societal growth. The increasing demand for creativity and innovation will continue to be a driving force for executives, who must harness their leadership skills in these areas to be effective and competitive.

Practical Tips:

Tip 1. Schedule Time To Think.

Find time in your schedule to sit down and think with no interruptions. This will help you organize your thoughts and set goals for yourself and your team. Use this time to think of new ideas or suggestions that can improve performance and productivity.

Tip 2. Change Your Perspective.

Look out a window with a view instead of keeping yourself in a four cornered room. Do a ‘walking meeting’ in the fresh air with a few team members as you brainstorm; a relaxed environment may help your team come up with new ideas.

Tip 3. Keep The Focus On Others.

Make it a point to listen to each of your team’s ideas. One of the ideas thrown out may just be the one you are searching for. Listening to individual ideas will also allow you to identify those who do not share your goals. This can be a good opportunity to steer them in the right direction.

4. Employee Motivation (Improve Company’ Efficiency)

In close connection with relationship building, the ability to motivate your workforce is as important as keeping employee engagement high. One of the most effective leadership skills is knowing how to continuously motivate employees, regardless of their engagement level.

Greatify point to a study done by the firm Interact on 1000 employees in the US which cited that the number 1 complaint (63%) from employees concerning their managers is lack of appreciation, and, conversely, when managers appreciate their contribution, their engagement increases by 60%. In another study by Westminster College, it was found that boosting morale is the top (32%) motivational technique employees prefer. If employees are not motivated, the company is negatively affected (financially) with absenteeism, attrition and low productivity.

Practical Tip:

Announce Commendations.

Praise publicly but correct privately. Employees will definitely appreciate being acknowledged for the good work that they do, making your commendations public can boost employee engagement. This type of reward is sometimes preferred by some employees.

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5. Decision-Making (Produce The Best Results)

A leader is tasked with making decisions all the time. To be an effective leader, those decision making skills need to be top notch. Critical decisions affecting your organization on a large scale need to be sound, rational and solid.

In reality, your decisions as a leader will determine your - and potentially your organization’s - success. You need to stand by your decisions and be confident in them to convince the people involved affected by the process. Making an unpopular but necessary decision is probably one of the most difficult tasks as a manager, but it is, and will always be, part of an executive’s job description.

Practical Tips:

Tip 1. Define Your Values.

Identify your personal and organizational values. What work ethics do you live by? And what are the organization’s core values that convinced you to work for them?

Tip 2. Understand Your Organization’s Values.

Understand the values that your organization stands for. It is imperative that you accept them because the basis of all your business decisions should adhere to these values. Make sure that the values are represented in all aspects of the company.

Tip 3. Study Both Your Personal & Organizational Values Closely.

Look at your personal values alongside the organizational values. What are the similarities/differences? What adjustments do you need to make to your own values to be aligned with those of your organization? It will make your work-life much more comfortable the closer your values are aligned with that of your organization.

Tip 4. Apply Both Values In Your Decision Making Process.

Once you understand how your own values intertwine with your organization, you will be able to incorporate both sets of values in your decision making process. You will be better guided when high stress situations arise as you know what the non-negotiable items are for yourself and your organization.

6. Conflict Management (Be A Wise Counsel)

According to the American Management Association a manager spends an at least 24% of their time managing conflict. Conflict can happen in many areas of business. A conflict is considered to be any issue between two or more individuals that can potentially disrupt work. Conflict in business may go beyond the workplace as it can involve customers, suppliers and even competitors.

When a conflict arises, an effective leader should be able to jump in and resolve or at least mitigate the conflict before it affects the business negatively. When properly dealt with, a conflict may even turn out to be positive for your organization.

Effective leadership means you should be good at identifying conflict, and have foresight on how to resolve it. It is also essential to be very rational when faced with confrontation. Conflict management is no doubt one of the most important leadership competencies but Robyn Short cited a study that found 60% of U.S. employees have not received any conflict management skills training. Are you trained to face conflict in the workplace?


Understand One Another.

Know what each member’s personality is. How each is motivated or demotivated. What leadership style they respond to best in relation to their cultural and social backgrounds. Seek assistance from your human resources department to provide you with personality tests that will help you better understand your team.

7. Negotiation (Win The Game)

Negotiation is a process where two parties with different ideals get together and mutually agree on what an outcome should be. According to Skills You Need, the process of negotiation involves 6 stages: (1) Preparation, (2) Discussion, (3) Clarification of goals, (4) Negotiation towards a Win-Win outcome, (5) Agreement, (6) Implementation of a course of action. Good negotiations can be beneficial to an organization because they will build better relationships. They will also help find the best long-term solution by getting the most out of two different sides. An effective leader must be well versed in his negotiation style to move an organization forward.

Practical Tips:

Tip 1. Be The Leader They Can Trust.

Build trust among your team and be someone they know they can trust. Even when a negotiation does not turn out to be agreeable to one of the parties, if the parties involved trust the negotiator, it will be easier for them to accept the outcome whether it is in their favor or not.

Tip 2. Be Democratic.

Giving options to choose from makes it easier for your team members to make decisions. They will also feel empowered because they were given a choice and not just told what to do.

Tip 3. Be Silent About Your Sacrifices.

Don’t reveal that you have the weakest hand. Keep a straight face and show that you mean business. The other party will not be able to use your weakness to win the negotiation.

What these core skills mean for your business

Core leadership skills & What they mean for your business

All of the above mentioned core leadership and management skills make an effective leader who can help lead an organization to future success. But it is necessary for the organization to provide training programs to support their leaders in gaining those much-needed leadership competencies.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Leadership Development Study, 71% of organizations acknowledge that their leaders were “not ready to lead their organizations into the future”. The lack of confidence by organizations in their talent pool leads them to meet immediate employment needs by hiring externally.

Developing internal training programs can take time and be costly, but there are existing training programs that exist that are proven to be effective by distinguished companies. Explore IMD’s leadership training programs to learn the effective leadership skills your organization needs.

For seasoned managers who need more in-depth leadership training, discover how IMD’s High Performance Leadership program can help you be the effective leader your organization needs to bring them further into the future.

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