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The 6 Essential Skills Every Leader Should Master

The success of a thriving team or company lies (in large part) in the hands of its leader. In addition to guiding a team, offering feedback, mentorship, and what many refer to as ‘soft skills’, there are critical and core ‘technical’ skills leaders require. These are strategic thinking, decision-making, stakeholder management, communication, data visualization, and presentation building. Of course, every role calls for its unique set of skills and from where we sit, these skills are the common denominator; the core competencies leaders need to, well, lead.

In this article, we unpack these skills and share more about why we believe they are essential for leaders to master.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking is the continuous generation and application of unique insights and opportunities intended to create a competitive advantage for a firm or organization. This iterative process begins with defining an objective and leads to tangible implementation, ultimately resulting in valuable insights. Strategic thinking is a skill that requires the integration of other important qualities, such as a commitment to continuous learning and a willingness to seek advice from others.

According to Forbes, strategic thinkers are the most effective leaders. These are the leaders who think longer-term, and zoom our to see the bigger-picture. ​​ Leaders who possess the ability to think strategically and analyze situations with a discerning eye can create a competitive advantage for their organization.

Steve Jobs is a great example of a strategic leader and thinker. His focus on customer service, ease of use, and simplicity was key to establishing Apple as key player in the emerging consumer electronics sector. When he returned to the company in 1996, Jobs refocused the strategy on consumer experience and product innovation, which ultimately led to the introduction of successful products (think the iPod) and turned Apple around from a struggling company to a tech giant within 10 years.


On average, adults make around 35,000 decisions every day, but only 5% of them require active thinking. To ensure that those 5% are well-made decisions, leaders have to gather relevant information, evaluate options, and make sound judgments. Good decision-makers rely on tools such as mental models to guide the process, and facilitate effective decision-making.

Bad decisions by otherwise good leaders led to dire consequences in the past. Take Napoleon for example; he chose to invade Russia, grossly underestimating the challenges of the harsh Russian winter. This led to disastrous consequences for his army and marked a turning point in his military campaigns.

Stakeholder Management

Research shows that stakeholder engagement can drive the success of a project by up to 64%. That's no small figure and for a good reason; managing and engaging stakeholders enables you to build a network of sponsors, thinking partners, and resource-sharing. Managing stakeholders is all about understanding, engaging, and addressing the needs and concerns of stakeholders, which in turn builds trust, fosters collaboration, and ensures support for the successful implementation of their vision and initiatives.

When stakeholders aren't engaged, leaders are more likely to encounter risks and conflicts that can derail your projects. But by taking the time to build relationships with your stakeholders and align everyone's interests, you can reduce these risks by up to 40%.

One resource we love to reference when covering the topic of stakeholder management in our leadership training program is Adam Grant's Book Give & Take. In this book, he outlines how 'givers' are typically: more trusted and respected, happier, healthier, and 25% more likely to get promoted over 'takers'.

To help you think about this in action, ask yourself: what gifts will you give your stakeholders this week?

Effective Communication

85% of your success in both business and life is the result of effective communication. When leaders clearly and concisely communicate their vision, goals, and expectations, it inspires and motivates their teams, and when leaders actively listen and show empathy in their communication, it creates a collaborative environment where ideas can flow freely, problems can be addressed, and feedback is valued.

Let's take a look at one leader whose exceptional communication skills were instrumental in shaping PepsiCo's corporate culture and strategic direction. Indra Nooyi had a remarkable ability to articulate her vision and mission for the company, inspiring employees and stakeholders alike. Her clear and compelling communication style fostered a shared sense of purpose among PepsiCo's workforce, driving innovation and strong business performance. Additionally, Nooyi's communication skills helped in building strong relationships with investors, customers, and partners, bolstering PepsiCo's reputation and positioning the company as a global leader in the food and beverage industry.

Data Visualization

65% of people are visual learners, and with so much data around us, visualizing information in a clear, compelling, and honest way has never been more important for leaders. Whether it is KPIs from a performance report, industry trends, an internal employee engagement survey, or a key fact in a keynote, leaders have no shortage of data points to visualize. Beyond the data points, leaders interpret and present their commentary on trends, patterns or relationships, extracting insights and opportunities from the facts and figures. By transforming raw data into meaningful, visual representations leaders facilitate informed decision-making, inspire action, and improve organizational performance. Book a session with our consultants to explore how we can help you and your team enhance data visualization skills and drive informed decision-making.

Presentation Building

People are 22x more likely to remember a fact when it has been waved into a story. This makes building impactful presentations one of the most critical skills for a leader today. It is what enables them to engage, influence, and inspire their audience. Great presentations are all about storytelling and using eye-catching visuals, and keeping messages concise. By doing so, key information can be delivered in a way that engages the audience and generates support for initiatives and projects. Plus, studies show that 91% of presenters feel more confident presenting supported with a well-designed slide deck.

In 2008, Airbnb raised $600k when pitching their idea. This success was attributed to their presentation and the fact that it was clear and effective in communicating the company's goals, potential, and competitive strengths.

We're here to help you

Organizations with high performing leadership teams are 2x more likely to have above average financial performance. These six critical skills, when combined, come together to drive that high performance and that's where we can help.

If you're looking to enhance your leadership skills or develop a bespoke leadership development program for your organization, book a 1-on-1 consultation with us. We’d love to help!


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