The Ultimate Guide to Leadership Success

Why you need to develop your leadership skills

Someone got the promotion that you thought was yours.

Another person was given a raise and you were passed over.

Are you starting to realize something needs to change?

Maybe you aspire to be in a leadership position, but you know you don’t have the skills – yet.

Have you served under a leader that was just plain bad and impossible to learn from?

You’re not alone and you’re not without hope!

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • How to build your leadership potential.
  • From bad leaders and great leaders.
  • The best ways to negotiate.
  • How to delegate work.
  • How to be intentional about your executive presence.
  • How to lead with confidence.
  • How to be an effective listener.
  • How to develop better relationships with your team.

Let’s dive in.


Table of Contents
1. Great Leadership In Action
2. Leadership Potential Building Blocks
3. Lessons From Poor Leadership
4. Negotiation
5. Delegation
6. Executive Presence
7. Leading With Confidence
8. How to Be an Effective Listener
9. How to Develop Better Relationships With Your Team


1. Great Leadership In Action

There’s a lot you can learn from poor leadership.

However, examples of great leadership also provide significant insight into what it takes to drive the direction of your organization, department or team.

Being an exceptional leader is a necessary element of your professional growth.

Plus, it’s one of the best ways to get yourself noticed by the boss.

Leadership aptitude comes naturally to some people.

If you don’t fall into that category, don’t worry – leadership is a skill that can be learned.

Here are six career leadership principles that anyone striving to be an excellent leader should know.

A. Choose leadership

In other words, act like your own CEO. Your title doesn’t dictate your value. But the choice to make a difference in the work you do is what makes you a leader.

You may not be in a leadership position now, but you can choose to develop necessary skills, build collaborative relationships and position your work to have a broader impact on others.

B. Be a visionary

No matter the size of your team – 1 or 100 – you are more effective when you are able to see beyond what’s right in front of you. Start with the end state in mind. Look for the blind spots so you can avoid pitfalls.

Always have a clear definition of what success will look like and what qualities you and your team will need to achieve those goals.

C. Learn to listen

Leadership is not a one-way conversation.

It’s vitally important that your team feels that they’re heard and that they have a voice.

It’s not always the most valued characteristic of a leader – but it should be!

Listen for understanding. Listen for collaboration. Listen to establish the respect to be heard.

D. Share

Building an atmosphere of teamwork is a vital component to reaching your common goals.

As a leader, you should be sharing the journey with your team. Remember that you’re all in it together.

If a person feels like you’re not communicating with them well or that the direction isn’t clear, He or She will quickly become disengaged. You’ve lost that team member’s investment in your success.

E. Aim for simplicity

A good leader has the ability to keep things simple.

There’s no reason to make your job more complicated than it needs to be.

Strive to have the reputation of someone who is easy to work with and simple to understand.

For example, when you’re introducing a new project, provide detailed steps for your team to follow and make each task as simple as possible to execute.

This ensures productivity and an excellent end result.

F. Be an innovator

What works today won’t work forever. A great leader understands that and is constantly adjusting and adapting to keep up with the ever-changing trends in their industry.

The skills that your team needs right now won’t be the same five years down the road. Innovation has to be a core value to remain relevant.

As a good leader, you should always be asking “What if?” and “What’s next?”

With innovation comes the ability to negotiate. Whether it’s ideas, influence, resources, or time, an important component of your leadership growth will be your ability to be an effective negotiator.


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2. Leadership Potential Building Blocks

You don’t have to be in a position of leadership currently to start building your “leader resume.”

Start laying the groundwork now for the job responsibilities you’d like to have in the future.

The characteristics of a good leader will also make you better in your current role.

Your colleagues, associates and even managers will begin to look up to you as you develop these important characteristics.

Here are the leadership qualities you should be building – no matter where you are right now.

A. Emotional maturity

It’s a misconception that you have to have a Mensa-level IQ to be a great leader.

Of course, intelligence is important but so is emotional strength.

A leader who’s emotionally healthy knows that she won’t always have all the answers, but that she needs to search until she finds them.

As you strive to improve your leadership skills, you have to be aware of your emotional IQ. Be ready to listen, learn, grow, and be committed to innovation.

Your work environment will probably grow even more stressful as you advance. This is when emotional maturity is a vital quality for you to possess.

B. Growth potential

A great leader understands his weaknesses and is constantly challenging himself to overcome them.

Being self-aware is a valuable characteristic for you to have as you’re preparing for a leadership position.

How do you react when you’re faced with criticism? Do setbacks derail you?

As your leadership skills mature, you’ll find that you’re becoming more of a team player.

You’ll have the drive to keep working on your professional development so you can be a better communicator and to be more productive.

C. The support component

The way your colleagues see you is one of the factors of your leadership potential.

You have two choices:

  • Intimidate your coworkers into agreeing with the way you want to do things.
  • Encourage everyone to share their ideas and come to a solution that’s a general consensus of everyone’s suggestions.

It’s a critical skill to let other people shine for their wins, as opposed to taking the credit for yourself.

How do you handle others’ mistakes?

If you don’t offer constructive criticism and instead embarrass people for their missteps or for not agreeing with you, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

These interactions are indicators of what kind of a leader you will be.

Make sure your attitudes and choices line up with who you want to be – now and in future leadership positions.

D. Resourcefulness

Great leaders know how to ask for help when they need it.

They build relationships with the people who can help you develop your skills or who can assist you in putting together a stellar team.

You can also be a resourceful leader by staying up-to-date on the latest tools and techniques available.

Anytime you can streamline your processes, you’re being a benefit to your organization.

E. Confident decision-making

It’s no secret that leaders are frequently tasked with making decisions that affect their team and/or the entire organization.

Not only do you need to know how to make smart decisions, you also need to be able to assess the impact those choices have.

A mentor is a valuable resource. She can help you evaluate your choices and give pointers on how to make better ones in the future.

Start developing your leadership skills now – wherever you are – so that you’ll be ready for an opportunity for advancement when it comes.

You’ll also be more productive to your team and a benefit to your organization.

3. Lessons From Poor Leadership

It seems like a no-brainer to learn from leaders who are considered “great.”

The truth is, you can learn just as much – if not more – from leaders who aren’t really all that good.

Working under a bad boss gives you the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and sharpen your own leadership skills.

A. Flexibility

You’ve probably experienced a boss who wasn’t good at adapting to different styles and personalities.

She was most likely a tyrant.

A great leader knows how to channel the strengths and weaknesses of his employees.

B. Gratitude

An ungrateful attitude can be spotted a mile away.

It doesn’t do anything to boost the morale of the workplace and sets a bad example and tone for everyone.

C. Humility

Great leaders leave their ego out of the office.

Showing respect to each person should be high on your list if you’re striving to be the best leader you can be.

D. Calmness

Have you ever experienced the wrath of a boss who loses his cool over something small?

It’s not fun. A leader who can handle issues – big or small – will quickly earn the respect of everyone around her.

E. Forgiveness

Holding a grudge isn’t a mark of maturity.

To be a great leader, you have to understand that everyone will make mistakes, know how to address the situation and let it go.

F. Mediation

Seeking out a solution that works for two people in conflict is a necessary quality for anyone who leads others.

Situations can quickly get out of hand when there’s no strong voice of reason to bring the parties together in compromise.

G. Networking

Nothing bonds people together like working under a harsh boss.

A difficult work environment can cause employees to make connections with each other that they may not have made otherwise.

You just might spark a relationship that furthers your career down the road.

H. Listening

If new ideas are constantly stifled, there’s no room for growth and creativity.

Everyone should know that their voices are being heard and that they have a seat at the table.

As a leader, you should be encouraging each member of your team to contribute their ideas for the greater good of your organization.

I. Resiliency

You have to roll with the punches or you’ll be in a constant state of mental upheaval.

This is true for everyone, no matter their role in an organization.

J. Perspective

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a crucial component of being a great leader.

A one-sided point of view isn’t helpful for anyone.

A leader with a well-rounded vision will be able to approach any situation with wisdom.

4. Negotiation

Negotiation is a powerful leadership skill. When you’re negotiating, you’re bringing your influence to the table to advocate for your value.

You put your skill and knowledge together to arrive at a solution that’s favorable to both parties.

Even if you’re not in the leadership position you desire yet, it’s still a good idea to hone your negotiating skills.

Here’s how.

A. Know how to ask for what you want

It’s not often that awesome possibilities fall right into your lap.

Much of the time, you have to take the initiative to get the process started. You have to ask for what you want.

B. Be ready to compromise

Before going into negotiations, you have to have a clear idea of how far you’re willing to go.

What are you okay with giving up to reach your goal?

Where is the line from which you won’t budge?

C. Establish credibility

It’s important that you show your value before you begin to negotiate.

Always come to a negotiation from a position of strength. Know the value of your contribution. It gives you a better jumping off point with which to start negotiating.

D. Go for the win-win

Of course, your ultimate goal is to come out of a negotiation with both sides feeling like they won.

Follow these tips while you’re in the midst of the negotiating process to successfully make it to the other side:

  • Ask for more to get what you really want. Think about it – you can’t really go back to the bargaining table to ask for more if you don’t get what you want the first time. The more you get, the more you can do!
  • Always have a Plan B. And even a Plan C. A great leader is a great contingency planner. Make sure that you have back-ups for your back-ups. So no matter what you walk away from the table with, it’s still moving you forward.
  • Create an unexpected benefit.  You will always improve your odds in a negotiation by offering an intangible benefit that increases the value of what you are negotiating for. Find ways to show you are giving more than what you expect to get.  

As you build your negotiating skills, you’re also improving as a leader or future leader.

Along with the ability to negotiate, a great leader needs to know when to pass the reins off to someone else, whether it’s negotiations or other tasks.

5. Delegation

Passing off some of the workload isn’t a sign that you’re a failure for not handling it on your own.

Of course, the truth is, you can’t handle it all by yourself.

Actually, delegating is one of the most important ways to let the higher-ups see you as someone who can successfully manage work, people and time. It’s how you establish credibility.

Great leaders delegate!

The problem is, it’s difficult to hand over control to other people.

It can even seem like a little more work at first, when you’re learning to delegate.

You may feel like everything takes twice as long and that you could just do it yourself more quickly.

But it’s a necessary skill for you to learn so you can free up time for higher-level tasks to demonstrate higher-level value.

Plus, there are some great benefits to learning how to delegate well.

A. It’s great for your reputation.

Consider this example: Your job is to develop marketing strategies, but you don’t have time to do everything.

Delegating tasks that are keeping you from accomplishing your objectives frees you up to do what you need to do.

You can be more productive and put your best efforts into creating strategies and processes that will benefit your whole team.

B. Your team will grow new skills.

Giving your team members some room to fly will build their confidence in what they can achieve, which makes it more likely that they’ll stay around.

The more that they do, the better they’ll feel about themselves and the more productive the team will be as a whole.

It can be difficult to know when you should hang on to a task and when it should be given over to someone else.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you figure out when to delegate.

  • Is the task one that’s important for you to do, personally?
  • Does someone else have the skills to perform the task?
  • Will a team member be building valuable skills by handling the job?
  • Is this a recurring task that can be delegated to the same person each time.
  • Do you have the time to pass off the task and still give enough direction and guidance?
  • By delegating the task, what will you now be able to accomplish?
  • What are the opportunities, risks or consequences that you anticipate from delegating the task?

Putting the right person on the job

Once you’ve decided to pull the trigger and delegate some of the work to others, you have to find the right person for the job.

There are several questions you can ask yourself when determining who should be doing what.

  • Does this person have the necessary skills to do the job well?
  • Is this person’s attitude appropriate for this type of work?
  • Do they work independently well?
  • Does the project line-up with this person’s professional goals?
  • Are there resources available to help them?
  • Does this person have the time to devote to the project?
  • Do you trust this person to complete the task?

Finding the best person to tackle a job is one of the most important aspects of delegating.

Once you’ve handed off some of the responsibility, your time is freed up to work on the strategies and ideas that will propel your organization forward.

6. Executive Presence

Another important facet of stellar leadership is the way you present yourself.

Having an “executive presence” means presenting yourself in the way you want to be perceived, in order to garner respect from others.

There are different factors working together that allow you to present yourself in a way that establishes your credibility and builds trust in you as a leader.

You definitely want to be conscious of your outward appearance and what it says about your future potential.

Here are the components that you need to consider when you’re developing your executive presence.

A. Dress for the job you want not the job you have

While clothes don’t make the man or the woman, the way you dress is the first and most visible impression that shapes your overall presence.

Think about where you want to go at the highest level of your career and dress for that job while serving your current role. It will send a signal to others about how you view yourself, the quality of your work, and the future value you seek to deliver to your organization.

While your clothing pays a big role, you also have to mentally “dress for success.”

Think about the way you carry yourself and the personal brand that you’re building.

Wherever you are in your career, you should always be forward-thinking, strategic, and exude confidence in your abilities.

For example, if leadership is one of your goals, start making decisions as if you were running your organization or team. Dress yourself as if you were the CEO and build relationships that resemble your personal board of advisors.

B. What is your style saying?

This kind of style involves the way you do things.

Blending in with the crowd is easy. But it won’t get you where you want to go.

You have to draw attention to yourself – in the best way possible so you can have greater visibility and influence to help others.

Part of your style is the way you make yourself stand out.

The way you perform your job tasks and how you interact with your coworkers are both key components of style.

For example, if you’re someone who doesn’t shy away from sharing your opinion on any topic, that trait becomes a part of your style or your personal brand.

Always be aware of what you’re communicating about yourself to those around you.

Be known for presenting yourself in a way that’s worthy of the leadership position for which you’re striving.

C. Character counts

The people around you will notice what you value.

Your actions should tell the story of you that you want to be told.

Make sure that what you do and the way you do it are accurate representations of your character and display what you value to everyone you come into contact with.

Whether you’re currently in a leadership role or your goal is to get there, people will be looking at your character.

D. Emphasize quality of work

You can be dressed well, be kind and helpful, and have flawless character, but you won’t get ahead if the quality of your performance isn’t up to par.

Your work has a voice, whether you realize it or not!

The quality of your work is a vital part of your executive presence.

For example, each time you send an email, text message or any other communication, make sure your grammar is impeccable and you haven’t made any typos.

Make it clear that you’re organized and on top of all aspects of job duties.

Great leaders have a hyper sensitivity to quality because details matter.

E. What is your online presence saying?

Your social media presence can be a good thing or a not-so-good thing for the advancement of your career.

What would happen if your boss, a colleague, or a prospective client Googled you?

Would they find questionable content or would they see an accurate representation of the executive presence and leadership characteristics that you’re trying to build?

It’s crucial that you’re mindful and intentional about each and every picture, status, quote or meme you post.

Before you hit “Enter,” ask yourself, “Is this worthy of the leadership role that I’m aspiring to?” or “Is this maintaining the executive presence that I’ve built as a leader?”

It’s your responsibility to make sure that people see you the way you want to be seen!

7. Leading With Confidence

Your desire to be a great leader begins with building your potential for management.

As you strive to embrace the principles that will make you someone who leads with excellence, don’t forget the lessons you can learn from the bad leadership you have witnessed or experienced.

Learn to delegate so that you have more time to work on the strategies that will be the most benefit to your organization.

Hone your negotiating skills and confidently represent your brand whenever you’re called to the bargaining table.

The way you view yourself as a leader matters; putting these principles into action will allow you to develop the executive presence that shows everyone around you that you’re a capable leader.

8. How to be an effective listener

Listening is one of the most powerful leadership skills that you can master as you grow your career.

While many leaders assume that people will listen to them because of their title, the most effective leaders are ones who engage in active listening with their teams.

Great leaders use active listening, which involves a balance of:

  • Listening to the other person’s contribution in a conversation, and
  • Offering your collaboration.

The process creates an ebb and flow that leads to more effective and accurate understanding.

Most people have a hard time putting aside the need to just listen to the other person. Instead, they focus more on listening to know how they will respond while the other person is talking (this is called defensive listening).

When this happens, you rob the conversation and the other person of the opportunity for full collaboration.

Great leaders listen and follow an active listening approach that includes:

  • What did I hear you say?
  • What did I listen for but not hear in the conversation?
  • What can I contribute to the discussion?
  • Here’s my response to what has been said.

Active listening creates respect and elevates your leadership effectiveness.

9. How to develop better relationships with your team

You can have a great title but be a bad boss.

Often the difference between a leader who thrives and a leader who falters is how well he or she has cultivated the trust, respect and relationships with team members.

Great leaders understand that the more you get to know your people – including who they are outside of work – the easier it is to function cohesively at work, especially when you’re working on challenging projects and high-pressure tasks.

To build greater relationships with your team, focus on these four critical dimensions:

  1. Health. Always be aware of your team members’ health and encourage them to take advantage of heath and wellness programs that may be offered by your company or that they can obtain on their own. If your employees are healthy they will be more productive.
  2. Wealth. If you’re the boss, you also direct the salary, raises and promotion activity for your team members. Be conscious of their financial goals and how they relate to their tenure in working for you. Be mindful of the opportunities that you give your team members to develop the skills that improve their ability to get promoted and achieve a higher salary level in their job.
  3. Family. The more you show appreciation for the family or support system behind your employees, the more loyal they become to you and the work you give them to do. Connecting to the family source makes you a relevant part of your team members’ source of inspiration, which helps to develop stronger levels of trust, respect, accountability and teaming.
  4. Dreams. Take time to understand the life goals of your team members – both their personal and professional aspirations. You will become an advocate, and it establishes a connection between the work that they do and how your leadership helps them to achieve broader goals they have for themselves and their family.  

Following these steps can help you become an effective leader, no matter your level. With good (and bad) examples of leaders to learn from, developing negotiation and delegation skills, leading with confidence, becoming an effective listener, and more, you’re guaranteed leadership success.