What are leadership skills?
Leadership skills are a collection of strengths and abilities that, when applied together, allow an individual to effectively lead others in the pursuit of a common goal. In a workplace setting, that could mean anything from leading a small team to heading up a global organization.
Regardless of the level of leadership, those core strengths and abilities remain the same - and they are many. A strong leader must be confident, trustworthy and reliable. They must be a good communicator with the talent to inspire and motivate, and they must be able to spot and nurture potential in others.
Some of the most important leadership skills to look out for in the recruitment process include:
- Organization and strategic time management
- Honesty, integrity and accountability
- Delegation and people management
- Conflict resolution
- Constructive feedback
- Creative problem solving and decision making
Whatever role you’re hiring for, be it a leadership position or not, a candidate with strong leadership skills can bring many benefits to your organization.
How do great leadership skills make an employee more effective?
An employee does not have to be in a position of authority to put great leadership skills to good use. In fact, a natural-born leader will demonstrate these strengths at any level of employment.
Whilst it’s impossible to give an exhaustive list in this article, here are some of the key ways those with great leadership skills are more effective in the workplace.
1. They create a productive environment
Strong leaders are able to organize, delegate and motivate others in a collective effort. They have a talent for spotting the strengths and weaknesses within a team, work to ensure tasks are assigned to those most capable, and that all necessary resources are made available.
This creates an environment of maximum productivity, which means increased innovation, output and profit for your organization.
2. They help instill core values
Every business is built on a set of core values that are instilled from the top down. These values typically include things like respect, integrity and a strong work ethic, which all employees must share for that business to be successful.
Those with strong leadership skills understand these values and lead by example, demonstrating the required attributes on a daily basis and so inspiring others to do the same.
3. They encourage and help others to succeed
Strong leaders are naturally inclined to support those around them, often taking the role of mentor even if not in a leadership position. They’re quick to identify a coworker's strengths and are more than happy to offer guidance and encouragement.
When you employ those with great leadership skills, you build a supportive workforce that collaborates to reach its full potential.
4. They promote a culture of purpose
Effective leaders understand a company's direction and the steps it needs to take to reach its goals. They also share this understanding with those around them to ensure every employee feels part of the process.
This promotes a culture of purpose, where everyone has a key role to play and feels inspired to achieve business objectives.
What jobs benefit the most from great leadership skills?
It goes without saying that strong leadership skills are an absolute must when hiring for any senior or executive-level management role. Those employed in these positions are responsible for leading an organization as a whole, so must have a proven track record for effective leadership.
Leadership skills are also essential lower down the management hierarchy. Anyone in a position of authority must be able to lead their team effectively, no matter its size or purpose. For example:
Less obvious roles where leadership skills should be considered essential are those that involve inspiring others, like teachers, or those that require assertive people management in challenging situations, like police officers for example.
Whatever role you’re recruiting for, there’s value to be had in considering leadership potential in your hiring decision. Great leadership skills lend themselves to pretty much any job that requires working in a team environment, and those that have them are a future investment for your business.
How to hire for great leadership skills
The strengths and abilities required for effective leadership are known as soft skills and are typically the hardest thing to assess in the recruitment process. Unlike technical skills they cannot be proven through qualifications, nor can they be taken as a given based on experience alone.
To measure leadership skills, hiring managers should adopt recruitment techniques that allow for practical assessment and first-hand insight so they can shortlist candidates effectively and avoid the costly consequences of a bad hire.
Use a leadership skills test
A leadership skills test is the most effective way to assess candidates on this skill set at scale. These situational judgment tests take a practical approach to skills evaluation by asking each applicant to respond to a series of hypothetical scenarios commonly encountered by leaders in the workplace.
The questions posed look at strengths in delegation, prioritization, decision making, communication and accountability, among other things.
Thanks to its scientific design, what a leadership skills test gives you is a real world view of a candidate’s potential. It also offers objective data so you can make well-informed shortlisting decisions free from bias.
Once you have a list of applicants that meet your benchmark for leadership ability, you can dig deeper into their experience on a more personal level.
Make relevant reference checks
Reference checks are an often overlooked opportunity to learn more about an applicant's soft skills. Instead of using them simply to verify employment history (and perhaps ask generic questions around things like reliability and punctuality), make them relevant to leadership potential.
Ask for contacts that can give you an informed opinion - i.e. those that have worked directly with the candidate in question - and try to speak with them personally rather than via email, as an open conversation will be far more insightful.
Questions you may consider asking a referee in relation to leadership skills include:
- Can you give me an example of a time the employee contributed to company growth? What role did they play in this?
- How would you describe the employee’s involvement when working as part of a team?
- Can you give an example of when the employee supported a colleague in their development?
Ask structured interview questions
There’s nothing wrong with unstructured interviews. In fact, they can be a great way to really explore a candidate’s motivations, aspirations and personality. However, when it comes to assessing leadership skills, behaviorally focused interview questions work best.
This structured approach asks a candidate to describe a situation in which they applied their leadership skills to achieve a positive outcome.
They should clearly explain the circumstances, their own actions and why they took them, how this impacted those involved and the resulting outcome. If the candidate has true promise, it should be clear from their response that they understand what constitutes effective leadership and how their personal strengths facilitate this.
Here’s an example of a behaviorally focused interview question relating to leadership skills:
“Describe a time when you were trying to help a team member or colleague learn something in an area of your expertise. How did you approach their development?”
How testing for leadership skills can benefit your company's hiring process
Recruitment is a time-consuming and costly process, particularly when it ends in a bad hire. If a candidate that appears perfect on paper proves otherwise in the real world it puts you right back to square one in the hiring cycle, so it’s vital that every potential hire is thoroughly vetted for essential skills.
With a leadership skills test, you get the insight you need to shortlist only those that have real potential. Combine this with reference checks and structured interviews and you have all the evidence you need to make the right hiring decision first time round.