Building the skills to lead confidently and competently in an ever-changing business world

Whether you’re stepping into your first managerial role, or a seasoned leader adapting your skillset to match the ever-changing world of work, understanding yourself as a manager, what makes your team tick, and how to build successful professional relationships are vital skills to master when stepping into a leadership position. People strategy isn’t just a buzzword – it’s a vital component for business success.

As the world of business has advanced through decades of digital transformation, hybrid working models, advanced commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion, there is no longer room for a ‘one size fits all’ approach to leadership and management. Adaptability and a commitment to ongoing professional development continues to be the key to leadership success.

Effective leaders prioritise investing sufficient time and energy into both developing themselves and their team, but what are other key qualities which leaders should add to their toolkit?


Meeting the individual needs of your team members

Humans are complex by nature, with no two people being the same. Similar can be said about everyone’s individual management preferences, and what they deem as key elements in order to feel happy in the workplace and perform to the best of their ability.

Whether you’re managing a person who is looking to progress up the career ladder to reach senior positions, someone looking to broaden their skillset in a range of new business areas, or perhaps a team member who is content within their role and wants to maintain their performance, it’s important to understand everyone’s motivations and goals within their career.

By listening to feedback, providing clear meaning and direction, and ensuring those you manage feel valued within their role, you will be able to create job security and provide a healthy work environment for your direct reports.


Building trust through informal and positive interactions

Studies have shown that when employees feel they can trust their managers, productivity and wellbeing increases within the workplace.

Although hybrid working comes with many benefits, it has also caused several drawbacks including a decrease in the so-called ‘water-cooler conversations’ – the informal, friendly interactions we have with colleagues whilst passing them in the corridor or meeting in the lunchroom.

The more positive, social interactions you have with your direct reports, the more they are likely to feel comfortable and trusting towards you, boosting their morale, sense of well-being and belonging within their role.


Understanding that you’re going to make mistakes

A common misconception of being a leader is the expectation that you should have all the answers to every question, right from the beginning. But the reality of becoming a manager for the first time is that you will face a very steep learning curve.

Looking to others for advice and learning from their expertise is paramount to becoming an effective leader.

Listening, learning, and absorbing the knowledge, experience, and support from successful managers around you will help you to learn from their previous challenges and implement best practice leadership techniques into your own management style. 


Managing difficult conversations and conflict

Nobody enjoys having difficult conversations, especially in the workplace, but unfortunately, it is almost certain that every manager will come across them at some point in their career. Knowing how to manage and address these interactions is a complex but vital skill to master when becoming an effective and respected leader.

By keeping an open and honest dialogue between you and your direct reports, and dealing with conflicts quickly, problems can be resolved efficiently without allowing them to linger and worsen over time.


Discovering your own leadership style and focusing on professional development

Recognising and exploring your own leadership style is a vital part of delivering effective leadership. Acknowledging your own leadership tendencies and investing time in continuous improvement not only supports impactful personal development, but it also creates a positive work environment which highlights your commitment to adapt with changing circumstances in a fast-paced business landscape.

By observing how you respond to success and failure, and understanding how to regulate interpersonal emotions, this will help to heighten your self-awareness as a leader, supporting you to achieve positive outcomes for yourself, your team, and the overall business.


Final thoughts

Many believe that leaders are born, not made. However, with a focus on investing sufficient time towards developing key skills that empower yourself and those around you to make informed decisions and perform to their highest ability, leaders can be born from hard work and commitment alone.

About the Author
Professor Robin Martin

Professor of Organisational Psychology and Programme Director
Alliance Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester

With over 30 years of dedicated research in the field of leadership, Professor Robin Martin serves as a distinguished figure in Organisational Psychology and holds the position of Programme Director at Alliance Manchester Business School. His illustrious career includes tenures at renowned institutions such as the Universities of Aston, Queensland, Cardiff, Swansea, and Sheffield.

Robin’s expertise spans a diverse range of topics within Organisational Behaviour, encompassing work motivation, team dynamics, leadership, and organisational change. His prolific contributions include the publication of over 125 papers in books and esteemed scientific journals. As a sought-after keynote speaker, he has graced numerous international events, sharing insights and shaping dialogues in the realm of leadership.

Beyond academia, Robin leverages his extensive knowledge and experience to make a tangible impact in the corporate world. He has designed and delivered leadership development courses for over 140 organizations worldwide. Notable clients include industry leaders such as Audi, BAE Systems, Bentley, BUPA, Royal Mail, Sellafield, and T-systems.

Robin’s commitment to advancing the understanding of leadership, coupled with his practical contributions to organizational development, underscores his position as a thought leader and influencer in the field. His passion for teaching, research, and consultancy continues to leave an indelible mark on both academic and corporate landscapes.

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