10 Critical Skills For Today’s Leader

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With this month celebrating both International Women’s Day and World Leadership Day we thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the critical leadership skills today’s modern leader requires in their ‘toolbox’; regardless of gender! 

Leaders have always faced challenges, including competition, supply and demand, cash flow versus profit, underperforming teams, patent expiry and much more. However the world is changing, and we live in a time full of complexity that throws up even more problems for leaders today. 

To name just a few: technology, the impact of A.I., a millennial workforce with different motivations and drivers, the gig economy and working with virtual teams who live in different cultures and time zones. 

So, what are the critical skills leader needs today? 

1. Business Acumen

A couple of weeks ago I watched a programme on TV called My Million Pound Menu which is in a similar vein to Dragons’ Den, only for ambitious chefs, i.e. a pitch to investors for funding. 

One particular business had a trendy idea for a chicken restaurant. They had asked for a little over half a million pounds to open two restaurants in London, which seems little ambitious on budgets for a start. 

One of the potential investors questioned them on their staff budgets. They had missed out a whole tier of management and embarrassingly on their cash flow forecasts had forgotten to factor in VAT, so all their figures were 20% off! 

Though these are obvious faux pas that I am sure no one reading this would ever make. They do illustrate the point that thorough grasp of numbers, and what is required financially for stable growth, is imperative. 

2. Communication Skills

Here at Excel, our first programmes over 35 years ago, were How to Present and Social Stylesboth  based on the fundamental skill of how we communicate. 

This skill is as critical today as it was then. Please take note – great leaders are great communicators. 

This skill is so obvious I won’t go on and if you want to know what great communication is, we can help! 

3. Trustworthiness

Successful leaders today embrace integrity. When leaders are trusted, great things happen. If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s book The Speed of Trust from cover to cover, at least once, I strongly suggest after reading this post that you head over to Amazon and grab yourself a copy. 

Trust will be pivotal for all organisations as they move forward.

4. Agility

The idea of ‘agile’ working is now spreading beyond IT departments and across organisations, because software and technology have become such a critical business driver. 

Our external environment is in a process of constant change. Therefore, we need to be both agile and flexible in how we respond to both organisational and client needs. 

I wrote an article on agile leadership that you can read here. 


5. The Ability To Solve Problems 

Problemsolving is Business 101. 

The best companies solve problems for their clients and the best leaders solve problems at work. As complexity increases, so do the problems we have to understand and then resolve. 

You only have to look at Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to understand the massive value these two individuals have given to people across the globe by simply solving a problem for us. 

At the end of Steve Jobs, the film based on his life story, his daughter is walking to her car with a Walkman and various CDs, and this is when he utters the immortal words that he will create everything in one device for her, and as they say, the rest is history. 

6. Become Resilient

A.I. and a changing workforce are just a couple of challenges for leaders today. The dictionary definition of resilience is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. 

I think the Oxford English Dictionary has hit this one on the head! 

Being resilient means different things to different people. For some, its creating that supertough exterior; for others it’s about being vulnerable and feeling the blow of a decision that doesn’t go your way and getting on with the task anyway. 

Whichever works for you is fineand as a leader, you will be thrown many challengesSo, build your resilience muscle whatever you do. 

7. Delegating

Great leaders delegate, poor leaders don’t. It’s a sad fact that this might still be happening somewhere in your organisation. 

We have written many times over the last few years about the power of delegation on the Excel blog, here and here. 

Its something many leaders still find a challenge, and yet if you want your team to step up and step out, it’s a critical skill to develop. 

8. Be Inspirational 

I debated if should label this skill as motivational instead. 

I settled on being inspirational as I think this encompasses what our teams are looking for in a leader today. 

Being inspirational covers many traits, including having a positive approach and stimulating your team to act and improve. 

Motivation tends to be fleeting, whereas inspiration lasts much longer.

9. Always Be Learning 

Change is the only constant. We even had this as a theme for one of our leadership webinars last year. 

If change is a constant, how do you plan to continue growing as an individual who is fit and ready to leverage the change going on around you? 

A strategy that is easy to deploy is to ‘always be learning’ as you stimulate your growth mindset. 

10. Be Authentic

I have saved one of my favourites until last. 

Authenticity is the hallmark of today’s successful leader. Head over to TED and listen to some of the world’s greatest experts talk on the subject of leadership, and authenticity will feature highly. 

Authentic leadership is an approach that embodies honesty in thought, word and deed. 

An authentic leader is both positive and open; not always the easiest traits to master. 

The big upside of authentic leaders is that they can improve their own, individual and team performance. 

So, do you agree with my ten suggestions? Have I missed any skills you would have included in your top ten 


Rachel Hewitt-Hall 

Managing Director 

About Excel Communications  

Excel Communications has a 30+ year history as a global leadership and communication skills company providing training and development to organisations across the globe, view our case studies here. 

We have a team of expert trainers delivering programmes across four continents in multiple languages. Call us now on +44 (0) 1628 488 854. 


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