10.3 Developing Your Leadership Skills

As we’ve already learned, leaders share traits, successful leaders are not simply “born leaders” – they develop and refine leadership skills and behaviors. Since much of leadership is skill and behavior based, it is never too early to start developing yourself as a leader. Whether you are planning to start your first career path fresh out of college, you’ve returned to college in order to switch career paths, or you’re in college to help you advance more quickly in your current career path, you should have already been working on your leadership skills for years; it’s not something you want to start your first day on the new job. Since leaders must be able to draw from a wealth of personal experience in order to solve problems, relate to others, and motivate others to achieve a task, you should start to seek out leadership positions in school and/or community groups.

Since you may not yet be sure of your exact career path, try to get a variety of positions over a few years that are generally transferrable to professional contexts. In these roles, work on building a reputation as an ethical leader and as a leader who takes responsibility. Once you’re in your career path, you can draw on this previous leadership experience and volunteer or step up when the need arises, which can help you get noticed Hopefully, your previous leadership experience will give you confidence that your group members will notice. People are attracted to confidence and want to follow people who exhibit it. Aside from confidence, good leaders also develop dynamism, which is a set of communication behaviors that conveys enthusiasm and creates an energetic and positive climate. Once confidence and dynamism have attracted a good team of people, good leaders facilitate quality interaction among group members, build cohesion, and capitalize on the synergy of group communication in order to come up with forward-thinking solutions to problems.

Good leaders also continue to build skills in order to become better leaders. Leaders are excellent observers of human behavior and are able to assess situations using contextual clues and nonverbal communication. They can then use this knowledge to adapt their communication to the situation. Leaders also have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which allows them to better sense, understand, and respond to others’ emotions and to have more control over their own displays of emotions. Last, good leaders further their careers by being reflexive and regularly evaluating their strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Since our perceptions are often skewed, it’s also good to have colleagues and mentors/supervisors give you formal evaluations of your job performance, making explicit comments about leadership behaviors. As you can see, the work of a leader only grows more complex as one moves further along a career path. But with the skills gained through many years of increasingly challenging leadership roles, a leader can adapt to and manage this increasing complexity.

Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo, USA; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2008, captured during the session 'Message from Davos: Believing in the Future' at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2008.
The former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, often appears on a list of the world’s most powerful women. She is a leader who demonstrates passion for her vision and energizes those around her. Image: World Economic Forum, Indra Nooyi – Annual Meeting Davos 2008, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0. [click to enlarge]

In this section, we will give you tips to help you develop your charismatic, servant, and authentic leadership skills. Each of these contemporary approaches to leadership is believed to be related to employee attitudes and a healthy work environment.

Develop Your Charismatic Leadership Skills

Charismatic individuals have a “magnetic” personality that is appealing to followers. While many people assume that charisma is inborn, it is possible to improve your charisma by following these suggestions (Frese, et. al., 2003; Shamir et. al., 1993):

  • Have a vision around which people can gather. When framing requests or addressing to others, instead of emphasizing short-term goals, stress the importance of the long-term vision. When giving a message, think about the overarching purpose. What is the ultimate goal? Why should people care? What are you trying to achieve?
  • Tie the vision to history. In addition to stressing the ideal future, charismatic leaders bring up the history and how the shared history ties to the future.
  • Watch your body language. Charismatic leaders are energetic and passionate about their ideas. This involves truly believing in your own ideas. When talking to others, you may want to look confident, look them in the eye, and express your belief in your ideas.
  • Make sure that employees have confidence in themselves. You can achieve this by showing that you believe in them and trust their abilities. If they have real reason to doubt their abilities, make sure that you help them address the underlying issue, such as through training and mentoring.
  • Challenge the status quo. Charismatic leaders solve current problems by radically rethinking the way things are done and suggesting alternatives that are risky, novel, and unconventional.

Develop Your Servant Leadership Skills

One of the influential leadership paradigms involves leaders putting others first. This could be a hard transition for an achievement-oriented and success-driven manager who rises to high levels. Here are some tips to achieve servant leadership (Buchanan, 2007; Douglas, 2005; Ramsey, 2005).

Don’t ask what your employees can do for you. Think of what you can do for them.

  • One of your key priorities should be to help employees reach their goals. This involves getting to know them. Learn about who they are and what their values and priorities are.
  • Be humble. You are not supposed to have all the answers and dictate to others. One way of achieving this humbleness may be to do volunteer work.
  • Be open with your employees. Ask them questions. Give them information so that they understand what is going on in the company.
  • Find ways of helping the external community. Giving employees opportunities to be involved in community volunteer projects or even thinking and strategizing about making a positive impact on the greater community would help.

Develop Your Authentic Leadership Skills

Authentic leaders have high levels of self-awareness and their behavior is driven by their core personal values. This leadership approach recognizes the importance of self-reflection and understanding one’s life history. Address the following questions to gain a better understanding of your own core values and authentic leadership style.

  • Understand your history. Review your life history. What are the major events in your life? How did these events make you the person you are right now?Think about your role models. Who were your role models as you were growing up? What did you learn from your role models?
  • Take stock of who you are now. Describe your personality. How does your personality affect your life? Know your strengths and weaknesses. What are they and how can you continue to improve yourself?
  • Reflect on your successes and challenges. Keep a journal. Research shows that journaling is an effective tool for self-reflection. Write down challenges you face and how you will surmount them; periodically review your entries to check your progress.
  • Make integrity a priority. Understand your core values. What are your core values? Name three of your most important values. Do an ethics check. Are you being consistent with your core values? If not, how can you get back on track
  • Understand the power of words. Words shape reality. Keep in mind that the words you use to describe people and situations matter. For example, how might the daily reality be different if you refer to those you manage as associates or team members rather than employees or subordinates?

In view of your answers to the questions above, what kind of a leader would you be if you truly acted out your values? How would people working with you respond to such a leadership style?

Leaders Emerge Based on Communication Skill and Competence

One final approach to the study of leadership is considered a functional approach, because it focuses on how particular communication behaviors function to create the conditions of leadership. This last approach is the most useful for communication scholars and for people who want to improve their leadership skills, because leadership behaviors (which are learnable and adaptable) rather than traits or situations (which are often beyond our control) are the primary focus of study. As we’ve already learned, any group member can exhibit leadership behaviors, not just a designated or emergent leader. Therefore leadership behaviors are important for all of us to understand even if we don’t anticipate serving in leadership positions (Cragen & Wright, 1991).

The communication behaviors that facilitate effective leadership encompass three main areas of group communication including task, procedural, and relational functions. Although any group member can perform leadership behaviors, groups usually have patterns of and expectations for behaviors once they get to the norming and performing stages of group development. Many groups only meet one or two times, and in these cases it is likely that a designated leader will perform many of the functions to get the group started and then step in to facilitate as needed.

Leadership behaviors that contribute to a group’s task-related functions include providing, seeking, and evaluating information. Leaders may want to be cautious about contributing ideas before soliciting ideas from group members, since the leader’s contribution may sway or influence others in the group, therefore diminishing the importance of varying perspectives. Likewise a leader may want to solicit evaluation of ideas from members before providing his or her own judgment. In group situations where creativity is needed to generate ideas or solutions to a problem, the task leader may be wise to facilitate brainstorming and discussion.

This can allow the leader to keep his or her eye on the “big picture” and challenge group members to make their ideas more concrete or discuss their implications beyond the group without adding his or her own opinion. To review, some of the key leadership behaviors that contribute to the task-related functions of a group include the following list (Cragen & Wright, 1991).

  • Contributing ideas
  • Seeking ideas
  • Evaluating ideas
  • Seeking idea evaluation
  • Visualizing abstract ideas
  • Generalizing from specific ideas

Leadership behaviors that contribute to a group’s procedural-related functions help guide the group as it proceeds from idea generation to implementation. Some leaders are better at facilitating and managing ideas than they are at managing the administrative functions of a group. So while a group leader may help establish the goals of the group and set the agenda, another group member with more experience in group operations may step in to periodically revisit and assess progress toward completion of goals and compare the group’s performance against its agenda. It’s also important to check in between idea-generating sessions to clarify, summarize, and gauge the agreement level of group members. A very skilled and experienced leader may take primary responsibility for all these behaviors, but it’s often beneficial to share them with group members to avoid becoming overburdened. To review, some of the key leadership behaviors that contribute to the procedural functions of a group include the following suggestions from Cragan & Wright (1991):

  • Goal setting
  • Agenda making
  • Clarifying
  • Summarizing
  • Verbalizing consensus
  • Generalizing from specific ideas

Leadership behaviors that contribute to a group’s relational functions include creating a participative and inclusive climate, establishing norms of reflection and self-analysis, and managing conflict. By encouraging participation among group members, a leader can help quell people who try to monopolize discussion and create an overall climate of openness and equality. Leaders want to make sure that people don’t feel personally judged for their ideas and that criticism remains idea centered, not person centered. A safe and positive climate typically leads to higher-quality idea generation and decision making. Leaders also encourage group members to metacommunicate, or talk about the group’s communication. This can help the group identify and begin to address any interpersonal or communication issues before they escalate and divert the group away from accomplishing its goal. A group with a well-established participative and inclusive climate will be better prepared to handle conflict when it emerges. Remember that conflict when handled competently can enhance group performance. Leaders may even instigate productive conflict by playing devil’s advocate or facilitating civil debate of ideas. To review, some of the key leadership behaviors that contribute to the relational functions of a group include the following:

  • Regulating participation
  • Climate making
  • Instigating group self-analysis
  • Resolving conflict
  • Instigating productive conflict


  • What communication competencies do you think are most important for a leader to have and why? How do you rate in terms of the competencies you ranked as most important?
  • Who do you know who would be able to give you constructive feedback on your leadership skills? What do you think this person would say? (You may want to consider actually asking the person for feedback).

Let’s Review

As we have discussed in this chapter, you do not need a fancy title to be a leader. To be an effective leader, you must exhibit all aspects of emotional intelligence skills. For example, good leaders will know themselves well and know their strengths and weaknesses. Good leaders also know their feelings from moment to moment and they have learned how to handle those emotions. Good leaders have many similar qualities, such as empathy, ethics, understanding, and patience. These skills are also emotional intelligence skills—specifically, social awareness and relationship management skills.

Social awareness skills are key in leadership, including reading and interpreting social cues and body language, setting goals, resolving conflict, understanding the perspectives of others, and a positive attitude. A leader is someone people want to be around, because they have a certain charisma that draws us to them! Leaders are also excellent at relationship management in that they handle relationships with others well. If if you don’t have the formal title of leader or manager, showing these skills in the workplace can not only make you a happier person but also show your supervisor you are ready to move up within your organization.


This section was adapted from:

12.2 Leadership vs Management in Human Relations by Saylor Academy and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensor.

Chapter 12: Leading People within Organizations in Organizational Behaviour for Senecca College Organizational Behaviour by Seneca College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Principles of Management for Leadership Communication by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Buchanan, L. (May, 2007). In praise of selflessness: Why the best leaders are servants. Inc, 29(5), 33–35.

Cragan, J. F. & Wright, D. W. (1991). Communication in small group discussions: An integrated approach (3rd ed). West Publishing.

Douglas, M. E. (2005, March). Service to others. Supervision, 66(3), 6–9.

Frese, M., Beimel, S., & Schoenborg, S. (2003). Action training for charismatic leadership: Two evaluations of studies of a commercial training module on inspirational communication of a vision. Personnel Psychology, 56, 671–697.

Ramsey, R. D. (2005, October). The new buzz word. Supervision, 66(10), 3–5.

Shamir, B., House, R. J., & Arthur, M. B. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic leadership: A self-concept based theory. Organization Science, 4, 577–594.


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Psychology, Communication, and the Canadian Workplace Copyright © 2022 by Laura Westmaas, BA, MSc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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