What Are Leadership Skills? Leadership Skills In A Nutshell

Leadership skills are the strengths and abilities individuals demonstrate to manage and motivate others toward achieving organizational goals.

Understanding leadership skills

Strong leadership skills are vital to success, helping the organization deliver projects, encourage initiatives, and empower others through a common purpose or culture. What’s more, these skills are as important to a low-level team leader as they are to a senior executive.

Since most leaders are required to constantly interact with subordinates, good communication is a fundamental aspect of good leadership. However, a survey of 1,000 employees in 2015 found 91% cited poor communication as the cause of ineffective leadership. Many lamented that leadership failed to recognize employee achievements and gave unclear instructions. Worse still, some believed their superiors simply refused to talk to them to address concerns.

Despite the knowledge that good communication boosts employee morale and productivity, the data from the survey indicated the vast majority of leaders are not engaging with their subordinates at critical times.

Embodying leadership skills appears simple on paper. However, many of the attributes comprising an effective leader are soft skills that can’t be demonstrated through paperwork, referrals, or qualifications alone. In the next sections, we will take a look at some of these soft skills and other desirable leadership traits in more detail.

Desirable leadership soft skills

Soft skills are vital in leadership because they dictate whether a leader will be able to motivate and inspire others to achieve organizational goals. 

Here are some of the ways successful leaders accomplish this:

  1. Communication skills – as we noted earlier, good communication is non-negotiable. Great leaders are active listeners who are open to the feedback or differing perspectives of those below them. Sound communication skills also mean choosing the right discussion techniques, interpreting and displaying the right body language, and corresponding clearly through the written word.
  2. Interpersonal skills – navigating complex social interactions is also key. A leader must be able to read the emotional temperature of the room and respond in a way that is sensitive to the thoughts, ideas, or feelings of others. This is emotional intelligence at work – one of the most important soft leadership skills.
  3. Teamwork skills – the most successful leaders value the contributions of a team. They collaborate and share ideas toward a common cause. 
  4. Problem-solving skills – leaders who can find creative solutions to workplace problems instill subordinates with a sense of confidence. At the organizational level, problem-solving leaders mitigate risk and implement new strategies with fewer complications.
  5. Conflict resolution – conflict is inevitable in the workplace, so knowing how to deal with it is paramount. Successful leaders remain impartial and call meetings where each individual is encouraged to provide their point of view. Importantly, these leaders use their emotional intelligence to avoid being influenced by the heightened emotional state conflict often causes.

Other important leadership skills

While sound people management and communication are undoubtedly important, successful leaders also excel on a more practical business level.

To expand on this point, consider the following skills which are valuable and highly desired by organizations:

  1. Decisiveness – effective leaders must be able to make smart decisions quickly with the information at hand – even if the information is incomplete or inadequate. For most individuals, this is a skill that takes years to develop.
  2. Strategic thinking – successful leaders are also “big picture” thinkers. They have a vision for where they want to go and how to get there. They are not distracted by trivial issues or minor details, with every decision judged on whether it helps the organization realize its vision. Strategic thinking is also supported by evidence, such as a thorough understanding of the needs of the target audience.
  3. Planning and delivery – the most proficient leaders also recognize the importance of planning and implementation. Indeed, the best vision in the world is worthless without a plan to make it a reality. This is underpinned by a strong understanding of project management, project planning, and risk management.
  4. Change management through innovation – effective change management requires a leader to create and implement a compelling and innovative vision. This reduces the likelihood employees will become bored and revert to previous ways of operating.

Key takeaways:

  • Leadership skills describe the strengths and abilities individuals require to manage and motivate others toward achieving organizational goals.
  • Good communication is arguably the single most important leadership skill, but data suggests a lack of communication between employees and their superiors is commonplace. 
  • Leadership skills encompass soft skills such as active listening, emotional intelligence, teamwork, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. On a more practical level, successful leaders act decisively and think strategically. They can also plan and implement their vision and manage the company through change.

Types of Organizational Structures

Organizational Structures

Siloed Organizational Structures


In a functional organizational structure, groups and teams are organized based on function. Therefore, this organization follows a top-down structure, where most decision flows from top management to bottom. Thus, the bottom of the organization mostly follows the strategy detailed by the top of the organization.



Open Organizational Structures




In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Connected Business Frameworks

Portfolio Management

Project portfolio management (PPM) is a systematic approach to selecting and managing a collection of projects aligned with organizational objectives. That is a business process of managing multiple projects which can be identified, prioritized, and managed within the organization. PPM helps organizations optimize their investments by allocating resources efficiently across all initiatives.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

Mintzberg’s 5Ps

Mintzberg’s 5Ps of Strategy is a strategy development model that examines five different perspectives (plan, ploy, pattern, position, perspective) to develop a successful business strategy. A sixth perspective has been developed over the years, called Practice, which was created to help businesses execute their strategies.

COSO Framework

The COSO framework is a means of designing, implementing, and evaluating control within an organization. The COSO framework’s five components are control environment, risk assessment, control activities, information and communication, and monitoring activities. As a fraud risk management tool, businesses can design, implement, and evaluate internal control procedures.

TOWS Matrix

The TOWS Matrix is an acronym for Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. The matrix is a variation on the SWOT Analysis, and it seeks to address criticisms of the SWOT Analysis regarding its inability to show relationships between the various categories.

Lewin’s Change Management

Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.

Organizational Structure Case Studies

Airbnb Organizational Structure

Airbnb follows a holacracy model, or a sort of flat organizational structure, where teams are organized for projects, to move quickly and iterate fast, thus keeping a lean and flexible approach. Airbnb also moved to a hybrid model where employees can work from anywhere and meet on a quarterly basis to plan ahead, and connect to each other.

eBay Organizational Structure

eBay was until recently a multi-divisional (M-form) organization with semi-autonomous units grouped according to the services they provided. Today, eBay has a single division called Marketplace, which includes eBay and its international iterations.

IBM Organizational Structure

IBM has an organizational structure characterized by product-based divisions, enabling its strategy to develop innovative and competitive products in multiple markets. IBM is also characterized by function-based segments that support product development and innovation for each product-based division, which include Global Markets, Integrated Supply Chain, Research, Development, and Intellectual Property.

Sony Organizational Structure

Sony has a matrix organizational structure primarily based on function-based groups and product/business divisions. The structure also incorporates geographical divisions. In 2021, Sony announced the overhauling of its organizational structure, changing its name from Sony Corporation to Sony Group Corporation to better identify itself as the headquarters of the Sony group of companies skewing the company toward product divisions.

Facebook Organizational Structure

Facebook is characterized by a multi-faceted matrix organizational structure. The company utilizes a flat organizational structure in combination with corporate function-based teams and product-based or geographic divisions. The flat organization structure is organized around the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, and the key executives around him. On the other hand, the function-based teams based on the main corporate functions (like HR, product management, investor relations, and so on).

Google Organizational Structure

Google (Alphabet) has a cross-functional (team-based) organizational structure known as a matrix structure with some degree of flatness. Over the years, as the company scaled and it became a tech giant, its organizational structure is morphing more into a centralized organization.

Tesla Organizational Structure

Tesla is characterized by a functional organizational structure with aspects of a hierarchical structure. Tesla does employ functional centers that cover all business activities, including finance, sales, marketing, technology, engineering, design, and the offices of the CEO and chairperson. Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, decide the strategic direction of the company, with international operations given little autonomy.

McDonald’s Organizational Structure

McDonald’s has a divisional organizational structure where each division – based on geographical location – is assigned operational responsibilities and strategic objectives. The main geographical divisions are the US, internationally operated markets, and international developmental licensed markets. And on the other hand, the hierarchical leadership structure is organized around regional and functional divisions.

Walmart Organizational Structure

Walmart has a hybrid hierarchical-functional organizational structure, otherwise referred to as a matrix structure that combines multiple approaches. On the one hand, Walmart follows a hierarchical structure, where the current CEO Doug McMillon is the only employee without a direct superior, and directives are sent from top-level management. On the other hand, the function-based structure of Walmart is used to categorize employees according to their particular skills and experience.

Microsoft Organizational Structure

Microsoft has a product-type divisional organizational structure based on functions and engineering groups. As the company scaled over time it also became more hierarchical, however still keeping its hybrid approach between functions, engineering groups, and management.

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