Business Leadership Today

The 5 Key Leadership Skills


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Good leadership requires a variety of skills. 

Leaders need to be able to manage time, address conflict tactfully, solve complex problems, and delegate tasks effectively to keep their teams moving forward. They need good critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, and collaborative skills. They need to be decisive and highly ethical at all times. 

The success of any leader depends on how well they manage these responsibilities. However, great leadership means moving beyond managing the day-to-day activities required to get the job done. 

It means leading a team of committed employees toward a shared goal and creating the ideal conditions in which employees can work toward and achieve this goal. 

There are five key leadership skills that help leaders do this. 

The five key leadership skills are the ability to motivate team members to do great work, build trust and influence at all levels of the organization, communicate effectively, create a positive, collaborative, and inclusive work environment, and encourage the growth and development of team members. 

In this article, we will examine these five key leadership skills and how they help leaders lead well and get the best results from their teams. 

The Ability To Motivate Team Members To Do Great Work

The most important job of a leader and the key to being a great leader is to motivate employees to do great work. It’s not just about ensuring the day-to-day work of the team is done; it’s about inspiring each team member to fully invest in their roles and reach their full potential.

Motivation drives an employee’s success and plays a vital role in employee satisfaction. A leader’s ability to motivate employees will determine how well they engage and retain employees, which ultimately determines how successful the organization is. 

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. A certain amount of both is essential to leading high-performance teams. 

Extrinsic motivation is motivation to participate in an activity based on meeting an external goal, earning praise or approval, winning a contest or competition, or receiving an award or payment.

Intrinsic motivation is defined as doing an activity for its inherent rewards rather than for a separable consequence. 

Often, when people get into management positions, they do not realize how essential the ability to motivate teams is to future success and the very important role intrinsic motivation plays in getting employees to do great work.

Leaders need to understand what really motivates their employees to best meet their needs and engage them with their work. They should work continuously to create the necessary conditions for their employees to stay motivated to do great work and help them identify and remove obstacles to doing great work. 

Good leaders use strategies that boost intrinsic motivation, resulting in employees that are more invested in their jobs. 

Some ways to motivate employees include being flexible, giving them the tools they need to work with autonomy, helping them to develop and advance professionally, and uniting them with a sense of purpose that is aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and core values. 

The Ability to Build Trust and Influence

How do managers develop into leaders? By building trust and influence. 

In order to progress as a leader and be the kind of leader that inspires their team to high performance means you need to rely on more than positional authority. You need to convince those you lead to follow you, not because they have to, but because they want to.

A leader’s goal is to help their teams achieve great things. Leaders do this by building connections with workers that are rooted in trust and authentic influence.

Trust is vital for any team. It helps leaders establish rapport with their employees and helps employees build strong relationships with their co-workers. 

A high level of trust can facilitate good communication, collaboration, and a sense of camaraderie among employees. It also helps employees engage more with their work and perform better.

The level of trust an employee has in their leader affects how well employees perform, how productive they are, and how profitable the organization is. When there is a lack of trust, it can lead to toxic work environments, which will cause employees to leave.

Keep in mind, leadership isn’t a title. It’s a mindset that guides our actions and behaviors so that we are able to grow teams of employees who can thrive while they commit themselves to achieving the organization’s vision. 

The Ability to Communicate Effectively

To build trust, leaders need to be able to communicate effectively with their employees. Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations provides the clarity all employees need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence.

For communication to be the most effective, it should be honest and respectful, and it should be mutually beneficial. Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard. 

Active listening is the most important part of effective communication. You can schedule regular meetings, coaching sessions, and one-to-one meetings every day, but, if you aren’t actively listening to your employees, these tools will not help them connect to their work. 

Leaders maintain healthy communication by providing regular feedback and recognizing employees’ achievements.


Many leaders know that employees need feedback to do their best in their jobs. In fact, a lack of regular feedback ranks high on the list of reasons employees are leaving their jobs these days.

Employees need feedback on a regular basis to excel in their jobs and build the kind of engagement needed for retention. It provides not only job clarity, but also helps employees course correct when needed, develop an improvement mindset, and build confidence in their work.

The goal of this feedback is to help employees to do their best work, do it well, and better serve their co-workers. When done correctly, it should also boost employees’ level of job satisfaction and overall well-being.

To be most effective, feedback needs to be a two-way street, with leadership being open to feedback from employees. This gives employees a voice and helps them to build trust with leadership, which increases employee loyalty. 

Good leaders will elicit regular, consistent feedback from their teams which they should respond to in a timely manner. The goal is really the same: through feedback, employees help their leaders to do their best work, do it well, and better serve the team. 


Because it is such a powerful tool for building engagement and meets a core human need for both the employee and the leaders, recognition should always be part of the communication process. 

Recognizing employees for their accomplishments shows them not only that leadership is paying attention, but that they also value the work employees do.

For recognition to be most effective, it should be given often, and it should be specific so employees know the work they do in their roles is seen and appreciated. 

Acknowledging the impact of employees’ work through frequent recognition can be a highly effective way of engaging and retaining them because it improves their employee experience and motivates them to keep doing great work. 

The Ability to Create a Positive Work Environment

A key leadership skill that plays one of the most important roles in how well a leader engages and retains talented employees is the ability to create and maintain a work environment that is positive, inclusive, and collaborative. Leaders who can do this are ensuring they are providing the ideal conditions for employees to thrive. 

Maintaining a positive work environment provides a positive employee experience and the ideal conditions for employees to do their best work. By ensuring the work environment is inclusive, employees have a strong sense of belonging that is conducive to successful collaborative efforts and great performance

It also helps to create a work environment that is healthy for everyone and inhospitable to toxic behaviors. 

Baker has outlined a five-step process known as “The 5 Cs”: 

Fostering a Satisfying Employee Experience

Employee experience refers to an employee’s journey with an organization and includes every interaction that happens during the employee lifecycle, as well as the experiences that involve an employee’s role, work environment, manager, and well-being. 

Employee experience plays a significant role in employee motivation, employee engagement, and employee retention, but that’s not all. 

When an organization provides a positive employee experience, they see improvements in customer satisfaction, greater innovation, and generate 25% higher profits than organizations that do not provide a positive employee experience.

Meaningful work, job clarity, opportunities for professional development, autonomy, an inclusive, supportive work environment, regular recognition of contributions, healthy feedback between leadership and employees, a good work/life balance, and trust-based working relationships contribute to a positive employee experience, paving the way for exceptional performance. 

The employee experience starts before the employee is even hired, so it is important to ensure you start things off right. Recruiting and hiring for cultural fit and implementing onboarding programs that help to establish clarity and communicate organizational culture can improve an employee’s experience with the organization significantly. 

Toxic work environments fueled the Great Resignation, with many who left their jobs citing toxic work environments as the top reason for doing so. Your team won’t be able to do great work when toxic behaviors are allowed to fester.

Lisa L. Baker, the founder of Ascentim LLC, says leaders can address and prevent toxic situations in the workplace by clearly and consistently communicating cultural norms, which clarifies expectations, guides employee behaviors and actions, and ensures values alignment. 

The Ability to Encourage Growth and Development

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. The survey also found that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has more opportunities for advancement.

Part of encouraging your team to grow and develop is to provide them with opportunities to grow and develop. Employees need to build new skills and knowledge as well. They also need to see a clear path to advancement.

To keep talented employees, you have to let them know they have a future in the organization and that leadership is invested in them. Employees who feel they are continually growing in their roles are more likely to be engaged in their work and more likely to stay.

If you expect to keep your employees committed enough to the organization to stay, you have to demonstrate that you are committed enough to them to invest in them. There are many ways leaders can do this.

Offering learning opportunities, as well as a path to advancement, can help organizations not only retain employees but build strong leadership pipelines for the future. 

Creating a clear path to growth, development, and advancement for employees shows employees that you want them to succeed. When they feel that you care about and encourage their growth and give them the means to grow, it can do wonders for engagement and performance. 

Career-pathing can help employees chart a clear path to management positions, which can significantly boost employee engagement, leading to better retention.

Another way to facilitate employee development is by providing opportunities for workers to cross train within the organization. Cross-training is the practice of training your team members to work in different roles or on tasks that fall outside the range of their normal responsibilities.

It not only improves collaboration, it can also improve understanding between departments, facilitating better performance and productivity and creating more harmonious working environments.

Employers should work with employees to help them achieve mastery by fostering a culture of learning within their organizations. Learning can motivate employees, but it has many other benefits for employees and employers. 

Research compiled by LinkedIn has shown that employees who spend time learning on the job are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more able to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.

Strong Leadership Is Key

According to a 25-year study by Gallup, about 50-70% of an employee’s perception of their work environment is linked to the actions and behaviors of leadership.

Because the duration of a person’s tenure with an organization is primarily influenced by their relationship with their direct manager, poor leadership is often one of the main drivers of turnover.

Leadership also has a powerful impact on employee experience. This is because everything a leader does affects the organization’s culture, and culture influences the level of an employee’s engagement with their work. 

Leaders are responsible for establishing a harmonious work environment that fosters respect, trust, and communication. Leaders help to create cultural buy-in, a shared sense of purpose, and ownership of group goals, inspiring employees to grow and do their best work.

This becomes especially important during times of crisis, as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. From toxic environments to lack of feedback, recognition, or avenues for advancement, poor leadership has been responsible for many people leaving their jobs. 

Leaders have to demonstrate to their employees that they authentically care about them and are committed to helping them reach their full potential and do great work. 


Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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