How to Develop Leadership Skills

In the late 1990s, Daniel Goleman published an article “What Makes a Leader?” This article became one of the HBR classics, and I would agree that his succinct description of a truly effective leader is the current golden standard.

According to Goleman, the five key components of effective leadership are, in short:

  • Self-awareness: recognizing and understanding your own drivers and shortcomings.
  • Self-regulation: the ability to control one’s impulses and think before acting.
  • Motivation: a passion to work, commitment, persistence, and unwavering optimism.
  • Empathy: the ability to understand the emotions of other people and treat them accordingly.
  • Social skills: ability to find common ground, build rapport and manage relationships.

Goleman rolled these leadership traits into what he defined as “emotional intelligence,” or EQ – as opposed to IQ, technical skills, etc. He doesn’t mean those things are unimportant but claims that emotional intelligence is twice as important as other typical job requirements for an effective leader.

There’s another detail that I learned from Goleman, that is worth sharing. Goleman’s response to the perennial discussion if leaders are born or made, is – both: there’s a genetic component, but nurture plays a considerable role as well. It is impossible to judge, especially on the individual level, what the ratio is, but one can say with certainty that one can learn and improve a lot, while emotional intelligence increases with age.

So if you are obsessed with the idea to become a leader, read about and practice the five components of leadership suggested by Goleman. But bear in mind that:

  1. It may take time because age is a positive factor in leadership.
  2. Almost everyone can learn to play chess (tennis, soccer, …) better – but only a few win the Olympic Games.
  3. Leadership is cool and noble, but being a very good and trustworthy follower is also a valuable gift. Don’t neglect this opportunity.

(A version of this post appeared on Quora as “How do I develop leadership skills?)