The secret to extraordinary leadership is the consistent development and execution of foundational leadership skills. Great leaders do not have some type of advanced knowledge regarding leadership theory or special formula on how to influence people but, rather, a mastery of understanding and the ability to carry out foundational leadership skills. With this in mind, here are five leadership skills that are critical for all leaders and reflection questions to help you develop them yourself.

1. Mood

Leaders have good days and bad days, but according to Daniel Goleman’s research, the leader’s mood is one of the primary factors that influences the organization’s performance. Your mood, including how you react, respond and communicate (verbal and non-verbal) messages, and your attitude will positively or negatively affect your organization’s performance. Team members mirror your behavior and mood, thereby magnifying your positive or negative influence throughout the organization.

As a leader, your mood influences others’ perspectives, engagement, focus, priorities, resilience and optimism — all of which contribute to or hinder the productivity and success of an organization. So, the next time you are frustrated or angry, take a deep breath, and consider how your mood and emotions may influence your organization before you respond.

Reflection Question: Think about a recent event and how your mood may have positively or negatively influenced your organization’s success.

2. Vision

Create, document and share your organizational or department vision. Establishing a vision requires looking to the short-term and long-term future and developing a picture for what success looks like and the strategic pathway to achieve it. What circumstances do you need to acknowledge or evaluate now so that your organization is well prepared for the future? How are you positioning your team to help maintain or increase the organization’s competitive advantage?

While developing a vision is often simple in concept, it may be catastrophic for the organization if leaders overlook it. The absence of a clear vision wastes organizational resources, weakens competitive advantages and results in operational confusion. Once leaders develop a vision, they must share it (and the strategic plan to accomplish it) throughout the organization with the intention of developing understanding and alignment among all team members.

Reflection Question: Have you established a vision, and do your team members understand it?

3. Feedback

Providing frequent and clear feedback is indisputably essential; however, most leaders do not provide adequate feedback. Leaders’ feedback should encompass both positive and constructive information; include specific details; and occur frequently enough that the leader and team members are aligned with roles, goals and responsibilities. After all, the leader’s job is to remove ambiguity regarding direction and performance.

The leader is like an air traffic control tower validating the position and flight patterns of the pilots. The air traffic controller does not fly the planes but provides feedback and direction to coordinate flight activity. An air traffic controller who fails to provide feedback and direction does not create or provide any value for the airport or pilots. The same is true of organizational leaders; a silent leader does not create or provide value to an organization.

Neuroscience research consistently shows that when people receive insufficient feedback, their brains will often default to negative assumptions. Extraordinary leaders provide enough high-quality feedback to prevent default false negative assumptions from occurring.

Reflection Question: How frequently do you provide good feedback?

4. Listening

Effective listening is a leadership skill that is often overlooked and does not receive enough attention in leadership development courses. Leaders like to think that they are excellent listeners, but most leaders need serious development in their listening skills.

Listening is more than just hearing someone talk. Effective listening includes creating an environment that encourages others to share both positive and constructive ideas and opinions. In this environment, employees can speak without being interrupted.

Strong leaders listen intently while monitoring the speaker’s body language and emotions. Effective listeners validate their understanding of messages and ask exploratory questions to fill information gaps. Tap into the knowledge and perspectives of others by consciously engaging in active listening.

Reflection Question: How would others rate your listening skills?

5. Leadership Style

When asking staff and team members what kind of leaders they enjoy working with most, it is common to hear responses like:

  • Leaders who make me feel like part of the team.
  • Leaders who support me.
  • Leaders who let me do my job.
  • Leaders who ask me my opinion.
  • Leaders who value my work.

These descriptions are characteristics of leaders who treat others as trusted advisers rather than employees. Most people do not like working for someone but are often inspired when they work with someone. Focus on creating a culture of treating others as trusted advisers to enhance staff engagement, satisfaction, productivity, innovation and organizational success.

Reflection Question: Has anyone ever treated you like a trusted adviser? How did it make you feel?

Extraordinary leaders focus on continuous building of foundational skills. Use these essential five leadership concepts to elevate your leadership effectiveness and positively influence the success of the people who work with (not for) you.