“How will I use this after college?” It’s a question numerous students ask over the years. And though the question, or ones like it, is often the bane of many college professor’s existences, many also appreciate it. After all, college is expensive–it costs plenty of money and time. So students deserve an answer.
When we teach core skills, these will become future leadership skills. These skills have wide applications that go well beyond college. After all, the job market is changing rapidly, and that rapid evolution shows little to no signs of slowing pace. Even a market as seemingly static as the insurance industry is evolving like never before. We now have to consider things like mental health issues in obtaining insurance, something unimaginable just a generation ago.
Memos had been a staple of professional life throughout the twentieth century. And yet, with the proliferation of email and other electronic communication, they’re largely a thing of the past now. This isn’t to say the skills I gained in college were already obsolete. Quite the contrary. Learning the scientific editing process (thanks, Professor Dalton!) has served me well in so many different environments.
In this guide, we’ll look at 25 leadership skills to help everyone meet the ever-evolving needs of the future.
Empathy is often written off as a (useless) soft skill. But it’s an important skill for every leader because empathy helps you know if the people you’re trying to reach are actually reached and moved to action. Whether your goal as a leader is to get folks to vote or buy something, a little empathy can go a long way. We should value understanding people who are not like us, whether by their class or race, by gender or sexuality, by ability or nationality.
We do this by exposing people to various histories and literature from cultures different from their own. As we’ve discussed on Richtopia, the desire to improve the world is a top trait of leaders, and learning empathy is the first step to improving our world.
Remote teams are a growing trend with fewer people working in a traditional 9 to 5 job, or a job with a single focus. Thus, flexibility is an increasingly important leadership skill. Everyone should learn to be flexible, to come ready to work with an open mind and the ability to work independently. We ought to be able to move forward as a team, and to act independently in turn.
Students often think we become professors because we like to hear ourselves talk. (Okay, that’s sometimes true.) But the reality is we’re charged with packing a lot of learning into a relatively short time period. So we try to create an ability to actively listen–and that bleeds over into every area of life. Future employers and colleagues will expect you to listen, so make sure to be fully engaged, even when it seems like that meeting isn’t worth your time.
Succeeding at anything in life, especially at being an effective leader, involves persevering through difficulties both big and small. Life will help you prepare by making you take responsibility for your own learning and development, whether in areas of leadership or when you’re in the back seat.
Like perseverance, effective leadership requires discipline. A disciplined work ethic will demonstrate your ability to lead and move up in the workplace and build up any successful resume. You learn discipline in life by striving to do your best at all times, being prepared, and demonstrating your ability to complete your work in a timely manner. Discipline extends to all areas of life–it isn’t just about the 9 to 5.
We all face failures, but resilience, your ability to overcome a setback, demonstrates your ability to serve as an effective leader. In life, whether it comes to work or personal goals, you will not always do well. But that’s the essence of being challenged and learning how to overcome–in fact, that’s often the best way we learn.
Employers want leaders who offer new ideas when given the opportunity. As a professor, I want the same of my students in the classroom. More often than not, we don’t want our own ideas parroted back to us. In life, you need to be willing to analyze every potential, and think deeply about what you can bring to the text.
Confidence, in the workplace and in every area of life for leaders, inspires confidence in peers. Of course, leaders should also be able to admit when they’re wrong. We all can think of times when we were certain about being right, but then new information made us reevaluate. Yet confidence doesn’t negate being corrected. The process of discussion and evaluation in life will always help you learn this balance before you hit the job market.
#9 Intellectual Curiosity
Leaders and followers have a curiosity about the world around them, especially the thinking world. Folks who demonstrate intellectual curiosity tend to have better judgment and tact, two skills we model and teach in life, and two skills future employers will also want to see from you.
The transition from one thing to another can be difficult for many folks. College professors and employers ask you to be trustworthy, completing your tasks in a prompt manner and coming to work ready to start from the ground up. Unlike your parents, employers don’t check in with you every day. Learning to be trustworthy enough to complete your work well and on time in life will help you present yourself as trustworthy to potential employers.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that “the supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is in a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
Like trustworthiness, integrity is an important skill expected by employers. Integrous leaders do the right thing when no one is looking, whether it’s not cheating on a project or following safety instructions no one will know you followed.
Employers are likely passionate about what they do. So it’ll go a long way if you are able to become passionate about the tasks and mission before you, both in life and in the workplace. Your passion will also inspire the passion in those around you at every stage in life.
#13 Communication Skills
Inside Higher Ed reports that communication skills are one of the three most important attributes employers look for in people applying for jobs with them. In life, you will learn a variety of communication skills that are also important in the workplace, from writing to a wide variety of stakeholders to composing emails to supervisors.
Speaking as a professor, on the first day of class, we often ask students “why are you taking this class?” And trust me, we don’t want to hear “because it’s required.”
Similarly, you might be asked in an interview “why do you want to work here?” Practice how to marry your own life vision with your vision for your career. This will not only prepare you to answer that question on the job market, but will also help you get the most out of your life today. Strategic leaders are visionary leaders, and the only thing that stands in the way of your vision is you.
Employers and professors, colleagues and peers–we all want to be around positive people who make us want to be our own best. By bringing a good attitude to the classroom or workplace, you make yourself a more valuable leader on any team.
We live in a distracted world, from our phones to our families. In life, you’re asked to focus on difficult tasks and projects that don’t always have immediate rewards. Learning to focus on such tasks, however, will prepare you to be a leader in the workplace as the ability to focus is one of the top skills employers look for.
#17 Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence takes empathy to the next level by asking that you know how to judiciously and kindly navigate interpersonal relationships. This is especially important for employers who want positive relationships with their employees. Every area of life is primed to be a lesson in emotional intelligence as we navigate difficult topics and issues together as a group. But learning to navigate such conversations related to things like personal issues, mental health or stress will help you be a top leader in the workplace.
Both the real world and your professional life are long games that require not only your perseverance, but also your patience. As we’ve discussed before, patience is one of the key skills of effective leadership.
The bottom line: leaders are influential. Your environment is a natural place for you to learn how to be an influencer in the community, in the workplace, and even in your friendships. Do you volunteer? Do you step up for leadership roles in organizations you are part of? Scott Bateman, the CEO of the property management software Kolmeo sheds light on this and says, “Learning to influence will help you succeed in life and your future workplace.”
#20 Problem Solving
Again, speaking as a professor, here’s another thing your teachers and future employers have in common: we don’t want to be inundated with questions about problems you can solve yourself. Learn to be a self-starter and solve your own problems. Want to know what you have to do next week? Check the calendar and look at what’s coming down the pipe. Showing your independence will get you a better position today and a better job tomorrow.
#21 Sense of Humor
Much like being around positive people, we all want to be around people who make us laugh and who can laugh at themselves. Life can help you hone your professional sense of humor. Wherever you are, whether you’re with co-workers or family, you need to have the ability to laugh with others. We all make mistakes, so learning to laugh with others and at yourself will make you a much better leader in the workplace.
Throughout life, there are seasons and times of great growth, both personally and intellectually. The more you read–and the more you live–the more intuitive you become about communication skills and context, a skill that will serve you well in any workplace. Your intuition will be fueled by two things: reading and living.
Grades and paychecks can be great motivators. But effective leaders learn to hold themselves to the highest standards of work, regardless of the compensation. Whatever you do, do it well and to your fullest ability.
We all face challenges. Trust me, the leaders in your life know this because they’ve spent a long time overcoming obstacles and milestones. But learning to have perspective about the challenges you face in relation to the bigger challenges of the world will help you be a better leader in the workplace and in your life more generally.
Naturally, we all go through stages in life where we mature. We aren’t who we were ten years ago, and for good reasons. All of the leadership skills on this list are signs of maturity, and successful leaders will have a sense of maturity about them. Employers can trust mature people in their presence, and they want to work with them.
Many, if not most, leadership skills are learnable. And what are you doing with your life if not learning? We hope this list helps you connect your life experience with your future work goals.