Five Must-Have Leadership Skills for the Decade Ahead

Life is hard. It can be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling, but the well-worn phrase, “Are we having fun yet?” is usually sarcastic, not rhetorical. Leading is also hard. It requires us to bring our A game every day, to every person, team, customer, challenge and situation. Getting real here, do we not all wish (occasionally) for a short-and-simple instruction guide of what to do and say for many of the leadership situations we encounter? Or perhaps a crystal ball to tell us what leadership skills will most prepare us for the years to come?

The DIY movement (Do-It-Yourself) has tremendously improved the lifestyles of many of us. Think about the availability of recipes, ingredients and instructions for dinner in a box, or paying someone to assemble our new crib, bike or grill for us, then deliver! For Leaders, it has always been DIY. There is no stunt double, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or algorithmic solution for most of the situations we will face. Even for those recurring conversations like, for example, putting someone on probation, interviewing candidates for promotion or explaining deep-red lines in a budget proposal, the different and unique people, teams and leaders involved change the scenario enough that no formula or script can truly be applied.

Allow me to look down the road to the end of this decade and imagine what it will take for you to “DIY” your leadership skills and arrive at 2030 with success.

Leaders who will flourish in the 2020’s:

… will need to purposefully cultivate and apply their Emotional Intelligence. Knowing who you are (and aren’t), what you do well (and don’t), when you will bend (and won’t) and where you are going (and not) will bring the strength and conviction that others look for in a leader to both follow and emulate. As Polonius said in “Hamlet,” “To thine own self be true”. People are looking for authenticity and congruency in the “walk and talk” of leaders they work for and with as teams collaborate to get work done.

… will need to value diversity of thought, perspective and experience. It is not enough to have a loyal, dedicated or even talented team. Effective teams represent multiple countries and cultures, particularly those your organization desires to serve. There is a rich tapestry of different age groups, educational backgrounds, perspectives and experiences, languages, skillsets and even personalities on a vibrant and successful team.

… will need both flexibility (bending easily without breaking, willing to change or compromise) and elasticity (spring back into shape—adaptability, resilience). Situational leaders will excel here, knowing how to diagnose correctly, then communicating the best-match leadership style for the person and the task, skill or behavior. They wisely know when to lean in with Styles 1 or 2 and lean out with Styles 3 or 4. Plan to put quality over quantity by having meaningful one-on-ones with your people in the flow of work to maintain an accurate pulse on their success and engagement. Provide goals, parameters, standards, timelines and vision, but also provide support and actively listen, having “quickened ears” to hear and “eyes wide open” to perceive deeper understanding.

… will pursue circular paths to move forward, rather than rigid ladders to move upward, for professional development and achievement. Move away from the picture of the Snakes and Ladders game with ladders of various sizes and lengths from bottom of the board to the top. Picture a tunnel with wind propelling you forward on a path that traverses floor, walls and ceiling in a clockwise motion. In this way, you will seek and learn from experiences across multiple departments that teach multiple skills and behaviors you will need to be equipped as a multi-faceted leader. Technical, conceptual and human skills will all be part of your continuous learning curriculum and growth mindset.

… will need to be fair (see my article, What Does It Mean to Be a Fair Leader?), which will cultivate trust and respect with direct reports, peers, leaders and external partners/customers. Regularly revisit and discuss your team’s charter or agreement by which they operate and lead from a place of honesty and humility that values others more than yourself. Servant leadership has pointed the way to this. Emotional Intelligence will undergird this. Unshakeable integrity is the DNA of this.

Leading effectively in this decade will be a challenge. It will be easier, however, if you know who you are, what is most important and have a strategic plan to get there. By determining now to envelop these things into your leadership, you will maximize your team for success.

They might even tell you, “We are having fun!”



  1. Which one of these leadership skills are you already working toward? What are you doing that is effective? How can you negotiate and move through any current obstacles or inhibitors?
  2. Who comes to mind as someone who could benefit from being challenged with this list? What will you do to start the conversation and challenge them to develop in one of these areas?
  3. We mentioned a Team Charter or Team Agreement. Does your team have one? Reach out to us to engage a Team Coach who can lead you and your team through this effective team-building experience.