Must-have leadership skills you need to become an exceptional leader

Some people believe that great leaders are born rather than made. Others believe that leaders are made, not born.

In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all manual or guide that will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a successful leader. However, it is undeniable that leadership necessitates a wide range of skills.

So, what are the must-have skills of a leader?

In this article with Workee experts, Donna Bletzinger, founder and CEO of Dyer Stephenson, discusses what it takes to be a great leader, what successful leaders do differently, the must-have skills of great leaders, and much more.

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Donna Bletzinger is an accomplished thought leadership consultant, speaker, renowned adviser, and coach who has led different project teams in IT companies, nonprofits, and startups. 

She's held various positions in Human Resources, Field Operations, Sales and Marketing, Labor Relations, and Business Development, among others. She has worked with various companies throughout her career to develop go-to-market strategies. She has led team workshops on the importance of understanding cultural differences when entering new markets.

Donna has firsthand knowledge of the startup scene. She enjoys connecting with people who want to start their own businesses. She is now a career counselor for startups and people amid a career shift, encouraging them to realize their full potential.

She is also an inspiring speaker and doubles as an accomplished lecturer who helps students grasp the relevance of cultural differences when targeting international markets.

Let’s dive in!

What does it mean to be a great leader? 

There are several definitions of a great leader. It is critical to remember, however, that good leadership entails more than one characteristic. Several characteristics must coexist. Here are a few key characteristics that define great leadership.

  • A leader is someone who cares about others. One characteristic of a great leader is the ability to appreciate and not take others for granted. People can thrive without a leader. A leader, on the other hand, cannot exist without people.

  • The best leaders are lifelong learners. Even if they have accomplished a great deal, they are constantly learning. Learning how to give and receive constructive criticism, how to listen, how to handle conflict successfully, and how to give corrections when necessary.

  • Great leaders are open-minded. A trait of great leaders is that they are willing to listen and consider all points of view. A famous quote by management expert Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” As we all know, breakfast is the day's most important meal to get through a long day. You need to start with breakfast! Likewise, without feedback, the organization starves. Great leaders do not cling to outdated practices. They're constantly collecting feedback, experimenting, testing, and looking for new and better solutions for themselves and their team.

  • Great leaders are tenacious. Whatever the odds, they stick it out and never give up. They're always ready and prepared to pursue their personal and professional ambitions to the fullest extent possible.

  • Great leaders understand that powerful recognition and appreciation of their people are essential for effective leadership. Unfortunately, many people believe their leaders do not value them enough. According to statistics from GoRemotely, 79% of workers consider leaving their current jobs because their bosses do not express enough gratitude for their efforts. The best motivation is positive motivation.

  • Great leaders communicate vision clearly. They let people know what to be done, why it should be done, and the expected outcome.

  • Great leaders are humble and cautious in their approach; they are not careless. They recognize that they are fortunate to be in that position and that others, including those who work for them, have equally valuable contributions.

  • Great leaders are empaths. They nurture and care for those around them. They are sensitive to the needs of others. A good leader is a problem solver. They take the time to understand what is happening in their people's minds and hearts. They empathize with them, and as a result, they are better leaders.

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Why is it important to develop leadership skills in the workplace?

Companies consist of people with different skill sets and ambitions, whether an enterprise or a startup. In any workplace, people are its most important ingredient. To be successful, everyone in the company needs to know the recipe and their role in blending it into the desired outcome.

Leaders encourage and direct others to join the mix and make it successful. They are also the ones who keep things on track without becoming paternalistic or micromanaging.

Many leadership skills can be taught and developed on the job. A leader needs to understand the importance of their role in encouraging others to contribute and take pride in a well-done job.

What are must-have leadership skills and practices every leader should have?

Leaders need to listen. The most important skill is listening and hearing what people are saying, not pretending to listen but actually absorbing what they are telling you.

In this post-Covid era, leaders need to be aware of economic anxieties and employee concerns about a possible recession.

As people return to their jobs, many are still working remotely by personal choice or by the directive of their company. Managing and leading remote groups to stay motivated and on schedule is challenging. It necessitates flexibility – a skill that is sometimes elusive to managers.

Communicate clearly what you want from employees and ensure they understand what you expect. Then let them do it.

Could you please share a little bit about your leadership style?

A leader’s most important trait may be integrity. He/she needs to earn his/her staff’s trust for them to follow his/her directives. This manifests itself by setting an example – you can’t just say what you want. You need to walk and show what you mean by your actions. They are watching you at all the steps you take. They are looking to you for guidance, your outlook on the business, and how you react.

I like to think I am open and inclusive, providing opportunities to learn and develop while offering support where needed. But it was more about what they perceived as they watched what I did, not what I said. Sometimes without realizing it, we set an example and don’t recognize that’s what we’re doing. People hear about what you did in a meeting to represent your department. The word subsequently spreads like wildfire. If you did the right thing, it’s all good. If you didn’t, they are suspicious. Trust is broken.

It’s important to set expectations, so people know what they are supposed to do. Communicate what you want and make sure they understand what you expect.

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What was the hardest decision you have taken as a leader? What helped you to prompt the best course of action?

The hardest decision has been to downsize an organization and lay people off. I was always aware that it affected their lives and their families. It took me several years to fully understand that being a manager meant empathizing with my staff about their concerns, not just my own. 

Early on, I was concerned about how my actions made me look to others, like my bosses or peers. Later, I realized that it was more important, to be honest with the people who worked hard to make us all look good and succeed. Perhaps some of this comes with maturity. I know that I made some poor leadership decisions as a young manager. Fortunately, I had mentors along the way who taught me how to motivate people to want to perform at their highest level and look to you for your leadership.

What advice would you give anyone in a leadership position or aspiring to be one?

Leadership is more than just a position or title; a position does not make a leader. It is the leader that makes the position. Leadership is something that flows.

Everyone takes on a leadership role at one level; some lead their families, organizations, and even themselves. It involves ensuring that people are seen and heard. It entails taking the lead and bringing everyone along for the task. As a leader, the ultimate goal is to bring out the best in people, enrich their lives, and help them realize their full potential.

Thank you, Donna, for being with us and for supporting Workee!

Connect with Donna on Linkedin.

Learn more about her business at

Ihor, CEO at Workee

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