15 Essential Leadership Skills Everyone Should Develop To Better Handle Change

Business leaders need to be able to handle times of change. Whether they’re facing an internal issue or an external shift in the industry, they must be able to lead their employees through any circumstance. To do this successfully, managers and executives must actively cultivate various key leadership skills throughout their careers.

We asked the members of Forbes Coaches Council which essential leadership skills everyone should develop and why. Their best answers are below.

1. Flexibility

A business leader needs more flexibility, so they should adopt the phrase, “How you change is how you succeed.” The world is moving around us and if we sit still, we soon find that opportunity is passing us by. A mindset of change helps us be more receptive to new ideas and leads us to open more doors, bringing more success. – Adam Stott, Big Business Events LTD

2. Self-Reflection

Leaders benefit from pausing to reflect. It’s biology that our primitive brains are wired to react first to protect, defend, avoid or fight. When we are in react mode, we are not using our prefrontal cortex, the center of higher-level thinking and wise choices. Pausing to calm the brain activates better thinking. – Valerie Lingeman, Double Helix Learning LLC


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3. ‘Pulse-Taking’

Leaders should work on ensuring they have a good sense of the “pulse” of the organization. Change works when people are ready and engaged. The best leaders are always talking to people at all levels so they have a sense of readiness for change, as well as reactions to change. This allows leaders to course correct and ensure changes are well-implemented. – Sandra Oliver, Impact-Coaches Inc.

4. Fire-Fighting

To be truly successful, leaders must learn to be completely comfortable in uncertainty, chaos and constant change. They can do this by adopting a fire-fighter mindset. Having multiple fires going, having variables outside of your control and making decisions in ambiguity is all a part of “normal” leadership experience. – Shefali Raina, Alpha Lane Partners

5. Emotional Regulation

Leaders should be able to regulate their emotions. Change can be threatening to leaders, making them more vulnerable to anxiety, anger and insecurity. Emotions are contagious, and when leaders fail to manage their emotions, they can spread through the team. Those leading in times of change owe it to their employees to manage their emotions so they can help manage their team members’ emotions. – Jonathan Silk, Bridge 3 LLC

6. Resilience

Agility and resilience are essential leadership qualities to develop as we navigate unprecedented challenges and learn to adapt to crisis situations. Creating opportunities for your team through open communication forums allows collaboration and innovation for ideas to redesign your organizational strategy and strengthen your relationships, engaging your workforce and team’s commitment. – Reena Sharma, Agilis Executive Consulting

7. Learning Agility

One key skill to both handle change on a personal level and lead others through change is learning agility. Leaders need to constantly question the status quo, listen to new data and perspective and be willing to adjust in real-time. Learning and adapting will ensure you not only survive in times of change, but also thrive while taking advantage of change. – Joe Frodsham, CMP

8. The Ability To Communicate The Benefits Of Change

To navigate change, business leaders need to know how to lessen their employees’ resistance to change. Your organization will achieve the results of the change when the employees affected adapt their behavior. For people to be willing to do something new or different, they must feel that the change is beneficial for them and that they are capable of being successful. Otherwise, they will resist. – Vered Kogan, Momentum Institute™

9. Progress Focus

Particularly in times of change, which has become a new normal in many ways, focusing on positive developments and pockets of success is key. Change can easily be perceived as a potential threat, triggering our negative bias and causing stress reactions like fight, flight or freeze. Leaders can support their teams in expanding their focus of attention to progress instead of problems. – Thomas Gelmi, Movadis GmbH

10. Stress Management

Developing the ability to regulate reactions and responses to situations is at the heart of navigating change with dexterity.  Learning to breathe into stress, then shift attention in and out of the challenge is a tool that reduces overwhelm. This technique also allows us to control our response to the situation versus being controlled by the situation. – Lyssa deHart, Lyssa deHart, LLC

11. Vigilance

Be agile. Be vigilant in scanning what’s in place and assessing if those are still working. Have very strong reasons to change processes or strategies, and equally strong ones to keep things as they are. Keep responding to the new environments and be agile. – Chuen Chuen Yeo, ACESENCE

12. Curiosity

One essential leadership skill everyone should develop is curiosity. Often, knowing the answers is exactly the thing that stops growth and development. Openness to new solutions, accepting feedback, empathetic listening and effective communication all spawn from a curious mind that finds ease in the discomfort of not knowing. This state of allows for the most agility in uncertain times. – Jennifer Helene, Purposeful Ventures, LLC

13. Asking Meaningful Questions

Ask meaningful questions, listen more and talk less. This may seem simple, but in times of change, people need three things. They need to know they are heard, have the opportunity to share ideas and feel understood more than they need to be right. From listening comes new ideas, buy-in and ownership of seeing those ideas to completion, ultimately increasing commitment. – Michelle Braden, MSBCoach, LLC

14. Change Management

Change management is an essential leadership capability made of many different professional competencies. At its core, successfully leading change consists of taking a systems-thinking approach to complex organizational issues, proactively communicating changing processes, policies and procedures with relevant stakeholders, and generating buy-in by developing trust throughout the organization – Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D, Human Capital Innovations, LLC

15. Active Listening

Actively listening could be the most important skill we ever learn. We can’t listen effectively if we are working on something else. Focus on the person speaking, be quiet, paraphrase back your understanding, acknowledge their point and get curious by asking questions to clarify. Listening well is a skill that can be developed, and in doing so, we learn more about ourselves and the world. – Frances McIntosh, Intentional Coaching LLC

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