What it takes to be a leader: 5 key skills

Three cheerful businesswomen walking together in an office

Getting the right person in a role is about the business as a whole rather than just filling a gap.

This is even more essential when it comes to selecting a leader, and a key part of my organisation’s expertise. You need the best person with the right skills and experience required to run the organisation.

But what are these skills? Most people assume a leader is someone who knows about maximising profits and minimising losses in order to make the company lots of money. Or the person who has risen to the top because of their specific industry or sales skills. But actually, there are equally as important things to consider. Yes, you need a strategic thinker with commercial awareness, but next time you’re wondering who to hire or how to get ahead, make sure you include these crucial skills:

Being human

Businesses are made up of human beings and if we fail to recognise this, we fail our employees, which in turn leads to business failure. Only by putting individuals and what they care about – in both work and life – at the centre, can a business be successful. That’s why a leader should be human, be able to talk everyone in in the business, from store staff to senior leaders, and know what makes them tick, including their opinions on what’s going well, or not so well in the business.

Being a leader is being one of the people. Only if you understand what truly motivates your team (yes, of course there’s the salary, but for a significant number of people, there are more reasons to go into work every day than just making lots of money), they will open up to you.

Listening, hearing and taking action

Interpersonal skills are incredibly important: a leader must have the ability to engage, understand, and really get under the skin of employees. This is done by listening and hearing. It’s not enough to have your ears open in the workplace, you must also respond to what people are telling you.

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to a business that wants to operate successfully and stay relevant. This includes a culture where diverse ideas and perspectives can be expressed and listened to. Only by creating an environment where this is possible and by responding to all members of your team, will you get proper inclusivity.

Making difficult decisions

Leaders support their employees not only individually but also by taking the action that’s best for the entire company. For this, it’s essential to embrace, validate, and identify with the organisation’s culture. Why do people work here? How do we do things here? Work out the DNA of your company, reinforce it and assess your team members against it.

Developing and maintaining a supportive work environment involves making tough decisions. One of your employees might be bringing in sales, but if they behave badly or undermine the company’s culture, that person is stopping the team from reaching its A-game and will have to go. A supportive leader isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions.

Trusting your team

A true leader knows that they can’t do it on their own. It’s about giving individuals in your business the skills, confidence and support to do their thing. Trust your team and lead by creating other leaders: build up others so they can flourish and fly. Having a low ego helps hugely: recognise that your team are doing things well and that your role is to celebrate that.

Presenteeism has become irrelevant, and fractional (part-time) working is on the rise. By enabling people to work more flexibly and trusting them to do a job, not to work a certain number of hours under supervision, you have access to the best skills and give your team the flexibility they need.


Modern leadership is about taking everybody with you, rather than simply steering the ship and telling people what to do. Of course, the goal and strategy of the business is front and centre. However, the delivery of that vision only happens through the activities of individual team members.

As a leader, you’re the person who makes sure that everybody on the team gets it, buys into it, feels supported, and knows where they’re going. This requires enthusiasm and passion. A good leader is someone who people want to follow.

About the author

Katrina Cheverton is the CEO of Savannah Group, a leadership solutions business that supports business transformation and growth. Katrina’s background in finance and professional services makes her unusual as a leader in this industry. However, it has given her the skills required to help her own organisation thrive, as well as solving problems for clients. Katrina had an interesting journey to CEO after eleven years as a stay-at-home mum and credits covid for changing the world of work for women. Lockdown enabled her to re-establish her career at the highest level (she got promoted to CEO in January 2022) because many practical barriers disappeared.

Katrina Cheverton

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