People Skills Are Leadership Skills

Mike Pelfini — 03 October 2023

Leadership skills must include people skills to build the environment needed for innovation and excellence in today’s workplace.

The leadership skills that separate outstanding from merely adequate leaders are “soft skills” or “people skills.”  After all, a leader’s real job is to motivate and empower others to do their best work.  Achieving that goal takes self-awareness, empathy, and more than a little courage. 

This blog will consider a few leadership skills that consistently turn up near the top of surveys in publications like the Harvard Business Review and Forbes.  Not surprisingly, they’re “people skills.” 

Emotional Intelligence – A Foundation for Leadership Skills

Emotional Intelligence, or “E.Q.”, is the foundation for the other “people skills” we’ll consider.  According to the Harvard Business School, a great majority of employers value emotional intelligence more highly than technical skill when evaluating candidates.

For leaders, subject matter mastery and technical skill are just entry level requirements.  To be effective as the leader of a team or an organization, more is required.

 Emotional intelligence would be one of the top job skills required by 2025, as predicted by the World Economic Forum in its Future of Jobs Report 2020. Here’s a thumbnail summary of some primary elements of E.Q.:

  •         Self-Awareness: Being able to recognize one’s own strengths, weaknesses, and emotional states is the first step toward emotional intelligence.
  •         Self-Management: Being able to regulate and channel one’s emotions, particularly in stressful times, is a key to developing emotional intelligence.
  •         Empathy: Recognizing, and being able to relate to, the emotions of other people is the next step, and the beginning of social awareness.
  •         Relationship Building: The three elements above provide the tools for leaders to build relationships through mentoring, coaching, resolving conflict, and ultimately influencing others. 

Not everyone is naturally gifted in these areas, but don’t worry.  The elements of emotional intelligence arise from skills that can be learned, practiced, and applied.  A mentor or coach can help.

Building Trust Through High Ethical Standards and Values

Maintaining high ethical standards is an often cited component of effective leadership skills.  If that sounds surprising, it shouldn’t.  

When the goal is to inspire trust and loyalty, maintaining high ethical standards is a clear way to show that the organization will play by the rules.  It means, as well, that individuals can have confidence the organization will “have their backs” in times of adversity. That kind of environment builds trust and a sense of safety, which has been shown to foster innovation and “out of the box” thinking. 

Embodying high ethical standards can be seen as a personal practice, and it can be developed like other leadership skills.  

A major part of that practice is clear communication.  The leader should strive to say what he or she means, and to follow through with action.

Another component of the practice is to behave in ways that match one’s core values.  If the leader feels conflicted about a course of conduct, or their decision making in a certain area, it’s time to check in with those core values.  Long term success may mean steering away from expedient short term solutions. 

These are areas where a coach or mentor can help the leader reach clarity and refocus if necessary. 

Empowering Others to do Their Best

Empowering others represents the culmination of the leadership skills discussed so far.  Emotional intelligence is needed to build relationships, while high ethical standards build trust.  With those elements in place, the leader can achieve the final goal:  empowering  others to do their best work.

Empowering others requires the leader to take action, which carries some risk and requires a bit of courage.  Let’s consider three elements:

  •         Mentoring: Effective leadership begins with fostering growth in their team members through professional development, mentoring, and coaching.  But the process requires risk tolerance since the learning process will inevitably involve mistakes.  Both high E.Q. and high ethical standards will help the leader navigate the waters.
  •         Delegating: As team members develop skills and confidence, the next step will require the leader to let go.  Delegating again carries risk, but the leader who tries to “do it all” is a detriment to the organization, not an asset.
  •         Adapting: Adaptability is the final ridge line, the top of the mountain.  Having laid the groundwork for innovation and growth, the leader must be prepared to accept the fruits of those efforts.  That means recognizing the merits of new ideas and different ways of doing things. 

Much more can be said about developing leadership skills, but these are a few salient points to consider.  If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact us. 


 ForeMeta is a place where business leaders learn about self-leadership and about leading their teams and organizations.  We offer both individualized coaching or group coaching to help you, your teams, and your organization achieve greater success and fulfillment.  Please contact

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