3.16.2021 16:36
Career advice

How to Hone Leadership Skills in the Workplace

How to Hone Leadership Skills in the Workplace


Laura Camilleri

March 30, 2020

Career advice

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. A great leader has a futuristic vision and knows how to turn their ideas into real-world success stories.

Many people believe that leaders are born not made. However, the truth is that a person’s leadership skills can develop, just like any other ability. Organisations who fail to invest in their employees’ leadership development will face a lack of business growth and success as a result. When companies work to actively drive employee development, they shape a more efficient, competitive and engaged workforce.

We sat down with three industry leaders at some of the top Australian tech companies to give us some insight into how you can hone your leadership skills in the workplace.

The top soft skills that make great leaders

Soft skills are personal attributes, personality traits and communication abilities, as opposed to technical skills and qualifications (‘hard skills’), and there are certain soft skills needed for successful leadership.

One of the key “soft” skills that leaders need is the ability to connect and care for their people. This is always important, regardless of the strategic direction and objectives of the organisation. But it’s particularly important today where change is a constant, and employees are being asked to continuously innovate to exceed customer expectations. Such work conditions can be demanding, so it’s important that this challenge is acknowledged and that our people feel supported and motivated.

Paul Diaz, Associate Director at Optus highlights collaboration as a critically important soft skill.

Collaboration involves an ability to engage productively and constructively with people, connect work to a common purpose, be open to feedback, and share knowledge and experiences.

Diaz stresses how “internal fragmentation in a business can undermine both positive customer experience and innovation, so leaders need the skills to create a culture of collaboration within and across teams.”

There are many desirable personality traits for leaders, but like collaboration, some are becoming crucial as business moves into the “digital era.”

Diaz believes that most important for leaders today is having a growth mindset. He states that this is “the underlying belief that they are not limited, and that their abilities, ways of thinking, and even intelligence, can grow with time and experience.”

When employees embody this growth mindset, they will strongly believe that they and their teams can make a difference, seek out opportunities, be willing to learn and to take on feedback. In turn, these beliefs and traits will encourage employees to take on bigger perspectives, to be more comfortable with ambiguity and change, and to collaborate more effectively with their senior peers to drive innovation and positive customer experiences.

How can leaders develop their communication skills?

Communication is a core leadership function so effective communication and effective leadership go hand in hand. Leaders need to be skilled communicators at the organizational level, as well as in communities and groups, sometimes on a global scale. Never underestimate the importance of having good communicators and collaborators at the top.

Having a supportive mentor in your leadership journey is often key to learning how to communicate well. Positive role models can really help to inspire leaders, build their skills and lead them to make the right choices. As Diaz explains, “the key to developing any communicative skills are feedback, practice and reflection. Having formal and informal systems in place to receive feedback goes a long way to helping leaders get a perspective on how they approach communication.”

Andrea Breen, Regional Director at Objective, tells us, “my leadership and communication style has been formed by the leaders that I have been fortunate to work with during my career.” Breen also states, “I have been incredibly grateful to those leaders who have taught me the value of thinking with clarity, expressing ideas and sharing information with a multitude of audiences”.  

Diaz demonstrates how Optus supports their employee’s future leadership development by investing time and effort into their “Leaders Lead” initiative. He tells us, “This initiative is one way our leaders receive regular feedback from their direct reports on these day to day behaviours. Optus also actively engages our Top 400 leaders in forums to build cross-functional relationships which can underpin better communication and collaboration across business units.”

How to provide mentorship and support to your team

Leadership mentoring enables prospective leaders to see what great leadership looks like by using soft skills to effectively encourage them and to drive them forward. Many accomplished professionals point to someone who invested time, energy and support in helping them navigate a formative point in their lives.

Melissa Klemke, Product Director at ELMO, strives to be the mentor that she would have appreciated in the early stages of her career. Klemke aims to engage and motivate her team by, “understanding what motivates people as individuals, scheduling regular ‘one on ones’ and actively listening to understand where they are struggling, where they are succeeding and what they need to either remove roadblocks or enable their success.”

Klemke also states, “I like to ask my team questions rather than instruct them what to do – it’s a consulting exercise! I always ask for feedback on how I can help them too and how we can work productively together.”

Breen agrees with this mentorship strategy. As she wisely says, “A great leader never stops learning and constantly inspires their team to strive to be the best they can be”.

As a woman in leadership, Klemke is passionate about encouraging the women she leads to be more willing and comfortable to step forward when opportunities present themselves. Klemke highlights the fact that “statistically, women will not put themselves forward for an opportunity unless they are confident they can 100% succeed. Men are just that little more willing to stick their neck out even if they aren’t sure (which I love) but I encourage the women I lead to take that same chance.”

It is incumbent upon Optus to invest in building future skills required to be a successful leader in the tech industry, says Diaz. “At Optus, we are ‘future-proofing’ the organisation through the creation of a Career Agility Portal which brings together career-related resources that promote self-determination in career and leadership development.”

Organisations who are passionate about driving employee development and building leadership skills can actively enhance the capabilities of their prospective leaders, by continuously providing them with opportunities to practice new skills and receive feedback. Furthermore, companies with actively interested and dedicated employees see 41% lower absenteeism rates and 17% higher productivity.

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