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Listening

The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas
This skill is all about being able to effectively receive information - whether it comes from customers, colleagues or stakeholders.

Initially, the skill steps concentrate on being able to listen effectively to others - including remembering short instructions, understanding why others are communication and recording important information.

Individuals then focus on how they demonstrate that they are listening effectively, thinking about body language, open questioning and summarising and rephrasing.

Beyond that, the focus is on being aware of how they might be being influenced by a speaker, through tone and language.

The final steps are about critical listening - comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas and being objective.

Speaking

The oral transmission of information or ideas
This skill is all about how to communicate effectively with others, being mindful of whether they are talking to customers, colleagues or other stakeholders and in different settings.

Initially, this skill focuses on being able to speak clearly - first with well known individuals and small groups and then with those who are not known.

The next stage is about being an effective speaker by making points logically, by thinking about what listeners already know and using appropriate language, tone and gesture.

Beyond that, individuals focus on speaking engagingly through use of facts and examples, visual aids, and their expression and gesture.

Beyond that stage, speakers will be adaptive to the response of their listeners and ready for different scenarios. The final steps focus on speaking influentially - using structure, examples, facts and vision to persuade listeners.

Problem Solving

The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge
This skill focuses on how to solve problems, recognising that while part of Problem Solving is technical know-how and experience, there are also transferable tools that individuals can develop and use.

The first steps focus on being able to follow instructions to complete tasks, seeking help and extra information if needed. The next stage focuses on being able to explore problems by creating and assessing different potential solutions. This includes more complex problems, without a simple technical solution.

Beyond this, the focus is on exploring complex solutions - thinking about causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating those options. This extends into analysis using logical reasoning and hypotheses.

Finally, individuals implement strategic plans to solve complex problems, assess their success, and draw out learning for the future.

Creativity

The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas
Creativity is the complement to Problem Solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process.

The first few steps focus on the individual's confidence in imagining different situations and sharing their ideas.

The focus is then on generating ideas - using a clear brief, making improvements to something that already exists and combining concepts.

Individuals then apply creativity in the context of their work and their wider life. They can build off this to develop ideas using tools like mind mapping, questioning, and considering different perspectives.

The most advanced steps focus on building effective innovation in group settings and by seeking out varied experiences and stimuli. Finally, individuals support others to innovate, by sharing tools, identifying the right tools for the situation and through coaching.

Staying Positive

The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals
This skill is all about individuals being equipped to manage their emotions effectively and being able to remain motivated, and ultimately to motivate others, even when facing setbacks.

The early steps focus on identifying emotions - particularly feeling positive or negative. Building off that is the ability to keep trying - and then staying calm, thinking about what went wrong, and trying to cheer up and encourage others.

The focus then turns to identifying new opportunities in difficult situations, sharing those, and adapting or creating plans accordingly. At more advanced steps, individuals identify and manage risks and gains in opportunities.

Finally, individuals support others to stay positive by managing their own response, helping others to see opportunities and creating plans to achieve them.

Aiming High

The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them
This skill is about being able to plan effectively - both to achieve organisational goals, and also to set their own personal development targets. Initially, this is about knowing when something is too difficult, and having a sense of what doing well looks like for an individual.

The focus is then about working with care and attention, taking pride in success and having a positive approach to new challenges. Building on this, individuals set goals for themselves, informed by an understanding of what is needed, and then be able to order and prioritise tasks, secure resources and involve others effectively.

At the higher steps, the focus is creating plans informed by an individual's skill set, with clear targets, and building on external views. At the most advanced level, individuals develop long-term strategies. These are informed by an assessment of internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.

Leadership

Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal
This skill is relevant not only for individuals in positions of management with formal power, but also for individuals working with peers in teams.

At the earliest stages, the focus is on basic empathy - understanding their own feelings, being able to share them, and recognising the feelings of others. The focus is on managing - dividing up tasks, managing time and sharing resources, managing group discussions and dealing with disagreements.

Beyond that, individuals build their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their teams. This allows them to allocate tasks effectively. They then build techniques to mentor, coach and motivate others. At the highest steps, individuals will be able to reflect on their own leadership style and understand its effect on others.

Ultimately, they should be able to build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, and adapt their leadership style to the situation.

Teamwork

Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal
This skill applies to working within both formal and informal teams, and also with customers, clients or other stakeholders. Initially, this is about individuals fulfilling expectations around being positive, behaving appropriately, being timely and reliable and taking responsibility. This extends to understanding and respecting diversity of others' cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.

The next steps focus on making a contribution to a team through group decision making recognising the value of others' ideas and encourage others to contribute too.Beyond that, individuals improve their teams through managing conflict and building relationships beyond the immediate team. At the top steps, individuals focus on how they influence their team through suggesting improvements and learning lessons from setbacks.

Ultimately, individuals support the team by evaluating others strengths and weaknesses and bringing in external expertise and relationships.

To achieve Step 13, individuals will show that they are aware of their leadership style and how it affects others. 

In earlier steps of Leadership, the focus was on how to support others, and before that on the mechanics of how to manage individuals to complete tasks. These final steps take a more holistic view of leadership styles, how they affect others, how they can be improved, and how they can be adapted according to the situation.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What are leadership styles and why do they matter
  • What are eight major leadership styles
  • How does each leadership style affect others

Reflection questions

  • What do we mean by leadership styles?
  • What are some of the main leadership styles?
  • How does each style affect others?
  • Have you had any experience of being on working with others with a particular leadership style? What was its effect on you?

What you need to know

What are leadership styles and why do they matter?

A leadership style is a broad approach or attitude that a leader takes to their role. It doesn’t mean that they always behave in this way, in the same way that no human ever behaves completely consistently. However, it is a broad way of understanding the way a leader normally behaves.

Understanding our own leadership styles can help us to identify those situations in which we excel as leaders, and those where we don’t. It can help us to think about how to build on the strengths of that leadership style and its pitfalls, and to play to those strengths while mitigating the weaknesses. 

There is no single best way to be a leader, although there are definite pitfalls. It is about playing to your strengths and using the knowledge this gives you to be the best leader that you can be.

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The main leadership styles

There is no shared understanding of leadership styles, and different institutions and academics have developed their own models. What follows is a blend of these insights, and the most commonly cited examples to give eight broad styles, although most people are, of course, a blend of different elements or show different traits at different times.

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Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership is a style where the leader is the main or only decision-maker. All decisions are made by them, and they expect their decisions to flow through the chain of command to be enacted, unquestioningly, by their team. 

The effect on others: In this setting, individuals in the team feel disempowered from making decisions, but might also feel that they do not have to worry about decisions because they know that they will always be made by the leader.

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Bureaucratic or paternalistic leadership

A bureaucratic or paternalistic leadership style is one where the leader tends to make decisions based on policies and precedent – that is, what has gone before. They generally believe that this is in the best interests of their team to maintain a steady, reliable operation. 

Although not against suggestions from their team in the way an autocratic leader might be, they are unlikely to support anything that is new or too different. 

The effect on others: This leadership style is likely to be reassuring to individuals, who know that they are in a stable environment where there are unlikely to be major shocks or changes. However, if they crave change or feel that things could be improved, they might find this set up frustrating and demotivating.

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Coaching-style leadership

A coaching leadership style focuses on supporting others in the team to feel empowered to make decisions and work through problems, with the leader acting as a facilitator to that process. They are likely to invest heavily in developing the skills of their team and to improve their performance so that the team overall performs better. 

The effect on others: This can be an encouraging approach for individuals as they feel valued, invested in, and empowered. However, sometimes they might wish that they could be given a direct answer to problems or difficulties, and that decision making could be swifter and better coordinated.

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Democratic leadership

A democratic leader focuses on reaching group consensus and a shared approach to decision-making. They see the team’s views as having equal merit to their own, and are willing to defer to the team’s collective opinion over their own. Decisions are often discussed at length and sometimes have to be postponed if a shared position cannot be reached. 

The effect on others: This can be an engaging style of leadership for team members who see that their views and opinions really matter and have an effect on the direction of their work. This can lead to them feeling more invested in making the work a success, as they have a definite sense of ownership over what is decided.

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Laissez-faire leadership

This is a hands-off style of leadership, where the leader essentially delegates decision-making authority out to the individuals in the team. This leads to individuals essentially deciding for themselves what to do, what the priorities are, and how they will work. 

The effect on others: This can be empowering for some individuals who relish the feeling of autonomy and individual responsibility. They will likely feel a strong sense of ownership for their piece of the team’s work. However, there will be a lack of coordination, and it might feel chaotic if different parts of the team are pulling in different directions. Individuals might feel less affinity with the work of the team overall than their small piece of it.

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Transactional leadership

A transactional leadership approach focuses on completing the tasks that need to be done, ensuring that resources are available, and ensuring that appropriate rewards are in place for the completion of tasks. There are very clear roles and responsibilities laid out for team members, and individuals are clear on what the expectations are of them.

The effect on others: This will be a positive situation for some team members – the expectations are clear, and they know what to do to succeed. The flip side of that is that there is little incentive to go beyond completing the role that they have been assigned and achieving the goals set out, which might be demotivating over time.

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Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership focuses on change and discontinuity. The leader is always pushing for things to be done differently or better, and there is little patience for maintaining routines if they could be improved or changed. Goals are likely to be stretched and changed over time, and expectations of team members similarly grow and expand. 

The effect on others: This approach leads team members to feel stretched and to make rapid progress. The constant change means that they don’t have the opportunity to get stuck in a rut or to get bored in their roles. However, it can also be tiring and disconcerting over time, and team members feel that their contributions are seen as never being good enough.

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Strategic or visionary leadership

A strategic or visionary leader is one who is focused on the big picture of what the team is trying to achieve. This might include thinking about how the team and its work fits into the wider sector and how it relates to the activities of competitors. This sort of leader focuses most of their interest on outside the team and the organisation. 

The effect on others: The team can feel that the work they are doing matters on a wider scale, and understand how they are making a contribution to a much bigger change. This can be motivating, especially if working on a social issue. However, it means that the leader is less engaged with the day-to-day activities and may delegate a lot of responsibilities as a result.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can start by asking learners what they think a leadership style is, and working towards a shared definition of what this means.
  • Learners could be asked to come up with ideas of what some of those different leadership styles might be, and what they mean. The teacher should record these, perhaps in a mind map.
  • These ideas can be reconciled with the eight leadership styles outlined above. For each, learners can be asked to think about what they think the leadership style looks like, and then what they imagine the effect on the followers would be of this leadership style. 
  • The teacher can then lead a debate about which is the best leadership style. Ultimately, it can be concluded that there is no ideal leadership style – each has a different effect on their followers. The teacher should emphasise that leadership styles are descriptive, not prescriptive – learners do not simply have to pick one and stick to it. 
  • Leaders can reflect on which leadership style or styles are closest to their own. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced whenever there are leadership opportunities for learners to take on. They should be encouraged to reflect on the leadership style they are taking, and what they think the likely effect is on their followers. This can be checked against the reflections of their followers on how it felt to be led in that way.

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation of a learner leading a task. They should then complete a reflection afterwards to explore the leadership style they thought they were using and what they think the effect of this was on their followers.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who want to develop themselves so that they can get the best out of others. 

To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Explain different leadership styles:
  • A manager might introduce the concept of there being different leadership styles, prompting the individual to reflect on the different leadership styles they think they have seen throughout their working lives. Individuals can be prompted to consider what differentiates each of the leadership styles they’ve identified. A manager might support this process of reflection by capturing down an individual’s thoughts visually on a mind map.
  •  At this point a manager can introduce a model of eight different leadership styles and discuss with an individual whether these make sense to them based on their experience of being a leader and follower. To support this sense making, a manager and individual might try to reconcile the ideas on the individual’s mind map with the model introduced. 
  • Discuss the effects of different leadership styles to an individual
  • Referring to the model, the manager and individual can discuss what the effects of each leadership style might be on those they are leading. 
  • Task an individual to collect feedback from other stakeholders about their leadership style, to help understand what they tend towards. 
  • Reflect with an individual on the feedback they’ve received on their leadership style and help them to consider what the possible effects on their followers are. This might lead to tasking the individual to collect further research to check if this is the case.

Practising it:

There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:

  • Working with colleagues: When adopting a leadership position, with a focus on being aware of how our leadership style affects others.
  • Working with customers or clients: When pitching to a customer the value of what you offer, especially when trying to describe specific contribution you can make. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observation and discussion. For instance:

  • A manager can observe an individual take up a leadership position on a task or project. They can then have a reflection conversation with the individual afterwards to explore the leadership style they thought they were using and what they think the effect of this was on their followers.
  • This can be supplemented with feedback from those who were being led. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:

  • Questioning an individual during an interview process. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the individual showing an awareness of their leadership style and its potential effects.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.

We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:

  • Tools for self-reflection
  • Materials to support you to teach the skills, if appropriate in your setting
  • Reward systems like printable certificates

We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.

More resources

Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

The successful completion of a group assignment at school or college will require tasks to be allocated and completed to an agreed time frame. However, the actions and behaviours of others may help or hinder the success of the project. An awareness of your own style of leadership will enable you to predict or recognise the reactive behaviours of others in the team. Whilst these may be positive or negative effects, your confidence in recognition will allow you to plan how you may respond in order to complete the activity successfully.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, you may have to work in a group or team of people from other departments, where the people may be less familiar or possibly not known to you. In such situations, an awareness of your own leadership style will enable you to anticipate the possible reactions of others to your style, even when you do not know them well. If you are forearmed, you are in a better position to counter any negative reaction and secure the positive engagement of each individual and successful achievement of the team goal.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

When participating in a social situation and organising a group event or activity, the individuals involved are likely to have elected to be in the group and will want to see a successful outcome - for example, the organisation of a camping trip or visit to the theatre. It is this common goal which binds the group together. Awareness of your leadership style and its effect on others is vital, as a negative reaction may result in someone choosing to leave the group or to be divisive.  In each case, the situation may place the event at risk and even jeopardise the inherent friendships.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Leadership, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!

  • List the characteristics of each leadership style and consider your own attributes. Which style do you think is your natural style? Discuss with someone who knows you well, what they think of your assessment? Which styles are you definitely not?
  • List and consider the effects of your natural style. Can you identify and record a situation where your style had a positive effect on someone? What about a negative effect?
  • Think about a group or team activity you have taken part in recently. Consider the leadership attributes of the leader of that activity, can you identify which style they were closest to? What impact did their style of leadership have on you? Did the leader impact very differently on another member of the team? How? Why?
  • Next time you participate in a group activity, take particular notice of the style of the leader. Can you recognise those in the team who have been impacted positively by the leader’s style? How? Why? Try to identify any negative effects and the associated reasons.

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step