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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 14, individuals will show that they are aware of their own leadership style and are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. 

The previous step introduced the idea of leadership styles and how different styles have a differing effect on other individuals. This step extends this by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each leadership style. Individuals should be able to use this to ensure that they are playing to their strengths and mitigating their weaknesses.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why it is important to be aware of our leadership strengths and weaknesses
  • The eight major leadership styles and their strengths and weaknesses

Reflection questions

  • What are the main leadership styles?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of those different leadership styles?
  • How can we use this understanding to make us better leaders?
  • Have you been able to adapt your leadership style to mitigate your weaknesses, and play to your strengths?

What you need to know

The strengths and weaknesses of leadership styles

The previous step introduced the idea of leadership styles: the broad approach or attitude that a leader takes to their role.

There is no universal understanding of leadership styles, and there are lots of different styles. Each leadership style has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is no perfect leadership style. 

Instead, great leaders are aware of the behaviour that they tend towards but can adapt this to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. The strengths and weaknesses of different leadership styles are explored below.

It is always worth remembering that leaders rarely fall entirely into one style – and the best are able to adapt their approach to be as effective as possible.

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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 strengths of this approach: 

  • Clarity on who will be making decisions, and who is responsible for what happens
  • Allows for rapid decision-making when needed

The weaknesses of the approach:

  • Individuals in the team will lose any sense of ownership over the direction of the team
  • Individuals are less likely to take responsibility 
  • Decisions are likely to be held up since the leader has only limited ability to know enough to make good decisions on everything, and they will become a bottle-neck
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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 strengths of this approach: 

  • This approach allows for stability and predictability
  • It avoids unnecessary changes or discontinuities in how a team operates, and this can make the team more efficient

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • Opportunities to make improvements might be overlooked because they have not been done before
  • Individuals can feel disempowered, less motivated, and ultimately leave as a result
  • Avoiding changes might mean that the team ultimately falls behind shifts in the wider world or the activities of competitors
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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 strengths of this approach:

  • Motivates individuals in the team since they feel invested in, and that they are valued and appreciated by their leader
  • Allows individuals to build their skills, knowledge and capabilities further
  • Means the team benefits from the dispersed knowledge and skills of all team members

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • Decision making can be slow and uncoordinated
  • The leader has to invest much more of their time and energy in supporting their team
  • There might be weaker strategic direction as a result
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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 strengths of this approach:

  • The team are fully engaged with the decision-making process, and feel that their opinions matter
  • The team have a strong sense of ownership over their work
  • The leader benefits from the collective knowledge and insights of their whole team

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • If a team member differs in their view from the majority, they may feel alienated from the group’s decision
  • Groups can succumb to groupthink, where reaching a maintaining consensus is felt to be more important than reaching the best decision
  • It can also lead to challenging conversations being avoided, whilst it can take a long time to reach a consensus in this way
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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 strengths of this approach:

  • The team feel liberated to get on with their individual projects
  • Decisions can be made quickly and based on the insight and experiences of individuals on the frontline of their work
  • Bureaucracy is minimal, and individuals have a strong sense of ownership of their work

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • It can often feel chaotic and poorly coordinated
  • Individuals can lose a sense of affinity to the work of the wider team, and just concentrate on their own contribution
  • It can become frustrating if team members are working in opposite directions
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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 strengths of this approach:

  • Individuals are clear on what they should be doing
  • There is a high level of coordination, with the different parts of the organisation all pulling in the same direction
  • There is a high degree of stability 

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • There is little motivation or incentive to go beyond the basic expectations 
  • There is less mechanism for change or for the organisation to quickly adapt
  • Good ideas might not be acted upon, as the leader has so much to coordinate
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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 strengths of this approach:

  • This approach focuses on change and continuous improvement
  • The organisation is likely to make rapid progress, and be able to expand quickly and adapt to the wider market
  • Team members are given plenty of stretch opportunities and so avoid complacency or boredom 

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • Sometimes there might be changes that feel like they are solely there for the purpose of having a change, rather than for improvement
  • Over time, team members can feel anxious that they cannot keep up with the growing expectations of the leader
  • It does not suit team members who would prefer consistency and predictability in their roles, and who do not want to give all of their energy to the job
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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 strengths of this approach:

  • The work of the team is grounded in an understanding of the wider sector and the contribution that they can make
  • The team might get greater external recognition as a result of the leader’s advocacy and championing of their work 
  • The leader interferes less with some of the day-to-day operational activities 

The weaknesses of this approach:

  • The leader might not provide their teams with the support they need at the times they need it
  • It might lead to underinvestment in the team, who in turn feel under-stretched or unappreciated leading to them leaving the team
  • The leader might lack the capacity to enact the vision that they have, leading to disappointment
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by revising the eight broad leadership styles with learners. If they are not familiar with these, it might be worth going back a step to Step 13 to revise these. 
  • The teacher should explain that there is no perfect leadership style and that each approach has strengths and weaknesses. The good leader is aware of this, and looks to play to their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.
  • Learners can work in groups to generate what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of each of the different leadership styles.
  • The teacher can then lead a discussion about how as a leader you might be able to mitigate some of the weaknesses that emerge – for instance, by putting different processes in place, or asking other team members to lead on some areas of work. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced whenever learners are working in groups, and there is a leadership opportunity. Learners can reflect on the style that their leader has used, and what worked well about it, what some of the shortcomings could be, and whether the leader had been able to avoid those shortcomings. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observing a learner take on a leadership role to see whether they can lead effectively. This should be complemented with a reflection afterwards where the learner reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of their approach, and how they are trying to address any weaknesses.

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 in a leadership role.

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

  • Explain to an individual that there is no such thing as a perfect leadership style and that each approach has strengths and weaknesses. A manager can stress how good leaders are aware of this, play to their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.
  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of eight commonly recognised leadership styles. To achieve this, a manager can show an individual a diagram of the eight leadership styles, and then discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each with the individual, annotating as they go along. 
  • Task an individual on an exercise which is about identifying how to mitigate some of the weaknesses that emerge for each of the leadership styles displayed. To scaffold this exercise a manager might have a discussion with an individual first about what they might do to mitigate these effects – for instance: putting certain procedures in place or asking other team members to lead on some areas of work. 
  • Reflect with the individual about which situations at work play well to their leadership style. This might expand to a discussion about how the individual can be more exposed to these situations. 

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 the strengths and weaknesses of our leadership style.
  • Working with customers or clients: When pitching to a customer the value of what you offer, especially when trying to describe the specific contribution you can make

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through collecting feedback and observing an individual over time.  For instance:

  • A manager could have regular reflective conversations with an individual. Through this conversation the manager can ask questions to understand if the individual is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their approach. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning the individual during an interview. The purpose of this questioning can be to understand how the individual perceives their own leadership style. This can be extended into a discussion of whether they can recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their approach.

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

At school or college you are likely to experience your first opportunities to lead others. Until this time you are unlikely to be aware of your natural leadership style and certainly not registered the impact you may be having on others. However, as you seek to develop this skill and seek opportunities to lead, the strengths and weaknesses of your natural style will become increasingly apparent to you, and to others. No leadership style is perfect therefore it is important from the offset that you start to identify strategies to mitigate the weaknesses in your style, so you become increasingly confident in your ability to lead others.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, teams tend to have a very clear goal, one which contributes to the overall success of the whole organisation. It will be important to the whole team that the goal is achieved, not just to the leader, as its achievement contributes to the success of the business and continued employment for all. The attributes of the whole team can be utilised to ensure success and confidence at this step of leadership will enable the leader to utilise the skills of others in the team to mitigate their own leadership weaknesses. It is essential therefore that every leader is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their natural style and the situations which may create the greatest risk.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In the social and wider world, teams are generally created to satisfy or achieve a common goal, for example, a sports team or a group holidaying together. The group is likely to be non-hierarchical and the leader possibly a volunteer, willing or otherwise. To achieve success harmoniously the leader needs to use the strengths within the team to mitigate their own leadership weaknesses. Awareness of the weaknesses in your own leadership style is imperative if all the individuals are to gain social enjoyment and achieve the common objective. Disharmony and perceived lack of progress may lead to people leaving the group, negative behaviours which can extend beyond the group or even a full breakdown of the team.

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!

In order to consider the strengths and weaknesses of your leadership style, it is essential that you are aware of your natural leadership style or styles (Step 13).

  • For your natural leadership style, list the strengths and weaknesses. Identify three situations which would fully utilise your strengths. Identify three situations where your style may not work well. What could you do to mitigate your weaknesses, in each of the three specific situations?
  • Make a list of each leadership style and specify one weakness for each style. For each weakness, identify a situation where the leader may struggle to maintain strong leadership.
  • With reference to your own leadership style, what situations would show you in a good light and enable you to excel?
  • How might you recognise a situation where the leader was struggling to lead? Behaviours? Reaction of others? Outcomes?

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