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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 15, individuals will show that they are aware of their leadership style and also that they can adapt their approach depending on the situation. 

In the previous two steps, the idea of leadership styles was introduced, and different styles explored. The strengths and weaknesses of each approach were then explored. This step builds on this further by exploring how different styles work well in different settings and how an excellent leader can adapt their approach to the situation.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why there is no single best leadership style
  • How to choose a leadership style for the situation
  • When each of the eight major leadership styles is effective

Reflection questions

  • Why is there no single best leadership style?
  • When is each of the eight major leadership styles effective or ineffective? 
  • How can you adapt your leadership approach to the context?
  • Have you had any experience of doing this?

What you need to know

Different leadership styles for different situations

In the last two steps, we have explored different leadership styles and the strengths and weaknesses of each. The critical point to remember is that leadership is not about picking one leadership style and then sticking to it through everything. Indeed, leadership styles are just constructed to think about broad approaches to leadership.

The best leaders think about the situation, and then adapt their approach to that situation. For example, in a crisis leaders might be more autocratic in order to make decisions quickly and ensure clear lines of control. In a high change situation, they might take on more of a mantle of the transformational leader encouraging change. During more stable times, they might invest in their teams with a coaching approach.

This is not easy to do - until we have really mastered the skill, it can be easy to default back to our natural style, that comes easiest to us. Reflecting consciously about our style and whether it is appropriate in the setting is essential until this becomes intuitive.


For these eight broad leadership styles, it is important to be able to recognise when each is effective and ineffective. We can then make good choices about when we deploy each style in different settings.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

An autocratic leadership approach can be effective when clear decisions need to be made in a short time span, and quickly implemented. This can mean in a crisis situation or when the team is under great pressure.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach 

This leadership style works well in a stable, predictable environment when there is little external competition or need for change. It works well with individuals who are happy to follow routines and the way things have always been done.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

This is an effective approach in a stable environment, where decisions do not have to be rushed. This can help where decisions can be decentralised, and it is possible for team members to have considerable ownership and responsibility for particular areas. It is also helpful when the team needs to be further developed or improved.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

This approach can be effective when there is little hierarchy in the group, and team members consider themselves to be peers with equal contributions to make. It also benefits from there being adequate time for discussions and to make decisions, and a high level of support and trust between team members. It also relies on a high level of alignment between the interests of team members.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

This approach is well-suited to a fast-growing team or organisation where speedy decision-making is key. There needs to be an acceptance that some decisions that are made will be incorrect, and some work will have to be abandoned or re-done.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

This approach works well when the situation is stable, and the focus is on consistency of work and delivering on clear expectations. It means that efforts are not wasted, and that activity is purposeful. However, over time, individual motivation is likely to wane.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

This approach can be effective when the organisation is in a rapidly changing, or highly competitive environment when they need to grow or react quickly. It works better when team members are keen and hungry to develop and to be given plenty of opportunities, which is commonly the case in a newer team. It may work less well in an established team, with set ways of working.

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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. 

When it is an effective approach:

This can be an effective approach when the external environment is important to the success of the team. To be effective, the leader needs a strong team and other good leaders who can support the day-to-day work of the team, and support and stretch one another.

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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 emphasise that the best leaders do not simply choose a leadership style and then stick with it thereafter. Instead, they choose the best approach depending on the situation and what they are trying to achieve. 
  • Learners can work in groups to think about when each of the leadership styles is a good fit, and when it would be a bad fit. They can present their ideas back to the rest of the class afterwards. 
  • The teacher can reinforce this by giving learners different scenarios to consider and asking them to identify what they think would be the optimal leadership style for that situation. 
  • Ideally, learners would then apply this understanding to an on-going project – whether in the classroom or outside of it. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced whenever learners have a leadership opportunity or when they are working in small groups. The teacher should ask learners to reflect before they begin the task on which leadership style or styles they think would be most effective here, and then they should adapt their approach to that.

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through setting and observing one or two leadership tasks. Learners should reflect beforehand on what approach they are going to take, and then reflect afterwards on whether it worked as they expected. The teacher is looking to understand that learners can connect the right style to the right situation, and actually behave accordingly.

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 to an individual that the best leaders choose their approach depending on the situation and what they are trying to achieve. To support this point, a manager might show a model which describes the characteristics of eight leadership styles. 
  • Discuss and annotate this model to show which leadership styles are best suited for which situations. 
  • Reflect with the individual on the effects of a bad fit between leadership style and situation. To support this reflection, a manager might share some examples of when they have witnessed this sort of poor fit. 
  • Task an individual to observe different leadership styles in action that are suited to the environment. Through this placement, an individual can better understand how different leadership styles might benefit different operating environments. This might involve the individual taking on a secondment or a volunteering opportunity outside the business.

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 exercising a leadership style to suit the demands of the current situation. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When pitching to a customer the value of what you offer, optimising what you do to suit the needs of the environment that you are in.

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 which ascertain what leadership style the individual thinks is required in this situation. 
  • The manager can supplement these conversations with observations to check the behaviours and the style are suited to environment the individual is operating in.
  • Finally, these can be complemented with reflective conversations with those who the individual is leading, to get their feedback on their experience of being led in this way.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual take part in a case study. This case study could present the individual with details of an organisation’s situation and task the individual to explain their approach to moving the organisation’s position. An observer could question the individual to check they can recognise which leadership style suits the situation best.
  • This can be followed up by questioning to explore whether the individual understands different leadership styles and can be adaptive to the situation.

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

When leading a team at school or college, there are likely to be circumstances when your natural style is not appropriate for the situation. The person leading the development of a school production in a democratic style may need to be more autocratic and make quick decisions when the main lead is sick or when the scenery falls down mid play. In the same way a more naturally laissez-faire leader, may need to be more transactional when a team presentation deadline is looming and most of the individuals have not provided the information which is needed for the presentation.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

The most successful business leaders in the world do not all have the same leadership style, but one thing they will have in common is that they will recognise situations where their own style may not be appropriate for the circumstances and will adapt to a more effective style. This need to adapt is true at every level of leadership in the workplace, where circumstances dictate the need for a different approach. At a time of crisis or when a quick decision is essential, perhaps in an emergency, the laissez-faire leader will need to be more autocratic. When a new approach or way of working is being introduced in a department or office, the strategic leader may need to increase their engagement with coaching or recognise the need and delegate to others who can coach more effectively.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Ina social situation, where the leader may have volunteered or even been recommended for the role, it is important to remember that the group or team are doing the activity out of choice. It is not paid employment nor compulsory. The members of the group can ‘vote with their feet’ and if they are not happy about the leadership they may leave the group and establish a separate team or remain and cause disruption. It is important then that the leader acts in a style that it appropriate for the situation, for example, when an enjoyable group holiday is being planned, most people would not appreciate an autocratic leader telling them where and when they are going and for how long. In this situation, a naturally autocratic leader would need to adapt to a more democratic approach.

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!

  • Complete research to find out about a successful business leader. Can you identify their leadership style from descriptions of their activities and any press or social media statements? Are there any times of crisis in their business, how did they react? Are they focused on their employees or the strategic direction of the business?
  • If you are in education, consider the style of your Headteacher or a Senior Leader. Have you experienced a situation when their style was totally appropriate? Has there been a time when their style was not appropriate? Did they amend their style?
  • If you are in the workplace, consider the leadership style of your manager or team leader. Have you experienced a situation when their style was totally appropriate? Has there been a time when their style was not appropriate? Did they amend their style?
  • List all the leadership styles (Step 13). Next to each one, record a situation where that style is likely to be most effective and when it would be least effective.
  • List all the leadership styles (Step 13). With an awareness of your own leadership style, identify how easily you could adapt your style to each of the other styles? Which style would you find most challenging? Why? Think of a situation when you might need to adapt to each style?

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