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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 7, individuals will show that they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses as a leader. 

In earlier steps, the focus has been on how to manage groups to achieve tasks – thinking about how tasks are shared out, resources and time managed, and how to manage discussions and disagreements. The focus of the next steps is thinking about leadership more broadly, starting with thinking about their strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What do good leaders need to be able to do 
  • How we can identify our strengths and weaknesses
  • How to use these insights

Reflection questions

  • What do we mean by strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What are good leaders able to do? 
  • How can we identify what strengths and weaknesses are? 
  • What can we do about our strengths and weaknesses?

What you need to know

What good leaders do

The most important thing to remember is that there is no perfect leader – there are leaders who are better or worse in different situations. In the Skills Builder Framework, Leadership is defined as supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal.

We think about there being four different elements to being an effective leader:

  • Knowledge and understanding: To be effective, leaders usually have to expertise and experience in an area that is more than most of their followers. A leader might be better at something so can support and develop others.
  • Relationships: A vital part of being an effective leader is having the trust of the team who they are leading. These relationships are built up over time – you might be able to build trust quickly, but you can lose it even quicker. 
  • Character strengths: Leaders will also need different character strengths. Character is about the choices that we make. Do you want leaders who are thoughtful, decisive, confident, humble or lots of other things? We will explore this more in a minute. 
  • Skills: There are lots of practical elements to leadership too – what does a leader need to be able to do? These are the things we have focused on in the Skills Builder Framework.
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Traditional views about leadership

For a long time, a lot of academic focus on Leadership was about trying to find those character strengths that explained why some people were much better leaders than others. These traits included:

  • Endurance
  • Decisiveness
  • Responsibility-taking
  • Compassion
  • And many hundreds more
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Leadership beyond character traits

Many of the traits identified appeared to be contradictions. For example, the needs to be decisive and to reach consensus. 

The thinking now is much more focused on the situations in which different traits are more or less useful. For example, a leader like Winston Churchill was built for wartime conflict but was less effective during peacetime. 

Lots of character strengths have a negative side if they are too extreme. For example, endurance might lead to bloody-mindedness, the desire to complete something at any cost. Or decisiveness might lead to arrogance or an inability to listen. 

For this reason, it is not that helpful to think about a list of traits as being the absolute goal in becoming an effective leader.

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How can we identify our strengths and weaknesses

All of this means that thinking about your strengths and weaknesses is difficult, but there are some important questions that can help to guide you:

  • When do you feel most confident as a leader?
  • When do you feel least confident as a leader?
  • In what situations do you feel you have shown your best leadership?
  • When have you found being the leader more difficult? 
  • How do you think you could improve further as a leader?
  • What do you think are the things that you do well that you want to do more? 

It is also useful to ask other people – what do they see as your strengths and weaknesses? Sometimes other people have a much clearer view than you because they are not in your head. You might ask people who you have led, and those who are experienced leaders who can give you a different perspective.

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How to use these insights

We can use these insights in a few different ways:

  • We can see the skills that we want to get better at, which can support us as leaders. This is what we focus on in the Skills Builder Framework – the practical tools that you can use.
  • We can think about the relationships that we need to develop and acting in ways that build trust. 
  • We can think about how to put ourselves in situations which play to our character strengths as leaders. If we have characteristics that we want to address – for example, we feel that sometimes we are arrogant, or indecisive – then we try to practice getting better at these. 
  • We can build knowledge and experience in an area which will help us if we want to be a leader in that area. 

The key thing is that everyone, however much or little they have been a leader in the past, has areas of strength and areas of weakness. We can all get better.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can open the discussion by asking learners to reflect on what they think about when they think of great leaders. They might talk about historical or political figures, or more familiar examples. 
  • The teacher can then lead a discussion of what makes those leaders effective – what are their strengths and weaknesses? It is worth challenging learners to think about how some leaders’ strengths have a negative flip side and exploring that. 
  • The teacher can also introduce the different elements to being an effective leader, emphasising the idea that we can all get better at leadership.
  • Learners could be asked to complete a self-reflection based on some of the questions above and then discuss their ideas. These could then be built into a set of actions they could take to improve their leadership skills. 

Reinforcing it

This skill is less likely to be regularly built in the classroom setting. However, the big opportunity is that whenever learners do have the chance to take a leadership role – whether in the classroom, co-curricular activities or their wider lives – they are encouraged to reflect on how it went, and what they can learn from it to become better leaders. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by encouraging learners to complete a self-reflection and action plan, and using this as a way of exploring whether learners can think about their strengths and weaknesses as leaders. This can be extended through conversation or discussion.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work:

This step is relevant to individuals who want to make a significant contribution to the team goal, and take on a leadership role. 

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

  • Explain what Leadership is, referring to the Skills Builder definition: encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal.
  • Discuss with an individual their ideas of what makes an effective leader – perhaps asking them to name some examples of effective leaders in the organisation or in wider society. The discussion can explore the perceived strengths and weaknesses of these leaders.
  • Show an individual the benefits of understanding their strengths and weaknesses by demonstrating how they can use these insights to become an effective leader. If confident, a manager might model how they identified their own strengths and weaknesses – perhaps through seeking feedback or reflecting on their experiences. They can then explain how they used these insights linking to develop themselves as a leader, linking to different ways this is possible set out in the section above.
  • Task an individual on an exercise to complete a self-reflection and action plan. This can help an individual to make connections between their strengths and weaknesses and how they can practice the skill of leadership.
  • Reflect with the individual on the opportunities the individuals have to build on their perceived strengths and weaknesses, both at home and at work.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When there is an opportunity to get feedback from others to help us become better leaders, with a focus on learning about our strengths and weaknesses.
  • Working with customers or clients: Taking time to reflect on an experience of delivering for a client and using this new understanding about ourselves to help us move forward towards achieving a shared goal.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through reflection.

  • To achieve this, a manager might task the individual to keep a reflection journal. The purpose of this journal can be for individuals to capture down thoughts down on their strengths and weaknesses and how they can use these to become a leader. 
  • Regular discussions and reflections will help to gauge whether the individual has an accurate sense of their strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and whether they are creating plans to move them in the right direction. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning the individual during an interview to check they can recognise their areas of strength and weakness. An observer can then follow up to check an individual knows how to use these insights.

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

One way to improve further as a leader is to practise the skill at each step of the Framework. In education, there can be limited opportunities to take on a leadership role and have an opportunity to practise. When opportunities are limited, the leadership role is often allocated to someone who is already experienced and perceived to have the skills. This tendency makes the learning at this step even more important.

To be able to articulate your own strengths and weaknesses will allow you to provide reasons why you may be best placed to take on a leadership role in a particular situation. This opportunity to practise will enhance your skill even further.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, you are likely to work with people from in and outside your own department as well as people in or outside your own organisation. On the occasions when you have to work with people less familiar to yourself it is particularly important that you are able to articulate your own strengths so that you can put yourself forward for a leadership role when the situation would benefit from your particular strengths. For example, if one of your strengths is relationships and working well with people, you may well have an important part to play in a group which is made up of individuals who do not usually work together.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In the wider world, we often work with others to achieve a shared goal which maybe as simple as agreeing a time or place to meet or the booking of a social activity. Even simple decisions can require us to support and encourage others,or to be decisive and confident when a critical or dangerous situation has arisen or even humble and understanding when others are upset and in need of support. Being aware of our strengths and weaknesses as a leader will enable us to take an active part in leading a group when the situation demands our particular strengths.

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!

  • Review this section of the framework and consider all the attributes mentioned. Give yourself a score out of five (five being a strength) for each attribute. Which is your weakest area? What could you do to improve this further?
  • Think of a situation when you did not feel confident as a leader. Why was this the case?
  • In what situations do you think your strengths as a leader would be really useful?
  • Identify someone, a colleague, friend, or family member, who has been in a group with you when decisions are being made. Ask them if they have seen or heard you do anything to help achieve a decision within the group. If so, what did you do? If you have not done anything, try to reflect why not.

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