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How To Improve Your Organizational Leadership Skills

Industry Advice Business Communications & Digital Media Leadership

Finding and fostering leaders has become a top priority in organizations today. In 2018, North American companies spent nearly $167 billion on leadership development programs, yet 84 percent still anticipate a shortage of leaders through 2022.

As organizations continue to invest in the improvement of their leaders, it’s important that they recognize the fact that C-suite executives aren’t the only professionals with these important responsibilities. In fact, Richard Petronio—a faculty member at Northeastern University and an expert in organizational leadership—believes that “we are all leaders and followers” in the workplace. “Even the CEO is a follower, because he or she reports to a corporate board of customer base,” he says.

Petronio—who has assessed more than 1,000 global leaders during his 30-plus years as a consultant—continues on to define leadership as “the ability to influence the behavior of others.” This view, he emphasizes, means that each employee has the opportunity to act as a leader within their organization. Whether their role is as a member of a production line in a manufacturing facility or a manager performing quality control and overseeing the crew, each person’s actions impact that of those around them.

What is Organizational Leadership?

Organizational leadership is focused on setting strategic goals for an organization while also motivating individuals within it to meet their own goals in order to successfully carry out a greater mission. 

People often view organizational leadership as a skill set within business management, but it is essential in virtually all organizations and professionals in any field can use these skills to become more effective in their roles. In fact, having a strong background in organizational leadership can even help advance your career

Key Leadership Traits

If you want to meet the demand and become a stronger leader, Petronio recommends mapping your skill sets against the key personality traits and cognitive abilities that all effective leaders share, as identified by the 16pf leadership assessment. These traits include:

  • Strong influencing behavior
  • Emotional resilience
  • Practicality
  • Extroversion
  • Self-control
  • Ability to solve problems

Below we offer a closer look at how each of these traits plays out in the workplace.


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1. Strong Influencing Behavior

Leaders, no matter what level they’re at in the organization, need to know how to influence and persuade their peers. Whether pitching a new idea or trying to change a department’s way of thinking, effective leaders communicate with empathy. They strive to identify and understand their colleagues’ motivations and use that knowledge to make change and build trust.

2. Emotional Resilience

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how persuasive you are; business doesn’t always go as planned. Ideas flop, priorities change, roadblocks surface, or higher-ups simply say, “no.” As a leader, you need to prepare for that possibility and respond appropriately—with flexibility and resilience.

“In a world where quick changes are made and companies…[must remain] competitive, leaders need to bounce back from disappointments and not labor on them,” Petronio says.

3. Practicality

When leaders do make decisions, they must be able to separate fact from emotion.

“Solutions need to be based on practical evidence,” Petronio says. “Leaders need to ground those solutions in valid information and not be emotionally tied to problems.”

It’s likely each person on your team will have a different opinion on how to tackle a particular business problem. If you want your opinion to be heard, you need to validate it with evidence. That evidence could be anecdotal and sourced from your own customer base or grounded in research and statistics. What matters most is that it’s unbiased.

“It’s poor data to just rely on social media,” Petronio explains. “It’s very biased depending on the organization putting the information out, and they’re usually up against tight timelines and doing things quickly.”

As a leader, you need to carefully assess where you’re gathering evidence to avoid any inaccurate reporting or miscommunication that may lead to poor decision-making.

Learn More: Top 5 Leadership Skills for the Workplaces of Tomorrow

4. Extroversion

This isn’t to say that introverts can’t be leaders; a reported 40 percent of executives are introverted. Effective leaders do need extroverted tendencies, however. That means you can’t stay holed up in your office, laser-focused solely on your work.

Instead, it’s your responsibility as a leader to communicate with transparency and collaborate with your peers. If you’re an introvert, you can start leaning into this practice by getting to know your colleagues in smaller group settings or one-on-one meetings.

 5. Self-Control

While extroversion is a beneficial trait, you also need to practice self-control. Rather, you need to stop and think before hastily responding to a colleague—or stop talking altogether. Effective leaders listen and focus not on what they should say, but on what’s being said.

When spontaneous decisions are required, leaders need to fight their urge to react. If you start to stress, those around you will sense that and soon carry the burden themselves. Managing your emotions is crucial to success.

6. Ability to Solve Problems

“Effective leaders need to think abstractly and solve diverse problems quickly,” Petronio says. “In the 21st century, leaders need to compete with more companies, and make faster, more creative, and more meaningful decisions.”

Solving problems requires flexing different leadership skills. For instance, you need to view problems as opportunities and not let stress paralyze you. Taking the time to gather accurate evidence can help you reach a more informed decision, and if that decision results in a misstep, it’s your responsibility to bounce back and start strategizing new solutions, rather than react emotionally.

What you can’t do is avoid the problem. In today’s highly competitive, global environment, if you don’t make a change, your competitors will. Successful leaders are comfortable assessing situations and thinking holistically about the organization, as well as the long-term impact of their decision-making.

The Need for Additional Competency-Based Traits

The six traits above represent one’s personality, emotional intelligence, and reasoning ability, yet Petronio emphasizes that leaders should also exercise additional competency-based skills when managing teams. These skills, which vary based on job title and the position’s level in the organization, can be equally as vital to a leader’s success.

The CEO of an international firm, for example, needs cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication skills to operate effectively. Yet a supervisor overseeing the company’s production line might not flex those same competencies, relying instead on supply chain management and planning abilities.

“Leaders need to understand the knowledge base and competencies that are required to do their job successfully,” Petronio says. “But they also need to understand what challenges lie ahead of them given their own personality structure.”

Taking Stock of Your Strengths and Weaknesses

To be an effective leader, you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Which of the key leadership traits do you regularly practice and where do you need to improve?

“Every employee benefits by understanding where their challenges lie in being effective leaders,” Petronio says. “They need to be open and transparent with themselves, and then they need to take charge of their own development. They can’t depend on an organization to do that for them.”

The more aware you are of the challenges you may face, the easier it will be to identify your own natural tendencies. Rather, how are you inclined to act, and will that help or hurt you as a leader?

“People need to know where their challenges lie and then they can get help on how to manage those tendencies,” Petronio adds. “They’re not going to change their personalities, but they can manage their tendencies.”

Personal reflection is important for those at all levels of leadership. In fact, 83 percent of organizations say it’s important to foster leaders at all levels, yet only five percent have actually implemented professional development company-wide. By taking charge of your own growth, you can better influence your career trajectory, as well as those around you—and that’s what makes for a true leader.

Improving Your Organizational Leadership Skills Through Advanced Education

Practice and experience are two of the best ways for an individual to improve the skills outlined above. The downside to this approach is that it may take years of consistent work to accomplish this. Instead, consider earning an advanced degree that will allow you to focus on developing these skills and reach your goals faster.

There are many potential educational paths to consider that can specifically help you improve your leadership skills. A Master of Science in Leadership, for example, has grown popular in recent years, as it helps students develop a personal leadership philosophy that can be applied to the challenges of the workforce. Another option is an EdD with a concentration in organizational leadership, which also provides professionals with the training and exposure to real-world scenarios they need to hone these crucial abilities.

Did You Know: While some who earn their EdD may go on to work in education, there are applications of this unique degree across industries, including business, innovation, public health, and more.

At Northeastern University, students pursuing their EdD with a concentration in organizational leadership learn how to eliminate the boundaries between learning and working in order to systematically transform their organizations. The concentration addresses ways leaders interact and collaborate with their organizations, as well as with their personal local and global networks.

For those who want to improve their organizational leadership skills, formal education in the area can develop the key competencies that are needed in the evolving workforce. Programs that emphasize experiential learning offer students the unique ability to apply these skills to real-world situations so that they can be prepared to make an impact on their own organizations. 

Are you interested in learning how an EdD with a concentration in organizational leadership can help advance your career? Download our free guide to Earning Your EdD below.


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