5 Key Interpersonal Skills for Leaders

“Abraham Lincoln said that people think that the real test of a person’s character is how they deal with adversity. A much better measure of a person’s character is to give them power. I’ve been more often disappointed with how people’s character is revealed when they’ve been given power.”  Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria

As leaders, we have power. We have the power to direct and lead others; we have the greater power in all of our interpersonal relations. This power requires us to be even more attentive in our interpersonal relations to ensure that we do not abuse this power, but instead that we are as effective as possible in developing open, positive, two-way communication with our teams.

So, what can we do to develop strong interpersonal relations with the people who work for us?

  1. Be ‘Good People’

To develop strong interpersonal relations with our teams, we leaders need to be “good people.”  Good people are easy to get along with, approachable (even when under stress), and have high ethics and good values.  This allow us to build and maintain strong relationships and rapport with those whom we lead.

The leadership website, www.walkthetalk.com, summarizes well the characteristics of being “good people.”

Good people just naturally do things that EARN them the trust of others. They are honest and open…competent and knowledgeable. They are consistent and considerate. They display concern for others’ well-being as well as their own – sometimes before their own.  And most importantly, they honor their promises and commitments.


  1. Competent

To develop good interpersonal skills, leaders must demonstrate their competence.  We must know what we are talking about and have clear objectives. And we must be confident in our strengths and ability to lead others effectively.  The most common way that we can destroy our reputation for competence is by speaking out about something that we do not know.  As leaders, we need the humility to be able to admit when we do not have the answer (but, we will find out).


  1. Listening

Books have been written about the challenges of listening and all the steps to being a better listener.  For a leader with a position of power, good listening can be broken down into only two components.  First, we need to pay attention to what the other person is saying.  We cannot be distracted by our smartphone or someone else. We just need to pay attention and listen and ensure that our body language clearly shows that we are listening. Second, we cannot interrupt the other person.  We need to let the other person speak without interrupting and without us finishing their sentences or thoughts.  If we could all do these two things, we would all be much more effective listeners.


  1. Empathy

Empathy is a vital leadership and interpersonal skills for all of us.  Empathy is simply putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes.  We need to always consider the situation that the other person is in:

  • Are they nervous because we are their boss and they are trying to correct an error that we have made?
  • Are they distracted and unable to really understand what we are saying?
  • Are they tired or is their brain “full” and thus they cannot understand and learn what we are asking them to learn?
  • Is English their second language and thus they are spending mental effort just to understand our words?

By putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we will re-assess how and what we are communicating to make as effective as possible.


  1. Consistency

As good leaders, we have to be consistent in our behaviors and moods.  First, we need to keep the focus on the few critical ideas and issues and avoid getting distracted by smaller issues so that we are consistent in our message about what is most important.  Second, we have to maintain our leadership game face.  To do this, we must control our emotions.  Even if we are having a bad day, a major problem at work, or if something is going wrong in our personal lives, we have to be positive and considerate and care about our team.  Swings in priorities and focus and mood swings are the opposite of being consistent and will just confuse, worry, even annoy our teams, who may begin to think to themselves:

  • Which of the 50 issues I am dealing with is going to be most important to my boss today?
  • Which version of my boss is going to show up – the positive, inspiring leader or the negative, overbearing jerk?



We need to work hard to develop real, authentic relationships with each person on our team. In the end:

A team’s success at work isn’t driven by the IQs or talent of the individuals on the team, but by the team’s culture and interpersonal relationships.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Communication, Leadership, Team / People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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