Important Interpersonal Skills You Need to Be an Effective Leader

If you want to succeed in the workplace, you must master these six important interpersonal leadership skills that only an MBA program can offer.

A woman stands in front of a small group of peers and demonstrates interpersonal skills leadership

This blog post was originally published in October 2022, and was revised in June 2023.

There is an essential distinction between managers and leaders. Managers ensure their employees understand their responsibilities, deliverables, and due dates. And they provide those employees with the tools and resources to get their jobs done. Leaders, on the other hand, support and encourage their employees so they stay engaged while meeting objectives and growing in their careers. That takes not only managerial acumen but also well-developed interpersonal skills

Many people become managers, but not every manager becomes an effective leader. The good news is that interpersonal skills for leadership are learned rather than innate. Graduate-level business degree programs such as the SMU Cox School of Business Online MBA program teach interpersonal leadership skills that can make or break a manager’s relationship with their team.


Why Interpersonal Leadership Skills Are Important in the Workplace

You may have multiple degrees and years of experience, but that is not what will matter most to your employees. A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Management Education and Training found interpersonal skills to be the most important traits for effective leadership.

Survey participants in the study ranked communication, emotional intelligence and people management as the top three traits that leaders should have. All three traits were ranked higher than soft skills, such as decision-making and strategic thinking, as well as concrete skills like financial management and data analysis.

Which Interpersonal Skills Should You Hone for Effective Leadership?

Interpersonal skills affect almost every area of business. Your people skills come into play when you enter into a negotiation, close a business deal or woo a client. They can help you build partnerships as well as a collaborative team environment. If you intend to be a leader and not just a manager, these are the interpersonal skills that you should hone:

  • Communication
    Communication skills are a crucial interpersonal skill or trait that all effective leaders need to develop. Successful leaders need to be able to portray effective communication. Leaders with poor communication skills tend to veer into the command and control leadership style, which is only effective in certain settings. Be specific with your directives and your expectations. Be clear and concise. Don’t say in 1,000 words what you could say in 100 words. Also, be careful with what you don’t say. Nonverbal communication can convey just as much-if, not more-than-verbal communication. Your facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language can speak volumes during negotiations, interviews, training and team meetings.
  • Active Listening
    Listen to understand, not to merely reply. Pay attention to each person you converse with and ask yourself what you can learn from that conversation. Let the members of your team know that you hear them. This will help them stay engaged and make them more willing to provide feedback when you request it.
  • Feedback
    Feedback is essential for many reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that you want to maintain a consistently high level of performance from your staff. Being able to give constructive criticism is important in a leadership role. It is hugely valuable to you and the company to tell your employees what they are doing well along with what needs improvement. Over time, your team members will be more likely to appreciate your negative feedback if they know it is being presented with good intentions. While maintaining a positive attitude-showing, positivity, even in difficult situations, is key.
  • Trust and Honesty
    Be as honest and transparent with your employees as possible, especially in times of crisis. Everyone will look to you for guidance, so it’s up to you to give them a reason to trust what you say and how you act. By the same token, display trust in your employees by not micro-managing them.
  • Selflessness
    Your team is more likely to trust you and your leadership if they believe you have the best interests of the company at heart, and not the best interests of your own career. Show your employees that they are a priority and are valued company members through incentives and investments in their professional development. Plan one-on-one time with each team member; it shows that you value them and their contributions.
  • Self-Awareness
    Be self-reflective about your strengths and weaknesses to tap the right resources and do what’s best for the company. You also need the ability to adjust your approach to the situation at hand. For example, if you are used to an autocratic approach but are now in charge of a team project, you’ll need to acknowledge your usual style may not work. How can you adjust?
  • Compassion and Empathy
    These two skills go hand-in-hand with self-awareness. With these skills, you can understand others’ thoughts and feelings. When you are able to see a situation from another’s perspective, you help to build trust and make people feel like humans and not just an employee ID.

If you’re ready to hone your interpersonal skills for leadership, consider earning an Online MBA from SMU’s Cox School of Business. Our professional faculty can teach you the skills that well-rounded leaders possess, in addition to critical business skills. Request more information today.