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Become a leader

In the first of a new series about taking on new roles we look at key leadership qualities and traits and how you can become a great leader.

chess pieces symbolising leadership training

The Basics

Here’s a short summary of what a leader is and does.

A leader is someone who leads a team of people. They typically offer instructions, advice and encouragement to their team. Leadership abilities are highly valued and leaders can be found in almost all industries and job sectors.

Step by step

Taking on any new role can be daunting, here’s a step by step for getting started with leadership.

1. Learn more about leadership as a topic, and the skills you’ll need.
2. Explore what type of leadership style you might be suited to.
3. Seek advice from other leaders and experts.
4. Ask for feedback from those you are leading.
5. Keep repeating points 3 and 4.

Key Skills

Find out what abilities you need to be a leader.

Leaders are usually the ones who have to make the difficult choices, and ‘tell the hard truths’ (David Thomas, Harvard Business School) this often requires courage.

Decision-making ability
When there’s concerns over which route to take a leader must be able to step in and make a well-informed, considered decision. They then get ‘all hands on deck’ to enforce that decision. (Inc)

While a leader must be rational, they almost must develop a keen sense of empathy. Empathy helps us understand each other (Forbes), whether we are leaders or followers. A leader that can empathise with the team they’re leading will have a better sense of the team’s problems and fears and therefore might be more successful in alleviating them.

It’s no good being a leader if you can’t clearly express yourself to your ‘followers’. A great leader must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively to ensure any instructions are carried out successfully (see number 20 at Entrepreneur)

(Sidenote: everyone you ask ‘what makes a great leader’ will give you a different answer. Some list five key qualities, some list over 20, we’ve listed some of the most common skills that get mentioned.)

Dos and Don’ts

Discover what to do and what not to do as an aspiring leader.


✅ Explore different leadership styles (read about that here)
✅ Ask advice from others in leadership roles
✅ Try and develop your skills in the areas described above


❎ Assume people will follow you
❎ Just start bossing people around
❎ Stop working on your skills

Inspiring Leaders

Meet the people excelling at leadership.

Anne-Marie Imafidon

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Founder of Stemettes

After achieving degrees in Maths and Science remarkably young, Anne-Marie Imafidon knew more women should be in STEM. So she set up Stemettes – a social enterprise that has so far helped over 14,000 young women experience STEM. She now sits on several boards, negotiates with major companies and has an MBE for her work. (Image: Anne-Marie Imafidon)

Read more about Anne-Marie.

Raj Panjabi Leader

Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health

Raj Panjabi grew up in Liberia, moving to the US when civil war broke out. After qualifying as a doctor he returned to Liberia and, using money he got as a wedding gift, founded Last Mile Health – a nonprofit that trains community health workers. His work has significantly improved access to healthcare for thousands living in remote parts of Libera. (Image: PopTech)

Read more about Raj.

Get started

Get practical help from top organisations with these online leadership courses.

Develop your leadership qualities with the first course in the Management and Leadership program – Management and Leadership: Leading a team, from the Open University. It’s been designed to help you learn and grow crucial leadership abilities.

Find out more about the course

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