Survey: The Most Important Leadership Development Skills in 2020

Training Mag 2

What We Already Know

We know leadership development is a critical initiative for businesses, and we also know that communication is one of the most important skills businesses are looking for in leaders and high performers. But communication, in and of itself, is a remarkably broad category.

What kind of communication skills, exactly, do our future leaders need?

Training Magazine’s 2020 Leadership Development Survey, which surveyed over 530 Learning and Development (L&D) professionals between January 5 and February 17, 2020, sheds some light on that question by identifying the skills learning and development professionals in high-performing organizations consider to be their chief priorities.

Confirming what we know, communication skills are found in the survey to be the second most important priority for leadership development (coaching others is #1).

Training Mag GraphGraph by Training Magazine

But the survey dives deeper, identifying the skills high-performing organizations (as opposed to moderate- and low-performing organizations) value most.

  1. Influencing others
  2. Motivating others
  3. Self-directed learning

Priority Leadership Skills for High-Performing Organizations

Training Mag 2Graph by Training Magazine, emphasis by Quantified

The first two skills, influence and motivation, caught our eyes because they are both direct results of effective communication — both goals leaders can work toward in their communication with team members, investors, and the community. The third, leaders’ ability to develop themselves, is in alignment with both current best practices for leadership development and the Quantified platform. Let’s unpack all three.

Skill #1 – Influencing Others

How does a leader influence others through communication? Think back to your high school lessons on persuasion. Persuasion strategy dates all the way back to Aristotle’s three tactics: ethos, pathos, and logos. Today, we call them logic, intuition, and emotion — or appeals to the head, gut, and heart.


We dive deep in some of our favorite research, an analysis of how the world’s 50 greatest leaders use appeals to the head, gut, and heart to move their audiences. But for now, here’s what you need to know: effective persuasive — or influential — communicators can blend these three types of appeals in order to create the most compelling arguments for each audience. This requires getting to know your audience in detail and then curating the right mix of statistics, citations, and emotional appeals to influence them.

Studying logical, intuitive, and emotional arguments and learning which ones will appeal best to which kinds of audiences will take a leader a long way into becoming an influential communicator.

(If you’re interested in going beyond communication to learn more about the art and science of influence, I hope you’ll check out my recent book, Insights into Influence.)

Skill #2 – Motivating Others

At first blush, influencing and motivating may seem similar, but in reality, these are two different goals that will require slightly different (if overlapping) communication strategies. An old adage sums it up best: “Motivation gets you going. Influence is what makes you go in a particular direction.” If influence is the art of guiding people’s thinking or perception, motivation is the art of inspiring them to act. And there are a few key ways leaders can achieve that goal through communication.

Make it about the audience. As humans, we’re much more incline to act and to push toward our goals when we have real skin in the game. So consider how you can craft your message in a way that gets your audience personally involved. How does your initiative align with their own values, desires, or concerns? How will achieving these goals impact not only the organization but each participant?

Use stories to engage listeners. To motivate people, leaders must engage their emotions, and one of the most powerful ways to do that is through storytelling. Research has shown stories have real neurological and chemical impacts on our brains, making our messages significantly more vivid and memorable than straight recitation of facts. This means audiences are more likely to internalize them, discuss them later, and, most importantly, act on them. Read our recent blog post for details on how to incorporate storytelling into your communication.

Demonstrate confidence. If you’ve ever watched or listened to a speaker who seems nervous or unsure, then you know how distinctly not motivating that is. But when you demonstrate belief in your own message and abilities — through strong posture, a clear voice, and direct language — then your confidence will be contagious, and your audience will be more likely to find themselves motivated to take action.

(To learn more about critical communication skills every leader should develop, download our free e-book: The Ultimate Guide to Effective Communication Skills.)

Skill #3 – Self-Directed Leadership

While we were thrilled to see leadership development professionals focusing on key communication skills like motivation and influence, we were also thrilled to see them prioritizing learning styles that we know to be far more powerful traditional methods.

We’ve written extensively about the power of adaptive digital offerings and experience platforms to enhance learning and development. The most effective of these models do three things that are critical in engaging learners and making their newly developed skills stick:

First, they break learning into bite-sized chunks that often go hand-in-hand with the what users are already doing. No more day-long seminars to attend or even hours-long videos to sit through at the expense of tasks that feel more pressing. Instead, lessons are split into brief modules that provide learning opportunities within the existing, everyday workflows rather than asking leaders to invent hypothetical situations and then try to apply what they learn to their actual needs. (See Quantified’s recently released Zoom integration for an example.)

Second, they provide objective, custom feedback. Personal executive coaching may be prohibitively expensive for many organizations, but generic trainings and workshops often fail to address individual attendees’ needs and goals. But AI- and machine learning-driven leadership development platforms can provide the high-touch, tailored feedback of an executive coach (with the added benefit of objective data to support traditionally subjective opinions) at an accessible, scalable price. This ensures each user gets the guidance they need to develop their own skills and achieve their own goals.

Third, they empower users to track progress and see their efforts pay off. When your feedback comes with little more than “good luck,” it’s hard to stay motivated, especially when there are more pressing things to focus on. But when you have the opportunity to reevaluate, measure your progress, and adjust your action plan accordingly (and maybe even get a little competitive with yourself), then building your skills becomes a much more interactive, personal proposition — and, as we mentioned when we talked about motivation, once you feel like you have more skin in the game, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.

Of course, all leadership development platforms aren’t created equal. To learn more about the Quantified platform — and how it can help your organization’s current and future leaders develop the communication skills they need to motivate and inspire every audience — we invite you to request a demo, and one of our experts will be in touch to walk you through our platform and process.