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10 Essential Leadership Skills You'll Learn in a Master's Program

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Leaders set the tone in their organizations and play a critical role in their company’s success. If you want to be an effective leader, a master’s degree program can help you develop your leadership skills. Take a moment to learn about these skills and how you could hone them in the right degree program.

What Are Leadership Soft Skills?

You may have heard the term “soft skills,” referring to non-technical skills that are valuable across a range of contexts. Is leadership a soft skill? The short answer is yes! However, it may be more accurate to think of leadership as a collection of soft skills, each of which equips people to inspire others and lead with confidence, compassion and competency. We’ll look at 10 vital soft skills related to leadership below.

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The Importance of Developing Leadership Soft Skills

Strong leadership skills will always be highly valued in organizations — maybe now more than ever as companies seek better-qualified leaders to help them succeed during a time of unique challenges and general mistrust in leadership. Alarmingly, confidence in company leadership has dropped, with just 40% of leaders rating their company’s leadership as good or excellent.

Organizations are in desperate need of great leaders who can work toward a clear vision, inspire trust and motivate employees to succeed. Effective leadership skills are a major asset to anyone in the job market — especially if you also have a master’s degree to help you qualify for managerial or executive roles.

If you want to open up new career opportunities, make a difference in your company and enjoy higher pay, leadership soft skills could help you get there. A master’s degree program can help you realize your leadership potential and boost your resume. 

10 Leadership Soft Skills Developed in a Master’s Degree Program

Master’s degree programs (particularly programs focused on leadership) can help you cultivate various skills that equip you to be a great servant leader. Here are 10 leadership soft skills you can expect to develop as a master’s degree student.

  • Visionary Leadership

Companies typically don’t succeed by accident. They need clearly defined goals and a planned path to get them there. Good leaders can keep the company’s vision of success in view and help employees rally around this vision. A business master's degree program — especially one focused on leadership — will help students learn to craft a clear vision, motivate their team members toward shared goals and drive growth and success.

  • Strategic and Ethical Decision-Making

Leaders often encounter complex problems. Leadership programs emphasize the development of strategic and ethical decision-making and problem-solving skills that equip leaders for these scenarios. Students learn to analyze nuanced situations, consider multiple perspectives and make informed decisions that align with the organization's objectives and adhere to ethical standards.

  • Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Responsiveness

Strategic thinking and business acumen can only take you so far as a manager or executive. At the end of the day, companies are made up of people. Leaders must be able to understand and empathize with other people’s emotions and manage their own emotions effectively — crucial abilities known as emotional intelligence (or “EQ”). Leaders must also be sensitive to how culture shapes employees’ behaviors and attitudes and value diversity in their organizations. Master's programs focus on developing EQ and cultural responsiveness, enabling leaders to relate to others, navigate challenging situations and build strong, cohesive teams.

  • Effective Communication

A survey by Forbes Advisor found that poor communication can have a serious impact on employees’ trust in company leadership. More than 40% of on-site and hybrid workers said it damaged trust, and 54% of remote workers said the same. On the other hand, effective communication can instill trust and ensure close connections and clarity across the organization. Through a master's program, aspiring leaders enhance their communication skills, including interpersonal interactions, public speaking, active listening and written communication.

  • Servant Leadership

In a leadership master’s program, students learn about various leadership styles. One of the most valuable approaches is servant leadership, in which leaders focus on empowering others and putting others’ best interests first. Effective servant leaders make employees feel psychologically safe and supported, encouraging enhanced employee performance, commitment and trust in leadership. 

  • Change Management

Today’s business world is constantly evolving. Leaders play a critical role in helping their organizations navigate external changes and initiate internal changes that will help them improve. A master's program equips students with change management skills, enabling them to guide their team through transitions while minimizing resistance and maximizing the adoption of new processes, technologies and cultural initiatives.

  • Conflict Mediation and Negotiation 

Conflict is a natural part of any organization, and leaders must be adept at resolving disputes and differences in perspective. Leadership programs can help leaders develop techniques and strategies for effective conflict mediation and negotiation. Other leadership soft skills — such as emotional intelligence, servant leadership and communication — can aid in effective conflict resolution, helping leaders facilitate a harmonious work environment.

  • Team Building and Motivation

Leaders can make a powerful difference when it comes to motivating employees and bringing everyone together around a shared vision. As a writer for Forbes points out, talking with employees, giving them agency and coaching them can help increase their motivation. Leadership programs teach students how to achieve these goals and build close-knit, high-performing teams. 

  • Innovation and Creativity

In a rapidly changing world, leaders must embrace innovation and creativity. An organization’s recipe for success that worked a decade ago or even last year may not give them the competitive advantage they need this year. Master's programs encourage leaders to think outside the box, embrace innovative approaches and foster a culture of creativity within their organization.

  • Resilience and Self-Development

Leadership roles can be challenging, requiring resilience and continuous self-development. You don’t qualify for a leadership position because you’ve perfected your skills and knowledge; leaders all have strengths and weaknesses and continue to make mistakes, experience breakthroughs and dedicate themselves to lifelong learning. Master's programs equip leaders with tools for continual self-development, teaching practical strategies to manage stress, bounce back from setbacks and prioritize personal growth.

How to Develop Your Leadership Skills in a Master’s Program

If you want to realize your leadership potential, a master’s program could help you do just that. Here are some of the best degree programs to consider:

These degree programs are focused on helping students develop their leadership skills to become an asset to their organizations, whether that’s a business, nonprofit, ministry, public service or community organization. Wherever you find yourself, you could lead the way to a brighter future. 

Want to learn more about these programs and choose the best fit for you? Learn more in our “Graduate Business Program Comparison”!

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