Strengthening leadership skills

A variety of activities are provided to help leaders strengthen their skills in the areas of communication, team building and emotional intelligence.

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Many of us take on leadership roles without having enough training on how to actually lead. The emotional cost to leadership can impact our mental health, as well as the mental health of those we lead, manage and support. When we gain higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience, we can reduce our own stress while positively impacting the effectiveness of our teams. To further strengthen your leadership skills you can learn more at Courageous leadership.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage one’s own emotions, as well as recognize and appropriately respond to others’ emotional distress.

Resilience is the ability to withstand everyday stressors and more serious incidents without damage to mental health.

These activities can help you build leadership skills, including emotional intelligence, resilience and communication strategies.


Effective leaders need good self-awareness and communication skills. The following activities can help you develop in the areas of:

  • Dealing with emotions and assumptions
  • Communicating more effectively
  • Engaging team members

As a leader, you can choose to work from beginning to end for a comprehensive approach, or you can pick and choose from the activities provided and use those that work best for you.

These activities draw on emotional intelligence resources developed by Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., for Workplace Strategies for Mental Health. This work is available online at Emotional intelligence self-assessment.

It's not always easy

A strong team leader is self-aware, an effective communicator, and able to inspire people to reach their potential. 

Most of us are not born leaders. We develop these skills over time and are required to renew and update them as we and our teams evolve.

We also need to be able to adapt to changing demands in the economy, our organizations, and our personal lives. Our health, finances, family situations, working relationships, work tasks and stress levels also have an impact on our ability to be effective leaders.

Teams are not all the same. If we are leading a team of experienced and independent people, our leadership style may be to provide a vision and then get out of their way. At another point we may inherit a team that is made up of hard workers who are concrete, linear thinkers. This group may need more structured and detailed planning time to succeed.

The approach used with the first team, which may have been wildly successful, could be disastrous with the second team. With this in mind, effective leadership is a process of continual improvement. We need to be able to adapt to a wide variety of situations.

Dealing with team members who are distressed for any reason can be especially challenging. It may cause us to feel angry, upset or somehow guilty or responsible. These types of reactions are natural, but it’s possible to manage our response more effectively when we look beyond the behaviour or words and consider what may be going on with the individual. This can help us respond from a place of empathy instead of anger, anxiety, negativity, or defensiveness.

On the other hand, we respond to positive emotions by being drawn to people who are engaging and upbeat. This can be challenging for a team leader who also needs to work with and support those who are struggling with emotional distress.

How can understanding this help you as a team leader? Sometimes simply being aware of how other people’s emotions affect you can improve your ability to respond appropriately. 

What follows are ideas, strategies, and exercises to help you develop these skills: 

  • Understanding your own perceptions
  • Communicating more effectively
  • Engaging team members 

Dealing with emotions and assumptions

Understanding your own perceptions is a first step toward being comfortable and effective when dealing with emotionally charged situations in the workplace.

The activities in this chapter can help you develop greater awareness and strategies for addressing your response to the emotions of others:

Dealing with negative emotions

Dealing with negative emotions among team members can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader. Use the following resources to become more comfortable and effective when dealing with negative emotions such as anger or hopelessness in the workplace.

How would others describe you?

Look at how others react to or perceive you.

Envision your ideal self

Utilize the Envision your ideal self worksheet to think about how you would like others to describe you. 

Communicating more effectively

Part of our self-perception is the way we believe we communicate. Understanding how different communication styles impact others is important for leaders. Our interaction styles when under stress can be quite different than our usual responses. Even though our intentions may be honourable, the actual message may be perceived as harsh or insensitive.

The activities in this chapter can help you develop awareness and competency in communicating more effectively.

Monitor your communication style

Understand some common communication styles.

Communicate without judgment

Develop non-judgmental listening to help describe situations more objectively.

Be aware of body language

Effective communication isn’t limited to the words we say. Our non-verbal communication includes body language, tone of voice, eye contact and facial expressions.

Attribution error

Learn to not automatically assume the worst in others’ behaviour.

Listen to understand

An effective communication method that involves listening, demonstrating understanding, reflecting and paraphrasing.

Acknowledge, even if you disagree

When told their opinions are wrong, some people may become defensive or shut down. Learn to acknowledge their perspective without judgment to provide an opportunity to have a supportive conversation.

Implicit bias

Learn to identify and understand implicit bias, microaggressions and intersectionality. Whether the bias results in poor morale or discrimination, identifying it’s the first step to eliminating it.

Engaging team members

Effective leaders leverage every member of their team to brainstorm ideas and address challenges.

Some of the potential concerns when opening up discussions with team members can include:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Negative reactions
  • Unreasonable demands
  • Impractical solutions
  • Conflict
  • Accusations

These concerns are valid and being an effective leader does not mean avoiding them, but rather learning to address them in a way that balances the well-being of those involved with your responsibilities as a leader.

The activities in this chapter can help you engage in a variety of circumstances.

Connect with your team

Take time to connect, which can help create strong relationships and reduce the impact of negative emotions in the workplace.

Ask, don’t tell

Ask questions that recognize an employee’s positive strengths by affirming their past and present achievements, abilities and potential. You can use the appreciative inquiry approach to ask questions that recognize workers’ positive strengths by affirming their past and present achievements, abilities and potentials.

Elicit feedback

Offer and accept feedback, which can help create strong relationships in the workplace. 

Provide negative feedback constructively

Become adept at tolerating conflict, and have the ability to respond appropriately when necessary.

Recognition strategies

Evoke positive emotions through brief conversations.


One component of resilience is the ability to adapt to change.

Team dynamics change. Team members change. Team goals and objectives change. Your organization itself will change.

Being prepared with strategies, approaches and tools that support your ability to anticipate and adapt to these inevitable changes will go a long way to promoting higher levels of effectiveness, well-being and mental health in the workplace. Approaches for people leaders provides dozens of additional resources and tools to help.

Improving our effectiveness as leaders and building stronger teams is a key strategy for helping us respond more effectively to stressors in both work and life.

Additional resources

  • Building trust for leaders. Learn how to show your employees you’re trustworthy by exploring these core competencies and behaviours.
  • Emotional intelligence for leaders. Use the activities provided to improve emotional intelligence related to leading, managing or supporting employees.
  • Emotional intelligence self-assessment. This free tool can help you improve your self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management.
  • Hybrid teams. In a hybrid team, some employees work on-site and some work remotely. Read more to learn how to balance and effectively support the success of both sets of employees.
  • Inclusion strategies for leaders. Inclusion is now an expectation in the workplace. Learn tips and strategies to help you provide and maintain an inclusive approach to leadership.
  • On the agenda workshop series. Create an action plan with your team to improve psychological health and safety using this series of free workshop materials and facilitator tools to address psychosocial factors.
  • Performance management. Focus on solutions and employee success instead of problems and failings to help those dealing with life stressors, including mental health issues.
  • Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment. Identify and develop leadership strategies that are psychologically safe as defined by the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
  • Psychologically safe team assessment.  This resource helps to assess how employees experience being a member of your team.
  • Team building activities. These team-building activities can help improve team effectiveness. Leaders and team members can learn how to resolve issues and support each other.
Contributors include.articlesDavid K. MacDonaldDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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