Executive Master of Leadership Blog

10 Leadership Tools and Activities for Developing Your Leadership Skills

[fa icon="calendar'] May 15, 2018 9:07:00 AM / by John Schiavone

Leadership tools help you become a better leader and reach your highest potential.

One axiom of great leaders is the continued development of leadership skills over time. It is imperative that leaders invest in their professional development to adapt to an increasingly global and diverse professional world.

As you develop as a leader, time may become one of your most significant hurdles. Here are ten easy leadership tools, assessments, and activities to sharpen your leadership and management skills.

Take the Leadership Style Self-Assessment

1. Harvard’s Implicit Association Test

According to Harvard University, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. It is designed to reveal attitudes or assumptions you make on a daily basis. As it is with modern beliefs and assumptions, the test is periodically updated to reflect the times. 

One of the examples given by Project Implicit regards gender. If you hold implicit biases, the assessment could reveal that you're unable to associate women and men in science equally. Likewise, individuals may be unwilling to admit gender bias depending on the environment. Take the same person with the same automatic association and put them in a room with women. Even if they possess some form of gender bias, they may be unwilling to let it show.

The assessment involves categorizing pictures and phrases and associating them as either “good” or “bad” as quickly as you can. Then after a brief survey, your results approximate your attitudes and assumptions. There are 14 different categories of the IAT: Gender-Science, Skin-tone, Native, Gender-Career, Weapons, Weight, Race, Presidents, Arab-Muslim, Age, Religion, Disability, Sexuality, and Asian. 

Assess yourself, and see if you can learn something about yourself that you may not have known.

2. Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Meyers & Briggs Foundation uses the theories of Carl Jung in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. The assessment considers what many people believe to be random variations in behavior to be orderly and consistent based on fundamental traits. These perceptions include:

  • Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E)
  • Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judgment (J) vs. Perception (P)

The assessment determines your personality type from 16 different archetypesFor instance, an INFP type is considered an “idealist” or someone focused on finding meaning in the world. INFP’s can be excellent communicators and are reserved and value-driven creative types. Some famous INFPs include Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Another common type is the ISFP or the “composer.” ISFP’s are typically great listeners and even better friends. They place value on being at peace with themselves, yet maintain the capacity for spontaneity. The famous painter Pablo Picasso is suggested to be an ISFP.

Why is understanding your personality important to leadership?  As a leader, you'll face internal and external situations that challenge your resolve. When you are aware of your attitudes and personality you'll be better prepared to approach the task at hand, delegate responsibilities, work with others, and communicate during high-pressure situations.

Determine your personality type - you may be surprised.

 Leadership tools are the compass guiding your professional development.

3. USC's Leadership Style Self-Assessment

The two previous self-assessments will help you understand your personality and unconscious biases, but what kind of leader are you? Perhaps the more important question is, what kind of leader do you think you are?

One of the most common failings of people in leadership positions is an inaccurate perception of themselves. A person that believes they're one type of leader, while the team feels differently may have a negative emotional impact on the team and lose their employee’s confidence.

Taking a leadership inventory and understanding your personal leadership style is the first step in enhancing your leadership skills and becoming a better manager, public official, CEO, law enforcement or safety officer, or emergency responder.

Your leadership style impacts your performance and each style has its strengths. Are you a transformational, servant, front-line, postmodern, contrarian, or metamodern leader? Take the leadership style self-assessment to find out.

Take the Leadership Style Self-Assessment

 

4. The IHHP Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Assessment

The Institute for Health and Human Potential in collaboration with Harvard Business School research has concluded that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) counts for twice as much as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and technical skills in determining who will be successful.

IHHP defines emotional intelligence as the ability to “recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions,” as well as “recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.” In basic terms, it means acknowledging that our emotions affect behavior both positively and negatively.

As a leader, it is critical to understand where you rank in EQ and to understand how it impacts your ability to manage, especially under pressure. IHHP’s Emotional Intelligence Assessment can help you determine where your emotional weaknesses exist when handling situations involving pressure, criticism, and failure.

Leadership tools help you discover leadership blind spots.

5. Princeton MCG Leadership Blind Spot Assessment

In this self-assessment, Princeton MCG has created an incredibly comprehensive survey to determine a leader’s level of understanding within their business or organization. Princeton MCG provides advice on management and strategic organizational change. Their goal is to help leaders achieve short-term objectives and build long-term competitive edges. Their goal also includes developing new methods of operation in rapidly shifting industries and fundamental cultural changes.

The leadership blind spot assessment helps senior executives identify areas of oversight across four major categories:

  1. Blind Spots About Yourself
  2. Blind Spots About Your Team
  3. Blind Spots About Your Company
  4. Blind Spots About Your Markets

Each category includes ten questions with a rating score of 1-5, one representing the lowest probability of oversight, and five being the highest. By the end of the assessment, you add up your score. The lower your score, the less likely you are to have blind spots.

The blind spot survey can be a handy self-reflection tool when responding honestly. It asks questions like:

  1. Do I take time periodically to identify my weaknesses and the actions I will take to improve in these areas?
  2. Do I have clear performance metrics for each team member and monitor performance on these measures?
  3. Do I spend time each month interacting directly with our frontline employees?

If you're a person that has held a leadership position for five years or more, this survey can provide a high level of insight. See how you stack up by taking the quiz and determining your blind spots.

 

6. The IHHP Performing Under Pressure Assessment

Similar to the Emotional Intelligence test, the IHHP Performing Under Pressure self-assessment focuses on the circumstances that may cause leaders to underperform when leading through a crisis. Their study determined that of 12,000 people only the top 10% performers do small things differently that enable them to perform well when it matters most.

The test, in conjunction with the Amazon best selling book of the same title, acknowledges that NOBODY performs better under pressure. Pressure can negatively impact a leader’s judgment, decision-making, and attention to detail. The test asks questions like, “how defensive do you become when criticized?” and “how effectively do you utilize feedback for your growth?”

Unlike the Emotional Intelligence assessment, the Performing Under Pressure assessment is geared more towards the individual, and how well you handle stress, anxiety, and criticism. The test is free and takes less than 5 minutes.

Once completed, you receive a score and brief description of your strengths and weaknesses under pressure. Additionally, it will give you suggestions on where you can improve. See how you perform under pressure, and how it can help you as a leader.


Understanding your leadership skills is a puzzle. Leadership tools and activities help guide your leadership development.

7. Lynda Personal Effectiveness Tips

For years, Lynda has been a robust resource for training in multiple areas and across sectors providing courses for business, higher education, and government. Offering a one-month free trial, you can undoubtedly find useful training tools even if you're operating on a tight budget.

The resource we’ve found for leadership development is the course on personal effectiveness. The course provides more than 25 videos about leadership, allows you take notes, and tracks your progress. Some of the chapters include:

  1. How to find a mentor - A mentor is someone you can see yourself being in the next 10-15 years, but it is difficult to find a single person that you can consistently rely on for advice. This chapter discusses how to build more of a “board of mentors” that can give you a diverse set of feedback and experience.
  2. How to deal with change - Business is changing faster than ever before. The internet has both destroyed and created new industries seemingly overnight which can be daunting for someone with more focused experience. This chapter explores how change can provide some of the most significant opportunities.
  3. How to identify your leadership blind spots - No one is perfect, and the sooner you can understand and accept that fact the better leader you will become. Blind spots are always there, especially since you can’t see them. This chapter demonstrates ways you can become more aware of your blind spots and grow from them.

One part of becoming a great leader is exercising your skills and working to improve upon them. This is only one course within a vast library of resources provided by Lynda. See if Lynda's leadership and management course can help you learn more about yourself as a leader.

8. CliftonStrengths 34

If you're currently in a leadership position where you work closely with team members, it’s beneficial to the team to understand each other's strengths. The CliftonStrengths Assessment is meant to determine what you do naturally best, develop your strongest talents, and use your results to optimize your professional life.

This $89.00 product can be pretty eye-opening for you and your team. It consists of 3 steps:

  1. Take the assessment - The test takes about an hour and contains 177 paired questions in which you have to choose the one that best describes you. The assessment is meant to determine your patterns of behavior, thinking, and feeling to discover your talents.
  2. Get your results - This will show your greatest talents and how to explain them. Reports include the 34 CliftonStrengths themes as well as how they may appear in your professional life.
  3. Use your CliftonStrengths - Now that you're more aware of your talents, you'll be able to identify opportunities that better match your abilities. The goal is to create the most fulfilling professional life as possible.

Results vary from person to person, but the assessment is instrumental in team settings. When you know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, it becomes proportionally easier to assign tasks and challenge people in areas where they have room to develop professionally.


Leadership tools that focus on emotional intelligence and personality will help you develop empathy, an essential soft skill.

9. MindTools Leadership Skills Assessment

Self-evaluation is essential and if you have any downtime it is always beneficial to see how you stack up. MindTools is a free resource used by over 25,000,000 people per year to evaluate and improve their management skills.

The How Good Are Your Leadership Skills assessment is a resource that you can most likely complete during your lunch break. Complete with a short video, the assessment measures where you already lead effectively and where you have room for further professional development. The questionnaire consists of 18 questions where you select from 5 possible answers (Not at All, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, Very Often).

Questions include:

  1. When assigning tasks, I consider people's skills and interests.
  2. I expect nothing less than top-notch results from people.
  3. I make time to learn what people need from me so that they can be successful.

Your results are based on a series of character traits that identify you as a great leader. The three characteristics they focus on are:

  1. Self Confidence
  2. Personal Outlook and Attitude
  3. Emotional Intelligence
This is extremely useful in that it doesn’t just hand you a score without context. MindTools provides a resource in the form of an article or another interactive tool for each leadership trait. Take the assessment and explore the resources MindTools has to offer!

10. Optimal Thinking Leadership Assessment

Another useful and free online tool that can help you stay on top of your leadership skills comes from Optimal Thinking. Devoted to personal and business development for the past 25 years, Optimal Thinking developed a complimentary leadership assessment.

The assessment has been taken by an estimated 350,000 leaders from around the world including politicians, Fortune 500 executives, military leaders, and graduate students. The assessment consists of 25 statements in which you are required to answer “A” for “Always”, “F” for “Frequently,” “S” for “Sometimes,” and “R” for “Rarely.”

Some of the statements include:

  1. My mission, objectives, and goals reflect my highest principles.
  2. I observe on-the-job activity and am available for questions and feedback.
  3. I resolve conflict as it occurs, and consider the best interests of all concerned.

Much like the other assessments we've covered, the Optimal Thinking assessment provides a lot of positive feedback including your strengths and possible positions that can play to your strengths.

Wrapping Up


Perhaps the most significant benefit of routinely taking these self-assessments is that you're disciplining yourself to ask the hard questions. A great leader must be comfortable with being uncomfortable, seeking criticism, and maintaining self-awareness about their shortcomings.

Assessing yourself as a leader makes it easier to handle real-world situations with grace. Keep growing, keep practicing self-reflection, and track your progress towards becoming a better leader.

 

Topics: Leadership Development

John Schiavone

Written by John Schiavone

John C. Schiavone is a writer and technology professional specializing in leadership development.

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