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5 Most Underrated Skills for People Leaders in 2024

Cat DiStasio

External Contributor - HR Expert (& Huge Geek)

25 Jan 2024

Skills for people leaders.

What are the top skills for people leaders this year? Cat DiStasio shares her tips, from emotional intelligence to flexibility.


Leader and manager development is at the top of Gartner’s list of HR trends and priorities for 2024. Other industry analysts have identified leadership skills as a key area of focus, too. It’s pretty common to think about HR being focused on skill development for leaders throughout an organization – but it’s crucial to remember that it’s just as important for people leaders to build their skills. 

Whether you’re in HR, Human Capital Management, People Operations or your department bears a different name, there’s a common set of core skills necessary to be effective and successful in leadership roles. 

Many of the top leadership skills for executives in 2024 are applicable to leaders in all areas of a company, including people leaders. Here are five underrated skills for people leaders to develop this year:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Flexibility
  • Change management
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Communication

1. Emotional intelligence

The ability to manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others is known as emotional intelligence (also sometimes called EQ). People with high emotional intelligence typically also have high levels of self-awareness and can recognize emotions in others via nonverbal cues. The ability to experience and lead with empathy is another way emotional intelligence shows up. 

While some people find these behaviors come naturally, others can build these skills. Spending more time reflecting on your own feelings, and the feelings of others, is an important first step. Practicing active listening skills when engaging with others can improve your understanding of their feelings and experiences. Being open to feedback, even or especially when it’s critical, is another way to increase emotional intelligence. 

2. Flexibility

Over the past few years, change has become a constant and it seems to come at people leaders from all sides: economic shifts, budget constraints, technological advancements, and workforce attitudes. Leaders who remain flexible and can adapt to new and changing circumstances may be more effective than those who resist change. Being able to pivot and implement new strategies when changes arise is a key way people leaders can keep their teams engaged and their organizations resilient.

Being averse to risk or having low confidence might be the biggest barriers to flexibility in leaders, especially new and emerging leaders. Becoming a more flexible leader often starts with curiosity and low-stakes experimentation. After a few small wins and fresh insights about how to approach future changes, people leaders can learn to adapt to whatever lies ahead.

3. Change management

Speaking of change, how leaders manage change goes far beyond their ability to respond and adapt in a timely fashion. A key component of change management is communication – that is, how changes are communicated to the broader workforce, how their feedback is gathered, and how leaders across the organization respond to questions, concerns and complaints. People leaders are uniquely responsible for change management due to HR’s traditional role as a support system for the workforce.  

Many people leaders build their change management skills through experience, such as working at an organization through an acquisition or other major shift. But you can learn about and build change management skills without an immediate challenge. Engaging in online change management training is a great way to get familiar with common strategies that you can apply to your work in the future.

4. Creative problem-solving

The ability to be creative is a common, but still underrated, skill for people leaders. Because so much of the work revolves around people and their unique life circumstances, family structures, social and cultural perspectives, and varying needs and priorities, there are few people-related problems that can be navigated with a preset workflow. This puts people leaders in the unique position to devise creative solutions to problems nobody expected. 

According to Harvard Business School, creative problem-solving involves four key components: balancing divergent and convergent thinking, reframing problems as questions, postponing judgment of ideas, and (taking a cue from improv theater principles) focusing on ‘yes, and’ rather than ‘no, but’. 

5. Communication

Confusion and misunderstandings are the bane of people leaders everywhere, especially when it comes to organization-wide communication. That said, the ability to communicate clearly, effectively, and inclusively matters just as much in one-on-one and group settings. People leaders with great communication skills may be more likely to affect positive change, garner respect, and contribute to a healthy work culture. 

Like other skills we’ve discussed, communication comes easier to some than others. Yet, it is a skill that people can develop and improve over time. Many leadership experts have advised that the best way to improve communication is by listening more and talking less. Using short words when talking about difficult topics is another key piece of advice. 

Strengthening underrated skills for people leaders in 2024

People leaders (current and aspirational) can benefit from spending a little time assessing their current level in each of these key skills – and making structured plans for improving them.

Sharpening your skills as a people leader can make you more effective in your position, help you influence positive change throughout your organization, and even support your career goals.  

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