Catherine Alonzo recalls that her very first boss who led their team did so from a place of wrath and terror. Six years into running her own business, she has found a raised voice to be one of the least useful habits to have in leading a team. Here are three essential leadership skills that she believes have enabled leadership to thrive at every level of her organization.

1. Kindness

Kindness is perhaps the most crucial skill that any leader can possess. Here’s why.

Hurdles are inevitable in business. You are guaranteed to face seemingly insurmountable challenges on your entrepreneurial journey. And when faced with hard times, the one consistent tool in your toolbox is kindness. Whether practicing kindness to yourself or to others, it is often the only thing left when you don’t know what to do or say.

As a business owner and employer, she has found kindness to be infinitely more effective in motivating her team, clients, and target markets than every other tactic. It is more impactful in meeting their goals than fear, intimidation, headstrong leadership, or anything else she has tried or experienced.

Kind leaders create inclusive and yet vigorous environments. Kindness is not about being nice and ineffective. It is about being honest and direct. It is about knowing that often the kind thing to do is the hardest thing to do. It is about treating others the way you would want to be treated — without exception.

2. Curiosity

Curiosity is the yeast of effective leadership. The most impactful leaders  are not afraid of experimentation. They realize that failure is a pit stop on the way to success, and they keep trying things. But to try things, you must be curious. You must wonder to yourself, “What would happen if I moved that person into a different role in the company?” or “What would be the smallest thing I could do to have the biggest impact on staff morale?”

Expose yourself to new ways of thinking as often as you can. Travel to new places, read different kinds of books, listen to a new variety of music. Spend social time with people you know who have opposite interests than you. Diversity of opinion and experiences often lead to peak curiosity. As you experience new things, you may find yourself questioning the old ways.

Lastly, practice at first by scheduling “curiosity time”. This is ten or fifteen minutes at a time, where you schedule time to try experimenting with your thoughts. Think of parts of your business or job that have been functioning a certain way for a while, and think about what would have to happen to improve them. What would an A+ grade look like for every aspect of your life? What would have to change in order to reach that grade? Start small, and you’ll find that way of thinking becomes habitual over time

3. Critical Thought

After curiosity, comes critical thought. Not every seemingly good idea is actually a good idea. The same thing goes for bad ideas. Not every suggestion is worth pursuing, and not every idea has been thought of yet. I think of curiosity as the idea generator and of critical thought as the idea editor.

The good news is that much like kindness and curiosity, critical thought is a skill that can be developed. Like any other thing you would want to learn, following this simple three-step process will help you get started:

  1. Identify the skill you want to develop and define what success looks like for yourself.
  2. Make space to practice that skill, and be kind to yourself when you lapse into old habits.
  3. Practice persistent practice. Never give up, no matter how discouraged you may get at times. Keep practicing, and over time, it will transform from conscious effort into an easy habit.

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