When we think about leaders, usually the most common examples that spring to mind are the charismatic, colourful and visionary mavericks, epitomised by the likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. But while character certainly plays a role in developing leadership qualities, leadership is, in essence, a skill. As such, it must be developed and continuously honed in order to unleash its true power.
Here are our top eight tips on how to strategically develop your leadership skills.
- Sink or swim
Being thrown into a challenging project or being presented with an impossible problem is an ideal way to develop your leadership potential. This type of environment gives you the space to decide how to approach the challenge, who can help, how to get that assistance, and if alternative strategies are needed.
While some may argue that it is better to reward than challenge, when it comes to leadership development, rewards only reinforce existing behaviour while challenges help you grow personally and professionally. You may succeed or fail at this real-world scenario test, but either way, you will learn from the experience about what is involved in being a leader and where you need further improvement.
Rotating into a different department or job function within your organisation can provide you with a different perspective that can be beneficial later on. By actually working in every department or area of an organisation, you will gain hands-on experience to understand how every aspect of the company works as well as what is involved in fulfilling that role.
Such an experience may also prompt you to ask yourself how the job could be done better, or how to develop a better employee experience for that particular role.
Seek out a mentor or a coach
Mentors have the experience, skills and knowledge to share in a consultative role that offers direction, a listening ear, suggestions and resources. It’s a nurturing and supportive way to aid your leadership skills development but just as effective in its result. A mentor is often there to provide a soft landing should mistakes be made, and talk it through.
A coach, on the other hand, will observe and determine what you do well and what you could do better before creating a game plan to enhance your performance. They may shout, they may wear you out, but they will also be the first to congratulate you when you do something well.
Expose yourself to new things
While the word ‘expose’ often brings to mind something that involves risky contact, like being exposed to a virus (a particularly sensitive subject these days), the other context for this word involves experiencing new things that alter perceptions.
Opening yourself to new experiences, situations, technology, cultures, processes, information and/or people will help you lead all types of people and through numerous situations, using different approaches.
Gain theoretical knowledge
While on-the-job experience provides the most effective way to develop your leadership skills, it is important to add formal training to your development process. Use webinars, sabbaticals, industry events, professional associations and other learning platforms to continuously further your knowledge and skill set.
Data literacy and data-driven decision making have become key leadership skills in the digital age, with organisations that are not driven by data likely losing their share to competition. Data enables leaders to keep their finger on the pulse and better understand their employees and customers. Running regular feedback sessions or ‘pulses’ of your employee’s opinions is the perfect way to develop an understanding your team and inform your own role as a leader.
Often, a leader is viewed as the pillar of an organisation and one who has the strength of many. However, a leader is also human and may make many mistakes and misfires. The idea is that the leader was willing to take chances and put themselves out there.
Therefore, accepting encouragement and support from colleagues is not a sign of weakness. If anything, it shows that a leader is brave, humble and understanding with his team when they try something new or make mistakes.
Listening is an essential leadership skill that is often more important than talking when it comes to inspiring and motivating teams to achieve specific results. Good listeners build better rapport and stronger relationships with people. Aspire to develop effective listening skills —giving your full attention to others, and taking into account aspects such as body language and tonality.
These eight tactics are by no means exhaustive, however, they will enable you to gain some of the most fundamental leadership skills in order to make a maximum impact in your role.