5 Ways to Develop Your Leadership Skills
By: Angela Schloer
Leaders are not born, they are made. This idea challenges the Strong Man Theory of Thomas Carlyle, the 1840s-era Scottish writer, philosopher and historian. In the decades since Carlyle’s time, many researchers have broken down leadership into its core components and tinkered with how leadership skills can be developed. Since leadership is a skill, it is developed through experiences, training and practice.
The American Psychological Association published a study that found that given the dynamic and complex social environments in which most leaders operate, effectiveness requires them to possess certain perceptive and adaptive capabilities. In the right environment and under the right circumstances, people can learn how to become better, if not great, leaders. Of course, the journey may be easier for some than others, but it is a learning journey nonetheless.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but here are some ways to start developing and applying the skills needed to succeed as a leader.
Get a Coach
Making Leadership Development a personal goal will create clarity in your journey towards developing the skills needed in the particular leadership environment that you are currently operating in. A coach will help you break down these skills and come up with a plan and action steps on how to get the results you are looking for. The coaching process will also help you in designing your personal leadership development journey and find ways to measure your development milestones.
Once you start your own coaching journey, learn how to coach others. Leadership is all about making an impact on other people. If there is nobody to lead, the leader cannot exist. Therefore, in order to develop your leadership skills, you need to be able to start making a positive impact on the lives of other people. Coaching is a great way to start doing that as it is one of the processes currently available that really challenges people to access their full potential. However, make sure you follow a coaching framework and get training from a reputable organization.
Become a Mentor
If you have certain expertise in a particular area, look for someone who wants to learn about it and become their mentor. Building mentoring relationships is beneficial for leaders as they are really able to lead another person using their past experiences and expertise to help those that want to follow a similar direction in their life/career. Aside from helping someone in their own development journey, you get to “teach to learn”. One of the best ways to master something is to teach it!
Find a Mentor
Similarly, if there are specific expertise that you want to learn about and you want to refer to someone who has “been there, done that”, then becoming a Mentee is a great option, too. Look for people in your network that can become your mentor in a specific area of expertise. I know of people who have connected to other thought leaders via LinkedIn and other online business groups in order to find a mentor. Remember though, the mentee is the one that will have to tap the mentor so be ready with specific questions to ask you mentor. In order to do this, clarify what your goal is for staring a mentoring relationship. What specific skill is it that you are looking to develop?
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Lastly, leadership is all about people. You can manage resources but you have to lead people. Therefore, in order to be a good leader, you need to actually talk to people. You have to have conversations. You need to practice communicating your goals, ideas, feedback and guidance by actually talking to your team about them. We cannot lead via email or spreadsheets. You can certainly project manage using data and reporting but in order to start leading, you have to get out of your office or desk and talk to people, be that face to face or virtually.
Just like any competency, building leadership competencies relies on three components: knowledge (head), skills (hand) and attitude (heart). To gain the knowledge you require, there are tons and tons of books, videos, podcasts and articles on leadership that you can start reading or listening to. In order to build the skills required, you need to actually practice what you have learned. Skills are only developed through the transfer of knowledge from the “head” to your “hands”, so to speak. The attitude component comes from the choice that you make every single day to be mindful of what you have learned by choosing the new behaviors in place of the old, even if they are more challenging. It is through this process of small steps and choices that you build your competence.