Take a quick look at your favorite job board. Read through some of the postings, especially for those in a management position. Chances are, along with expertise and years of experience, some form of “leadership” will be mentioned.
The perfect candidate will possess strong leadership skills … have the ability to lead by example … be a natural-born leader … lead, mentor, and guide a talented team—and the list goes on. Leadership skills are as in demand as they are seemingly rare.
What Is Leadership?
“Leadership is an action, not a position,” according to Donald McGannon, a pioneering broadcast executive from the early years of television. California’s Senator Diane Feinstein offers this observation: “Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.” And business guru Peter F. Drucker said “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”
Each one of them has a point. Leadership is all these things and more. It’s the ability to share a vision and get groups of people moving toward achieving it. It’s empowering others to become leaders in their own right. It’s about making a difference.
Leadership is almost indefinable while being, simultaneously, absolutely necessary in all walks of life, from businesses to individual careers to communities.
What Makes a Good Leader?
If good leadership is the talent amalgamation of sharing a vision, motivating and empowering others, communicating with transparency, being actively productive, and making a difference doing what is right, then a good leader is someone who exudes those talents. That is a tall order. So, maybe the definition of a good leader should be modified to one focused on developing leadership skills in those areas.
In other words, good leaders are individuals who not only possess leadership skills, but continuously work to improve leadership skills for the betterment of themselves and those who follow.
Why Are Leadership Skills Important in the Workplace?
Remember those job boards and the postings discussed earlier? If that quick review is any indication, good leadership skills are more than desirable in the workplace, they are essential. The right kind of leadership can do a lot for an organization. It can head off internal conflicts. It can boost efficiency and productivity. It can track the winds of change and help organizations steer into better waters.
As essential as leadership skills are for the workplace, they are even more so for your career. Even if you have solid leadership abilities, working to improve leadership skills is always a good idea. To that end, we’re sharing some techniques for developing leadership skills that can make a difference for your company and your career.
Seven Techniques to Improve Your Leadership Skills
Practice Self Discipline
Be the model you want others to follow. Organized, attentive, thoughtful, optimistic—whatever image you want to project, work on them. Make them a habit. Discipline yourself by exhibiting the behaviors and characteristics you want your future teams and associates to copy.
You can’t be a natural at everything, so be professional at what you can control, like:
- Punctuality — Keep appointments and meet deadlines. No matter who you’re meeting or how busy you get, if you say you will be somewhere at a certain time, be there at that time. If you absolutely can’t make it, respect others by reaching out ahead of time to make a change.
- Be Transparent — Are there interested buyers for your organization? Is the industry itself changing? If you are in a management or leadership position, keep the lines of communication open. When it doesn’t have to be a secret, don’t make it one.
Be More Aware of Self and Situations
Similar to practicing self-discipline, being more aware of yourself and the situations your business is in is essential to offering calm leadership even in times of trouble. Seriously consider your leadership potential, where it is and where it could be. With self-awareness also comes the knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, things you can work on to become a better, more effective leader in the future. And by being more situationally aware, especially of what happens in and around your place of work, you will be better prepared to make a difference.
Becoming more mindful of the world around you, yourself, and how you can effect positive change can become second nature when you:
- Actively Listen — Listen to clearly hear what is being spoken, not for your chance to respond. When it is time for you to speak, rephrase what you heard so you know you and the speaker are on the same page.
- Take Time to Think — Make awareness of self a priority. Consider your business, your team, your industry. Set aside distractions and organize your thoughts. What can you learn and how can you make tomorrow better?
There is truth to the notion that you do not have to be a manager to be a leader. If you know certain projects or tasks are coming down the pike in your company, take the initiative and volunteer to be a part of it. Find ways to improve leadership skills by taking the initiative on projects in your workplace
Join efforts as a member of a team, emerge as a leader by doing this:
- Create Your Place — Get to know other team members, learn their strengths, and get a picture of where everyone can contribute. Then, step into the gap in order to ensure everyone understands their role and responsibilities so you meet deadlines.
- Ask for Feedback — You want to be a leader? Soon after an issue has been resolved or a challenge has been overcome, get some insight from fellow team members as well as management of what worked and what didn’t.
Delegate & Empower Others
No one appreciates being micro-managed. On the other hand, no one wants to feel alone on an island. Effective leaders delegate. They empower. And they know how to get the most out of their teams and staff.
Good leaders understand when and how to give team members the freedom to fulfill tasks. But they weren’t born with this skill, instead they developed it over time:
- Trust Your Team — Give teammates the opportunity to excel in different project areas. As tempting as it can be, make sure you aren’t just offloading tasks you don’t want to do.
- Ask for Help — Many hands make light work (and can help prevent burnout!). Actively recruit others to help. Call on their expertise. Give them an opportunity to spread their wings and fly. Then, thank them for their effort and help. In this way, even in non-managerial positions, you hone the leadership skill of empowering others.
Develop Conflict Resolution Skills
Tension in the workplace is as inevitable as it is unconstructive. Good leaders have the conflict resolution skills needed to deescalate situations and mediate a win-win outcome. Better leaders are able to sniff out trouble before it starts.
Creating calm in the workplace in tense situations can become second nature when you:
- Know Your People — Take the time to learn about your associates, what motivates them, what irritates them. Put yourself in their shoes. Be a listening ear. Only offer advice when asked.
- Take It Step by Step — 1) Listen. 2) Rein in your own emotions. 3) State facts, not opinions. 4) Look for a root cause. 5) Be aware of non-verbals. 6) Deescalate.
Set Goals & Do Them
You have a specific outlook for your career future. But, as the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you are essentially planning to fail. Set goals so that as you move through life and your career, you are able to determine if you are on track for the future you want. Consider what you want out of life, out of your career. Want to get fit? Set goals. Set one to eat right. Set another to exercise. Make them specific—I will eat salads five days a week with low-calorie dressings. I will work out three times a week. I will limit my takeout to once a week. Want to build up your bank account? Set a goal. Want to lead your own department in five years? Set a goal. Then, work toward it.
Prepare for a better future by rising to the challenge. It starts when you decide to:
- Set Specific Goals — Begin by thinking about a specific long-term goal, maybe moving into a senior-level position within five years. Then, break down the steps it can take to reach that level to set smaller achievable goals, perhaps earning your MBA. While it is achievable in one or two years, it is still a big goal. So, break it down further—explore MBA programs, consider financing, enroll in a program, etc.
- Pursue Your Goals — You set long-term goals and you have a to-do list of shorter specific goals. Check them off as you achieve them. These are the mile-markers of your long-term journey to career success, so celebrate each one.
Never Stop Learning
The 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, once said that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” In his estimation, you can’t be effective with one if you don’t practice the other. Want to be a leader? Cultivate a healthy curiosity. If you stop learning, you stop growing, and that can lead to stagnation for your company and your career.
Make learning a priority by checking with thought leaders by:
- Reviewing Leadership Books & Podcasts — Don’t settle for the headline news; get to the meat of the matter. Explore top books on business and leadership essentials and check out these valuable business and leadership podcasts.
- Finding a Mentor — Is there someone in your company or industry that you admire? Especially as a leader? See if that person would be willing to mentor you. Or go further afield, perhaps to your LinkedIn network, to find that perfect example of leadership willing to share tips for improvement.
- Taking Management & Leadership Courses — There are any number of in-person and online one-off courses on leadership or management skills, many that can leverage up to certifications or a nice addendum to your resume.
Earn Your MBA
One more way to make learning (and leadership) a priority? Pursue your MBA.
Ultimately, you are in charge of your leadership skills and what you will do to improve them. The right MBA program, however, can offer the information, insights, and help you need to grow and nurture them to become effective tools in your professional arsenal.
At The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, our Gary W. Rollins College of Business offers a Master of Business Administration program designed to meet your needs with 100% online learning or a mix of online and in-person classes. Contact us today to explore why this is the right MBA for your needs.