Leaders are made not born – so here’s five tips to help you sharpen your leadership skills
Love to be a leader but worry you don’t have what it takes? It might help to know leaders are made not born – and what you can to to sharpen your leadership skills.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? And are leaders born or made? Some age-old questions we can actually answer, because we can see it happening. Great leaders aren’t born. They are made. Self made, to be precise.
Being a manager doesn’t make you a leader. Leaders can be found in any tier of your organization or department, regardless of the title someone carries. The list of qualities they possess is endless, and we have yet to write up a clear definition.
Five things you can do to sharpen your leadership skills
In the end, leadership is a skill, and like any other skill, you can work on it. Experience is the best teacher, but not the only one. If you want to sharpen your leadership skills and get ready to take the lead, here are five things you can do.
1) Delegate tasks
You’ll need to give yourself the time to actually work on your leadership skills. Create that time by delegating tasks. Trusting your team and knowing how to allocate tasks is crucial to keep your organization running smoothly.
Delegation is more than a time-saving tool: it’s an important skill effective leaders should have. You can’t do everything. If you struggle with letting go of tasks, ask yourself why. In order to move your organization and team forward, you will need a certain degree of focus on tasks that are meant for the leadership, and faith in your employees to do their jobs.
2) Learn from leaders who inspire you
What leaders did you have in the past that set an example for you? Throughout our life we either experience leadership fails and successes, and at the very least hear stories from others about it.
You don’t need to re-invent leadership as a whole: take a look at those who came before you and what they did right. And learn from their leadership mistakes, too.
If you can find a mentor: great. Working closely with someone who knows their way around the ropes and getting direct feedback is a great learning experience.
If that’s not possible for you, you can still learn from other leaders and experiences others had with them. Learn by listening, ask questions, research leadership styles or simply read books by inspiring leaders.
3) Be a mentor
Isn’t that diving into the deep end? Yes, so this might not be a practice for leaders who are just starting out. But the success of the people you lead is a statement to your leadership. Being a mentor isn’t necessarily a project on its own. You could be a mentor to everyone you lead.
Communication is key, especially for leaders. Find out what it is that your mentee wants to learn from you. They shouldn’t become a guinea pig for your leadership experiment. But also don’t be afraid to ask for feedbackfrom their side. Let them know you are working on yourself, too.
You can’t expect anyone to follow you if you don’t even know where you’re really going. To be a good leader and mentor, you need to have clear beliefs and a vision. Part of being a great mentor is determining what drives you and communicating this to your team to get them on board.
Start with actively looking at how you can help co-workers who have issues, without taking over their tasks or responsibilities, circling back to point one. Point them in the right direction, share valuable resources and dig into your previous experiences to find something that might be of value to them now—and share.
4) Cultivate strong relationships
You can only lead if you have followers. A great leader is a great leader to everyone, not just one mentee or a small part of the team. That’s why it’s paramount you actively build strong relationships to the people that you are working with.
Earning respect is crucial to a successful relationship with anyone, while also showing that you respect them, their work and ideas.
It’s hard to like a leader who isn’t supportive or simply kind. That doesn’t mean that you should be a people pleaser and need to become the life of the party. For leaders, the strength of their relationships with team members, depends heavily on how they help them. Find out what their individual goals are and help them achieve those.
Pay attention and listen actively. Show appreciation, give credit where credit is due. Work on how you give feedback, and get comfortable asking and receiving it—and reacting to it well.
It really pays off to get to know your team. Their strengths and weaknesses, to delegate properly, but also their hopes and dreams. Your organization won’t be able to grow if you and your team remain at a standstill. So use your power and resources to drive them forward—and everybody wins.
5) Work on your soft skills
Soft skills might be the hardest skills to work on, because they can seem quite abstract. They revolve around feelings and interactions, and those are hardly measurable.
That being said, you can, and should, work on them. The key to understanding this ability is to notice your effectiveness as a leader and the feedback you get from your team.
There are dozens of soft skills, and there’s no mix or recipe of them that will guarantee to make you a great leader. Communication and listening are just the start.
So if you want to take your leadership skills to the next level, here are some soft skills you should consider re-evaluating and sharpening
You can debate on whether being able to show empathy is a skill or a personality trait, but it’s imperative for leaders. In business, you work with people.
And to make them work with you, you will need to be understanding of the fact that they are human, too. Listen and ask, and don’t be afraid to share too and really connect.
Great leaders are transparent and honest. And if you’d be really honest, you’d have to admit you aren’t perfect. Showing you are human and willing to admit mistakes and learn from them will be greatly appreciated by your team.
How do you celebrate successes? Great leaders don’t seek the spotlight, they give praise to whoever deserves it and want to motivate others to succeed – not just themselves.
“The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.” According to Lao Tzu on Tao leadership, at least. And we couldn’t have said it any better.
Vicky Frissen is a freelance writer with an itch for giving brands more human voices, online. She’s a writer for Typeform and can’t stop blogging about digital marketing and digital nomad life.
Photo by Andrew Ly