5 Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills
No matter if you are already in a leadership position or if you are just starting in your career, you can and should always work on your leadership skills. Developing your leadership skills doesn’t depend on the position you currently hold. Leadership is a mindset and therefore you can practice throughout your day.
Management versus Leadership
Before we get into the topic of how to improve your leadership skills, let’s quickly define what leadership is. In the last thirty years, there has been much debate on the contrast between leadership and management. For many authors management skills are about stability, making the best use of resources, and relying on available solutions. Leadership, on the other hand, focuses on vision, inspiration, and change.
What is Leadership?
Leadership is a complex task. Generally speaking, a leader has to navigate four dimensions:
Pay attention to the means, pace, and quality of progress toward the aim of the organization;
Motive people to work towards a set purpose and direction;
Uphold group unity so that people work well in teams and the organization as a whole, while simultaneously
Paying attention to individuals and their effectiveness.
These four dimensions don’t only apply to leaders, they hold true for managers as well. Management and leadership skills have different emphases but complement each other.
What are Leadership Skills?
A helpful way of looking at what sometimes can feel like the burden of leadership is to see leadership as a process. A leader is not a person who always needs to know everything and come up with solutions or decide which road to take. A leader can delegate even the decision-making aspect. The one key task a leader cannot delegate is making sure that there is someone who leads a particular task.
Based on this understanding of leadership, here are five ways to develop your effective leadership skills – whether you’re already in a leadership position or preparing for one in the future.
5 Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills
1) Be Willing to Learn
As a leader, you will always be faced with new situations and challenges. So it is essential to know your technical weaknesses. Figure out where you have gaps in your skills and knowledge and continue to learn. This does not only apply to obtaining knowledge in your field of work but includes people skills.
People skills include various communication skills, which apply to both, leading individuals into becoming the best person they can be for the organization as well as groups. A lot of leaders neglect to learn about group dynamics. A sound understanding of group dynamics, however, is key not only in leading teams in daily interactions but also through periods of change.
2) Develop a Culture of Trust
If you want people to follow your leadership they need to be able to trust you. No one will follow you if they are not sure you are leading them off a cliff (except lemmings, of course). Establishing trust in your team and your company depends highly on your attitude toward others. Do you believe that other people are as important as you are?
People develop trust in others when they perceive them as competent. Therefore it is crucial that you keep learning and developing your technical and people skills. Being competent means that you know what you do, how you do it, and doing it. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. It increases trust when you admit not knowing something and are seeking information from those who do.
Another aspect of trust is a sense of direction. People trust those who have a sense of where they are going and why (purpose). Therefore you need to be able to be first of all be aware of your organization’s purpose and direction and then to be able to communicate it to your team.
You can also establish trust by standing up for your team. When you’re in a position of leadership and something doesn’t go as planned, people need to know you have their backs. It’s not about taking the blame or shielding someone’s incompetence. It’s about facing the challenge within the team and dealing with issues of incompetence individually. When people know that you have their backs (when higher-ups are suddenly changing directions), they’ll reward this behavior by giving you their best performance.
To build trust among your colleagues and yourself or in your team, people need to perceive you as walking the talk. You need to lead by example. For instance, if you are constantly saying you want to take time to discuss the next career steps with a colleague but never follow your words, people detect a lack of congruence. Your words don’t fit your actions.
Similarly, people must believe that you are serving the collective purpose and not secretly putting your personal interests ahead of theirs. Integrity also includes being sincere. It means telling the truth about the group’s progress and issues and not painting yourself or even the team in a better light. Additionally, don’t hide anything important.
The reason is simple: If people know you are anything but upright (even if it is to protect the team), they won’t know if you will not engage in similar behavior and then it might not be to their benefit.
If you want to get anywhere in life you need self-awareness. When it comes to team leadership skills as well as interacting with people individually you need to be aware of your trigger points. This will help you in dealing with your reactions to circumstances adequately instead of overreacting.
To develop self-awareness observe yourself and ask yourself the following questions: Why did I react in this fashion? What feelings and emotions were triggered? Self-awareness requires you to know yourself. As an additional benefit you will also increase your self-esteem: Knowing yourself leads to finding out who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are and you can work on them accordingly.
We all perceive reality through a set of filters such as senses, experiences, values and beliefs, ambitions, plans, expectations, and emotions. Without being aware of what your personal filters are and how they impact you, you won’t be able to develop a leadership style that benefits all: the purpose of the organization as well as the people in it.
5) Serving Others
Serving others is probably the least common thought when it comes to leadership skills.
If you care not only about pursuing the organization’s goal but also genuinely care about the people, caring turns into service.
One example of serving others is taking responsibility. Leadership is always accompanied by a responsibility that is not linked to personal performance and that clearly goes beyond the responsibility of the team members. A leader must be able to take responsibility for things in his or her area even when they are not within his or her realm of change.
Serving others means that life isn’t revolving around you and your desires. It means that you put the collective goal before your own and that you are looking out for what is best for all. This requires you to be able to look at the whole picture.
Looking at the whole picture means hearing opposing views, encouraging constructive feedback, and motivating others, who usually don’t share their opinion. It requires you to understand people and their motives and to see their strengths and weaknesses. Only when you know them, you can apply them to the best of the common goal.
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References: (click the arrow to expand)
Book - James Scouller (2011): The Three Levels of Leadership
Muna Wagner is a trainer, facilitator, presenter, and coach specializing in communication, leadership, self-development, and building bridges across social divides based in Berlin, Germany. She is a contributing writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability. Muna also produces and creates podcast content through her projects "Cynic and Optimist" and "The MUNAlogues."
Edits and inputs by Aswin Raghav R.