Whether you own a business or have risen in the ranks to a managerial position, there's a good chance that you were never actually trained in leadership. Sure, there are some people who are just natural-born leaders, but even they need to sharpen their skills.
You want to lead your business or your team towards a profitable future and do right by your employees. In order to do this, you'll need to understand what being a "leader" truly means and how you can improve your skills to become the best possible version of yourself.
What Are the Five Leadership Skills?
There are five skills that every leader must possess. Take a look at the list and evaluate where you believe you excel and where you stand to improve.
You must know who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are in order to be a truly effective leader. Being aware and honest with yourself will help you improve as a leader and as an individual.
2. Business Proficiency
Do you truly understand business? In order to make informed, appropriate decisions as a leader, you must grasp the business environment and how it works.
3. Relationship Building
Leadership is the business of people. No matter what industry you work in, building relationships with your team members, other departments, clients or customers, vendors, and anyone else you come into contact with is essential to success.
4. Culture Development
A positive mindset and an environment of motivation will win over pure skill any day. You may have hired the best in the industry, but in order for your team to operate at their best, you must create and foster a positive workplace culture.
Business and the marketplace are constantly changing. In order to excel as a leader, you must be able to adapt quickly to these changes and inspire your team to do the same.
Why Is Self-Leadership Important?
While you are likely tasked with leading and managing other employees in your organization, it all starts with your ability to manage yourself. Are you able to evaluate where you are, set goals for where you'd like to go, and maintain the mindset, productivity levels, and time management necessary to reach those goals?
True leaders skip the "do as I say, not as I do" approach and lead by example. When your employees see you unwilling to admit to challenges and unable to set goals or stay focused to achieve them, they will have difficulties doing it as well. However, if your employees see you honestly evaluating your own performance and working towards a goal while maintaining a positive attitude, they will be more likely to follow your lead and do the same within their own role.
Tips on Building Effective Leadership Skills and Competencies
Now that you understand how important self-leadership is to being a good manager, how do you improve? Follow these steps:
Evaluate Where You Are
Before you can step up your self-leadership skills, you must understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
Ask for Feedback
Just because you believe you are good (or bad) at something doesn't mean that others will agree. Ask some of your colleagues, family, friends, or employees how they view you. You may be surprised at how their responses compare to your own.
Once you know where you're starting from, you need to figure out where you want to go. Ideally, you'll have both professional and personal goals.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Are you putting the necessary time, effort, and energy into your goals? Do periodic check-ins with yourself to make sure you are staying on track.
When you face a hiccup in your life or your business, don't play the victim or pass the blame. Accept your role in the situation and learn from it.
Give Credit to Others
No one achieves greatness alone. Share the celebration when things go right and show the people who helped you that you appreciate their support.
Adopt a Positive Attitude
When you are a positive person, you attract other positive people as well as bring the good out in those around you.
Be Open to Learning
Soak up as much knowledge and training as you can and make a promise to yourself that you'll never stop learning.
What Are Some Responsibilities of a Leader?
While day-to-day duties may vary slightly depending on your industry and specific job title, the general responsibilities of a leader or manager are universal.
Envision a Better Future
Why does your company exist? How are you improving your customers’ lives and the community as a whole? As a leader, it is your job to paint the image of a better future so your employees know why they are doing what they are doing.
Provide Training and Motivation
Today's employees are not only interested in learning how to do their current jobs properly; they also want to know how to advance. Provide your employees with the resources and tools they need to meet (and exceed) your expectations and to develop themselves personally and professionally so they can grow in their careers.
Set Goals and Responsibilities
Do your employees know what you expect of them? Do they know what constitutes "excellent performance," or are they just going through the motions unaware of whether they are actually doing their job or someone else's? Be clear as to what you expect from your employees and who on the team is responsible for what tasks.
Hold Employees Accountable
When your employees are given a responsibility or a certain goal that they must meet, they need to be held accountable for it. Check in with them (but do not hover) and see what progress they've made and if they need any support.
You've given your employees goals, checked in on their progress, and given them the freedom to work. Now it's time to review what they've done and provide constructive feedback. What did they do well? What do they need to improve on? Be clear, concise, and kind.
With proper training, employees will feel as if they can accomplish the goals you've set. Give them the freedom to operate without micromanagement. They may just surprise you!
Your employees are talking. From tiny gripes to all-out complain-fests, your workplace will always be less than perfect. If you create an environment of open communication, employees will be comfortable coming to you with their challenges. If they are not comfortable coming to you, rest assured that they'll be unloading on coworkers and possibly even your customers.
Do your employees feel as if you have their back in a bad situation, or are they waiting for the day you throw them under a bus? Trust goes both ways, and you'll likely have to trust your employees before they are willing to trust you. This means supporting their decisions, defending them (when appropriate), and giving them space to experiment with new things and be innovative.
How to Develop Leadership Skills in Others
One of the lesser known responsibilities of leaders is to develop the leadership skills of others. Your employees likely want to improve and grow and eventually become leaders within your organization or another. There are ways that you can prepare them to accept this responsibility.
Assign Different Projects and Responsibilities
If your employees work on the same tasks day in and day out, they won't be challenged or have the opportunity to expand their skills. Like a goldfish growing to its environment, when you provide different projects and increased responsibilities, they will likely step up to meet your expectations (all while discovering what they are capable of).
Give Them Freedom to Self-Govern
If you are constantly hanging over your employees' shoulders, they'll feel stifled and resentful, and they won't have a reason to step into their leadership possibilities. They'll also probably look for opportunities elsewhere.
Provide Continuing Education
Do your employees have the opportunity to learn leadership skills within your organization? Do they receive communications training or have the option to attend leadership retreats outside of the work environment? The more resources they have, the faster they'll blossom into full-fledged leaders.
Allow Them Access to Other Successful Leaders
Provide mentorship within your organization. While it may be good to support your direct reports in their growth endeavors, you may also want to have them work with other leaders inside your organization so they can see another style at work.
Encourage them to Take Leadership Roles Outside of Work
Leadership doesn't end when employees walk out the door at 5 pm. Suggest that your team members take leadership roles within civic organizations, professional organizations, non-profits, etc. Any opportunity to flex their leadership muscles will improve their skills and build their confidence.
Activities for Developing Leadership Skills in the Workplace
Now that you understand the importance of leadership skills for you and your team, it's time to improve those skills. Here are a few activities that can get your team motivated, working together, and excited to improve their leadership abilities.
Create a Leadership Skills Assessment
You've assessed where you are. Give your employees the opportunity to do the same. However, rather than giving them a quiz to fill out, turn it into a game. Have everyone stand in a row. As you read each leadership skill off the list, have them assess where they are. They can move forward 3 steps if they believe they are proficient at that skill, 2 steps if they are okay at it but still need to work on it, and 1 step if it is an area of weakness. Provide prizes for the people who make it to the finish line first. Then provide prizes for the people you think were the most honest (and spot-on) during the assessment.
Have Employees Take Turns Teaching
Some team members will be better at certain skills than others. Once you determine who excels at what, give them the opportunity to prepare and present to the team and teach their coworkers that skill. Employees will feel respected, trusted, and eager to help their coworkers.
Leaders must be excellent communicators and be able to make decisions and act on them quickly. Set aside some time to do improv games where employees can loosen up, step outside of the daily to-dos, and have fun while learning. You can even bring in an improv teacher to lead the group if you've never done it before.
Develop Committees for Events
You've probably got holiday parties scheduled, meetings, and other events within your organization. Appoint an employee to the Lead Organizer position and then have them select their committee members and lead their team. Putting on an event teaches many of the key areas of leadership and gives them something to show for their efforts.
Creativity and adaptability are important skills for a leader to have. Split your team into small groups and have them create a "product" and then market it and present it to the other teams. As the exercise begins, you'll see some employees come forward as more outgoing and willing to lead. Once you've determined who this is in each group, ask someone else to take the lead so they have the opportunity to see what they can achieve.
An organization must have strong leadership in order to be successful. While many individuals have not undergone leadership training before rising to their current roles, there's still time to learn. Developing and honing your leadership skills (and the skills of your team members) is an ongoing process. As you become a better leader in the office, you'll see other areas of your life blossom as well. Take the time to grow as a leader, and you'll reap the rewards.
Whether you own a business or have risen in the ranks to a managerial position, there's a good chance that you were never actually trained in leadership. Sure, there are some people who are just natural-born leaders, but even they need to sharpen their skills. That's why we at Rapport Leadership International offer immersive leadership training through our unique, intense leadership development program.