Read almost any job description and you will find references to leadership skills, whether the role has management responsibilities or not. But what are leadership skills, and how can you develop them?
The original theories of leadership centered on traits – things like intelligence, height, and charisma. At the time, researchers were studying people who were already in leadership roles to see what they had in common. Today we think about leadership quite differently. In both research and in the real world, we’ve seen that leadership ability not just something people are born having, but more of a skill and a practice that anyone can learn.
There are a variety of behaviors that are associated with leaders in the world of work. Some of the most commonly cited skills are these:
- Have and share a vision
- Pursue excellence
- Communicate effectively
- Be trustworthy
- Build confidence in your employees
- Be enthusiastic
- Serve others
You might read this list and think “that doesn’t sound so hard”, but the truth is that most leaders, especially people who are new to the role, struggle to find ways to do all of these things effectively. It takes practice and a commitment to working hard on these skills to become excellent at all of them.
Learning leadership skills is similar to learning any other new ability such as a language or a musical instrument or a sport. It involves three different elements:
- Classroom or Formal Learning – When you first set out to learn something new, the first place you might turn is to a class or a book. This is a great way to learn the fundamentals, and the theories. But no matter how much time you spend in the classroom, you won’t be able to master a new skill through theory alone.
- Observation or Social Learning – Throughout our careers we’ve had a variety of managers. One of the best ways to learn how to be a leader is by observing others. That doesn’t mean you should try to copy exactly what another person is doing, but by taking a look at what works and what doesn’t and matching what you learned in the classroom with what you see in the real world, you can start to see how theory and practice fit together.
- Practice – We learn the most when we do something ourselves. When you take on a leadership role, such as managing a project or leading a team, and you begin to practice what you have learned, you will see where things go well, and where you still have room to grow.
Becoming a leader is a process, not an event. If you get a promotion into a management role tomorrow, you won’t go to bed with one set of skills and wake up with a new set, just because you have a new title. But if you approach the process with a growth mindset, are willing to seek out feedback, and are committed to the learning process then you have what it takes to be a leader!
This post was written by Katy Tynan