What makes a great leader? Can anyone develop leadership skills? Or is leadership more of an inherent personality trait?
While there are certain personalities that have natural leadership acumen, anyone can develop leadership skills if they put their mind to it. Though not everyone will have a large impact like Nelson Mandela or Steve Jobs, you can still make a big difference in your place of work or community.
Keep reading to learn how to develop leadership skills.
Leadership: Trait or Skill?
Successful people are often leaders in their field because achieving their vision or goals required motivating, recruiting, and leading groups of people to action. However, leadership is not innate—anyone can develop leadership skills if they are intentional about it.
Skill #1: Communicate a Compelling Vision
To recruit others to work toward your vision and do their best work, present a clear, compelling vision of what you want to achieve and why it’s important. Use your own natural enthusiasm for the goal to convince people to follow your lead. In addition, tell people how your vision will make those working on it better. For example, if you’re starting an urban garden, inspire volunteers with your vision of how they and the community will benefit from it. Appealing to people’s emotions creates a sense of connection and motivates them to act. You can do this by telling stories about yourself, volunteers, partners you work with, and so on.
Skill #2: Learn From Listening
In addition to being able to communicate a vision, leaders must be willing to listen to the concerns and opinions of their employees. People feel valued when leaders listen. In contrast, if employees feel they aren’t being heard or their concerns are being ignored, it builds resentment that doesn’t support a healthy work environment.
Leaders also need to be open to learning. Feedback from employees is an opportunity to learn and create new practices together that will benefit the company as a whole. For example, if an employee expresses interest in a matching 401(k) contribution from the company, explore why the employee is interested in it. Then, if you determine it makes sense, create a plan to see it through. If you don’t think it makes sense, explain your reasoning in a way that acknowledges the employee’s perspective.
Skill #3: Practice Gratitude
Expressing gratitude is another way to make employees feel appreciated and foster commitment. In one survey, only 17 percent of U.S. workers said they felt sufficiently appreciated by their boss. Yet 80 percent of employees said appreciation motivated them to work harder, and 50 percent said they’d stay at a company longer if they felt sufficiently appreciated by their boss. In addition to motivating employees, practicing gratitude directly benefits you—choosing a positive attitude can lower your stress and boost your mood. (Additional tips on appreciating the people in your life are discussed in Principle 53: Show Your Appreciation.)
Skill #4: Coach Others to Be Leaders and Solve Problems
Being a leader doesn’t mean solving every problem yourself. Coaching employees through challenges empowers them to lead and gives them the tools to solve problems. Ask the following questions:
- What is the problem? Helping someone define the problem helps them take ownership of it and makes them more likely to resolve it efficiently. Example: One of your team leaders is frustrated that people aren’t showing up on time for their weekly meeting.
- In what way is the complainer enabling the situation? This question asks the employee to take further ownership of the situation by identifying how they contribute to the troublesome behavior. Example: The team leader hasn’t made it clear to the team that they expect members to be on time for meetings.
- How will you benefit from things staying the same? Example: The team leader gets to avoid confronting the offending teammates.
- What would you like to experience instead? Example: starting the meeting on time with everyone present and enthusiastic.
- How will you achieve your goal? Example: 1) sending a memo that the meeting will begin on time from now on, and 2) offering two incentives to employees—playing a funny video at the beginning of the meeting and offering a drawing for a $50 bill.
Skill #5: Hold Yourself Accountable
Being accountable means delivering on your promises. When you consistently follow through with your commitments, you build the trust of your employees in your leadership and encourage others to do the same. For example, if you tell employees that you plan to give a holiday bonus and follow-through, employees learn that they can trust you to be true to your word. That said, there will be times when you will fall short of your commitments. When that happens, it’s important to take ownership of the outcomes that you were responsible for rather than placing blame on others. Then, reflect on the situation and adjust your approach so that you get a different outcome going forward.