If you want to get ahead in your career, strong leadership skills are essential, but how do you build and nurture these qualities? With something as broad and far reaching as “leadership,” it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where to start.
For more hands-on skills, like learning a new software or public speaking, there are free online tutorials and local meet-up groups to help you brush up or practice. But leadership is multifaceted. In the workplace, leadership exists in any field and at any level. In the study of leadership, there’s a variety of unique perspectives and leadership models. Effective leadership draws upon countless other skills, such as communication, feedback, organization, and teamwork. Each of these dimensions can make the processes of expanding your leadership abilities a difficult one to start.
So, how do you initiate this process?Here are five ways you can start to strengthen your leadership capabilities!
Understand the Characteristics of an Effective Leader
The first step to strengthening your own leadership skills is reflecting upon the qualities that effective leaders exude. Think back to your mentors, managers, or supervisors who you admired as a leader? What patterns do you see? Common examples include:
- Results-oriented: they help eliminate barriers so you and your team can achieve goals.
- Clear and Concise: their expectations are clear and they can express their vision in a straight-forward, relatable way.
- Inclusive: they value your input and incorporate your ideas.
- Decisive: in challenging situations, at times, there may not be an easy decision. Effective leaders can own their decision, be accountable for it, and move forward.
- Recognizes Success: appreciates the contributions of the entire team and gives credit where credit’s due.
Conduct a Self-Assessment
After assessing the characteristics of an effective leader, reflect upon your own skills: in what areas do you exhibit the qualities of an effective leader, and where do you have gaps? Once you target several areas of growth, you can start to develop ways to expand your leadership capacity.
For example, if you work as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit organization, you may wonder how you can be more inclusive when you’re not in an elevated role (…who am I to to “include?” Shouldn't the supervisors and managers be including me, instead...). This would be an excellent area to further develop.
Make an Action Plan to Grow Your Skills
Next, you’ll customize strategies to help nurture the leadership traits you’d like to enhance and brainstorm ways that you can apply these skills in your day-to-day position. During this phase, you may feel stuck, but remind yourself that leadership is valuable at every level and at every organization. You can lead from the bottom, from the middle, or from the top!
Revisiting the previous example, for an administrative assistant at a nonprofit who struggles to find ways to be more inclusive as a front line employee, simple tasks such as organizing meeting minutes and agendas for committee meetings present the opportunity to take the lead. During meetings, follow the conversation closely to monitor any action items assigned out to board or committee members. After the meeting, ask your manager if you can help facilitate some of the follow through. You’ll gain the opportunity to interface directly with leaders within the organization and have the opportunity to impress them with your responsiveness, communication skills, and organization. By serving in a coordinator role, you can help ensure that the final draft is inclusive of everybody's feedback and ideas. Bonus! This will help the board feel more engaged and achieve tangible progress toward their goals, which is universally valuable.
Find Leadership in Everyday Life
The more you invest yourself in strengthening your leadership skills, the more you’ll start to notice the role of leadership in everyday life. In social settings, you may tap into your leadership skills during general conversation. For example, if you and your friends are struggling to select a restaurant for a fun group dinner, you may use active listening skills and naturally summarize everyone’s feedback—from preferences on cuisine type to food allergies and so on—to help lead the group to a decision that will make everyone happy. In the workplace, you may use this same pattern of listening to guide your communication and help support collaborative decision-making.
Even when you become a more seasoned practitioner of leadership, the work is not done. Rather, these are skills that will develop and change over time. You’ll need to work to adapt your leadership to different environments, group dynamics, and other factors. You may need to shift your focus to nurturing a different set of leadership skills as you’re presented with new personal and professional opportunities. If you relocate to a new city, the values of those around you may differ from your hometown. If you take on a new position, the company culture may require you to draw upon different traits to be effective as a leader. Being aware (and excited!) about these undercurrents will help you rise to the occasion throughout your career and personal life.
For some, the process of honing leadership skills can be difficult to navigate solo, so seeking additional training to develop these skills is a smart strategy. Cultivating Your Leadership Capabilities is an essential part of the curriculum for the M.S. in Leadership degree program at Granite State College. Use our course schedule to register for an upcoming course.