How to Develop Leadership Skills

Discover how to develop leadership skills in five easy steps

Leadership is dynamic, challenging, stimulating, stressful, scary, rewarding and sure to help you sail close to your potential.

These tips are generic enough to be able to help you - no matter your stage in your leadership journey. Yet they are also specific enough to give you something tangible to do to develop your leadership skills.

Develop Leadership Skills

Tip 1. Know why you want to be a leader

I've been coaching leaders for 20+ years, and the one thing, which consistently causes leaders to come undone, is that they don't have a strong understanding of how they are showing up as an individual and as a leader. In the context of the corporate arena, the vast majority of people stumble into leadership positions because they got promoted on the back of being good at what they do; and it is the way to get increased salaries and status.

Neither of which are good reasons for leading people!

If you are in a leadership position because of the bucks, the status or the power, you may well find yourself struggling to be as successful as you'd like, or find yourself in a place of emotional bleakness...

According to one study fully 25% of top-level executives, go through some form of deep depression.

By spending time in self-reflection, (understanding what is important to you, what impact you want to have on your immediate and broader community, how you want to be remembered), is the first and most important step you can take to develop your leadership skills. The My Career, My Choice program has been designed to help you do this.

Tip 2. Be okay with being vulnerable

Criticism, judgment, angst, loneliness ... are all things you can expect in your leadership career. On the flip-side accolade, joy, camaraderie and a sense of having made a difference will also likely fall into your lap as a leader.

Enjoying the upside of leadership is great. But being able to weather and stay true to yourself during the down-side is a real skill. And one that can be easier to navigate if you can be vulnerable.

Brene Brown shot to fame in 2011, following a TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability. If you've got time, I highly recommend you watch the 18-minute video below.

Having the courage to say:

  • I don't know it all
  • I don't have all the answers
  • I'm not sure what to do next

 are statements that leaders who have the courage to be vulnerable are unafraid to utter.

Nurturing the courage of vulnerability means you remain open to self-awareness. Along with the need and desire to continue to develop yourself throughout your life ... and that is something that all inspiring leaders get right!

Tip 3. If you are a leader, it means you have to be great with people

Leadership is about working with a group of people to effect a change of some sort. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you are going to work with people, you need to have great people skills!

You can build your people skills, throughout your life, by belonging to a range of teams, both as a leader and as a follower.

Look for groups that are doing things that interest you ... and yet bring you into contact with a diversity of styles.

Imagine the difference between being in, (and what you can discover about yourself), in a group that knits to provide clothing for 3rd world countries, and a group that is working toward trekking to Base Camp at Mt Everest (and yes I've been in both!).

You can discover a lot by following other leaders - both great and not so great! As you stride alongside or behind others you'll become aware that fundamentally getting people to want to follow you is about:

  • Engaging and inspiring people with a good reason 'why' they want achieve what you want to achieve
  • Being someone, they can trust
  • Creating an environment that challenges people to use the best of their skills
  • Helping people to feel important and that they belong
  • Being a great communicator. Great leaders listen well, making sure people know they've been heard and then, when it is time to make the decision and move forward, to do so with conviction in a clear, precise and galvanizing manner.
  • Delivering results

All of which are elements of the 4Bs of High-Performance Framework.

As you work in groups - be it in a work context or a community context, you'll have the opportunity to practice your leadership skills and watch others lead. Getting it right and making a hash of it! Yes, there is a benefit to trial and error. This is where tip 2 above is so important. Don't be afraid of making mistakes.

None of us are perfect! Just make sure that you learn and that you catch your errors before they become monumental. And never, ever try to hide them from others.

Your leadership style will evolve with time, and taking as many opportunities as you can to lead and to follow, will enable you to discover the style that works best for you and the people you want to lead.

Tip 4. Identify your strengths and leadership style

Your strengths and your leadership style make you the unique individual leader you are. You may be impulsive, decisive, outspoken and fast-talking. Others may be more analytical, methodical, more thorough in their decision-making. And that's okay.

The important thing to do is to identify and understand your strengths and natural leadership style. Recognize the up and downsides and make sure that you don't lean too heavily on that strength or style.

For example, a leader who has great attention to detail, may, if he or she lets it run rampant, end up in analysis paralysis.

Or, a leader who is quick to make decisions - may make too many serious mistakes due to gathering insufficient data.


Tip 5 - Get a coach

Of course, I'm biased, being a leadership coach myself, but I firmly believe that having an awesome mentor and coach, who works with you for an extended period is one of the best ways to develop leadership skills. Yes, you do need to gain experience and make mistakes yourself ... that is where wisdom and great judgment come from ... however, having a coach enables you to push the boundaries faster and quicker.

A great coach won't be afraid to let you learn from your mistakes. However, he or she will steer you clear of, or catch you before you can make monumental mistakes.

Choose your coach wisely. You want someone who has walked a similar path to that which you want to tread, and yet has a unique or different perspective. For example, I have coached several executives from the travel industry (even though the vast majority of my personal leadership experience has been in the manufacturing industry). These travel executives wanted to tap into my knowledge of how to inspire others and create the conditions that create high-performance workplaces and were glad that I wasn't caught up in the 'drama' of what has been happening in the travel industry.

In conclusion - my two favorites for how to develop leadership skills are -- Practice in as many areas as you can to be great with people - either as a follower or a leader. And, get a coach on your side, to help you fine-tune the skills of influencing.

There are two things you can be sure of when thinking about how to develop leadership skills - the way you do it is going to change as you evolve ... and it is a life-long endeavor! Good luck with your journey!

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