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When it comes to being a good leader, it's not as easy as you might think. A lot of factors go into a person with great leadership skills. Some come naturally, and some are learned. But everyone has the potential to be a leader.
Leadership skills are critical competencies that enable people to spearhead teams, establish a common mission and goals and motivate others. They require a combination of soft skills like the ability to delegate, communication and business sense.
This is truly a gateway skill. I’ve seen the inability to delegate to other employees stall more careers at the individual contributor level than just about any other skill. I had a mentor once describe delegation as “the ability to score without touching the ball.” Learning to accomplish things through others is an imperative part of effective leadership.
Someone who can delegate can:
People have written entire books on effective leadership and effective communication skills, have spent their entire careers helping leaders and managers hone their communication skills.
Someone who can communicate can:
I’m not talking about having blue hair and wearing cool shoes here. Creativity in a leadership role is about seeing people and situations through multiple lenses.
Someone who is creative can:
The fundamental role of a great leader is developing more leaders. When you ask people to describe the best leader they’ve ever worked for, you hear a lot about how that person believed in them and made them feel valued as a team member, gave them tough and candid feedback, put them in stretch assignments. They invested in their development and coached them to the next level.
Someone who can take on employee coaching can:
On good days the choices you make as a leader are easy. Most of the time, though? There are going to be tough calls to make, data to wade through, crises that pop up and unpopular decisions that need to be made. Learning how to make decisions quickly and confidently will serve you well.
Someone who can make decisions is:
If you’re rowing the boat in the same direction, you’ll get there a lot faster. Leadership is about bringing out the best in a group and creating an environment where each individual team member can share and create something great, together.
Someone who is a team player is:
While a good leader will be excellent at the following skills, the qualities of a good leader tend to be more subtle and come naturally.
I coach new leaders that their goal is to be respected, not liked. Accountability comes from creating clarity about what needs to be accomplished, by whom, and measuring progress against those goals. And when someone gets off track and misses their targets (and they will), giving fair but firm feedback. If you’re not taking care of underperforming team members, your high performers will start making a beeline for another opportunity.
No matter what your leadership style is, you’ve got to want to succeed in a challenging role. The desire to achieve something great and the ability to sustain that desire over a long period of time is a career maker. Status quo is not for leaders; the drive for excellence is.
Things will never go as planned and will take twice as long as you expect. People will take longer to catch on to things than you anticipate. The ability to move things along when you can and understand when you can’t is a much-needed leadership talent. Patience, Grasshopper.
Your leadership style may differ from your boss’s, but good leadership is always about authenticity. My career really took off when I stopped trying to act like a middle-aged white guy, and instead showed up as me. People can smell a fake, can see if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Do you and be authentic. It allows your team to do the same, and diverse and inclusive teams have more commitment, creativity and fun than those where people are pretending to be someone they’re not.
There are so many zigs and zags that happen in the course of a year that it’s hard to keep up. Leading change is at its heart helping people to let go of what was, adapt and keep moving forward. Good leadership entails understanding why people resist change and the predictable stages of change you and your team will be better off for it.
We’ve all worked with the person who flips out under pressure or can’t stop whining when their work-life balance is temporarily thrown off. That’s simply not a luxury that good leaders have. Emotions are contagious and great leaders are grace under fire. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, so managing the ongoing demands of leadership is a must. Good leaders are able to roll with the stress and use it as a positive force instead of a source for burnout.
There’s lots of chatter about strategic planning, but that’s just an outcome driven by strategic thinking. The ability to ask the right questions, pay attention to market forces and see the bigger picture of the strategic moves that can be made is an invaluable skill to hone. I’ve had a lot of leaders tell me that one of their secret weapons is simply taking regular time to think strategically about their business.
Whether you’re a natural at the front of the room or your strengths lie in being the person who quietly instills confidence, being able to keep your team enthusiastically pursuing long-term goals is a leadership must. You’ve got to be the person who can fan the flames of your team through both the easy and hard times.
In any leadership role, you’re going to mess up. Along with your success, you’ll take some unfounded, harsh criticism. Leaders have to make tough calls in high-pressure situations. The power of laughter is truly phenomenal and the ability to let things roll off your back will sustain you through rough times. Never take yourself or your critics too seriously.
How can you improve your leadership skills, no matter what your industry or role? It all starts with taking risks — nobody ever became a leader by playing it safe. See a project you know you could manage? Ask if you can handle it. Volunteer for additional responsibilities, including challenging ones, too. This will show initiative and help you grow your skills.
Ask for feedback (preferably of the constructive variety) so you know how others perceive you and can identify ways you can improve. Don't just ask your manager — check in with colleagues and subordinates if you have them. Do these occasionally but not so frequently that you come off as unconfident.
You can also hire a coach to help you grow your leadership skills. Executive coaches, for example, encourages high-level professionals to achieve their goals, offering concrete suggestions and ideas for growth. But individual contributors and people earlier in their careers can benefit from leadership coaching from trained professionals, too.
Great leaders throughout history have encouraged others with their words and actions. Here are just five examples of the wisdom women leaders have imparted to us.
"Women are leaders everywhere you go, from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to breakdown walls and defy stereotypes." — Nancy Pelosi
"Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one's superiors; care for one's crew." — Grace Hopper
"True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed.... Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection." — Sheryl Sandberg
"Just because you are CEO, don't think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization." — Indra Nooyi
"To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart." — Eleanor Roosevelt
If you can master these 15 leadership skills, you'll be ready to take your office by storm. New project? No problem! You'll be there to save the day and lead your team to success. Is it a one-man job? That works too! You know how to manage your time, think strategically, and make decisions which will lead to an assignment that will be extremely successful.
Let's get leading!
Mo is the Founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and peer mentoring organization for companies who want to recruit, develop, promote and retain women and create inclusive workplaces. She’s an advisor to CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing companies and is the founder 5 successful businesses. She also been known to sing loudly, dance badly and curse like a sailor.
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