Developing leadership skills is essential whether you’re already in a leadership position or you want to take on more leadership responsibilities in your career. We’ve all heard some people described as “natural-born leaders,” but a good leader is often made, not born. You can improve your leadership skills for career development by mastering the technical aspects of your job and learning soft skills like effective communication and active listening.
This article offers 19 best practices for developing leadership skills. Master all 19 to become a successful leader at work and in your daily life.
Table of Contents
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1. Master Technical Skills
Take the time to practice and master the technical elements of your job if you truly want to become a leader at work. When you serve as the resident expert in your field, people will come to you naturally for guidance and advice. Remember the old water cooler talk? “Does the owner even know HOW to use the cash register”?
You may even notice opportunities to improve efficiency or eliminate roadblocks in your company’s processes. Use this information to present new ideas and enhance the workflow of your entire team.
Here are some methods for mastering technical skills:
- Pursue a degree in your field if you don’t have one
- Take a class to master a particular skill set
- Read books by experts in your field
- Expand your knowledge area to related topics
- Find a mentor
While mastering any skill, remember that you might do it poorly before doing it well. Not every skill comes naturally to every person, so be patient with yourself, and remember that growth happens in stages, not all at once. On the other hand, you may find that you’re naturally adept at a particular skill and breeze right through the learning process.
2. Practice Communication
Leaders must have good communication skills to function successfully. Effective communication keeps everyone in the team or company on the same page with clear expectations. It also ensures all team members feel recognized.
To be a good communicator, you must be able to express yourself clearly, listen attentively, and resolve misunderstandings. Try to keep several lines of communication open, including regular staff meetings and one-on-one conversations in private. Remember to keep sensitive information confidential to avoid unneeded conflict.
3. Communicate Your Vision
You will find it easier to set goals and follow through with a clear destination in mind. If you have a vision for your team or business’s future, let others know what you see. Explain why you believe the group or company should pursue your vision.
Equally important, let others contribute to the picture you see. Team members and employees will perform better with a clear vision, especially if they have the opportunity to contribute to it.
4. Take the Initiative
If you hope for a promotion into a leadership role, taking the initiative can help you get there. Employers and supervisors often promote from within, choosing employees who have proven their willingness to go above and beyond.
When you master your current position, you can branch out, accept more responsibilities, and step out of your comfort zone. Show your superiors and colleagues that you’re willing to keep learning and growing in your role.
5. Practice Critical Thinking
Developing leadership skills requires consistent growth, and being proactive in your development (and that of your company) requires critical thinking skills. Critical thinking means anticipating potential opportunities and pitfalls in a given situation and responding with clear and rational ideas.
Critical thinkers make great leaders because they intuitively resolve potential problems. Improve your critical thinking skills to become a better problem solver and decision-maker.
One way to become a more critical thinker is to ask yourself rational questions even when feeling irrational in a situation. For example, “What are the potential pitfalls in this situation? Is what I’m doing contributing to that or preventing it?”
6. Practice Active Listening
Our parents and teachers urged us to practice active listening when we were children, but many adults forget how to do this effectively. Emotionally intelligent leaders use active listening to ensure team members understand expectations and feel heard. If your team members or employees don’t feel heard, they may struggle with motivation and morale.
When speaking with someone at work, keep these tips in mind:
- Eliminate distractions. Empty your hands, put your phone away, and move the conversation to a private location if needed.
- Make eye contact. You may find that you listen more attentively when making eye contact with the person talking.
- Don’t interrupt. People use phrases like “okay,” “uh-huh,” or “I see” to show that they’re listening, but these often interrupt the flow of the conversation. Keep your interjections to a minimum.
- Pay attention to body language. Keeping open body language will show the speaker that you are open to hearing what they have to say. You can also read their body language to get a better sense of their feelings.
- Show empathy. If someone comes to you with a difficult situation or even a personal issue, let professionalism go long enough to engage with the person and offer support.
If you’re out of practice and struggle with active listening, try to practice being present in the moment rather than in your head.
7. Consider New Perspectives
Use the leaders around you as the wells of knowledge that they are when developing leadership skills. You may even see if you can shadow a leader in your field for a day to get an idea of their leadership role.
You must also consider fresh perspectives once you’re in a leadership position. Good leaders realize they don’t always have all of the answers and value team members’ views. One of the best ways to demonstrate leadership is to follow someone else’s lead and let ideas besides yours guide growth and innovation.
8. Practice Goal-setting
We could write an entire blog post about goal setting because it represents an essential part of having a successful career and life. Leaders must be able to set attainable goals and form the steps to reach their visions. You can practice goal-setting by breaking goals into smaller steps and managing the time and resources needed to achieve each step.
Good leaders also communicate their goals so everyone can work towards the same big picture. Let your team know what you’re reaching for and how you intend to get there.
9. Practice Self-Discipline
Achieving your goals takes more than learning how to set them. You must also practice self-discipline. When you show discipline at work, your team will follow your lead.
Practice and demonstrate discipline in your career by:
- Showing up on time
- Meeting deadlines
- Keeping appointments
- Staying organized
If you struggle with discipline, try to incorporate it into your personal life first. Eating a balanced, healthy diet, for example, requires a lot of self-discipline. Once you’ve become more disciplined at home, you can bring your new skills into the office.
10. Practice Giving Constructive Feedback
When employees and team members don’t receive feedback, they struggle to understand whether they’re doing well in their roles. Effective leaders provide constructive feedback that points out the person’s strengths and weaknesses while providing actionable advice. Despite feedback’s importance, you must give it with care. Unhelpful, poorly-delivered, or poorly-timed feedback can do more harm than good.
To provide your team with constructive feedback, make sure your feedback is:
- Specific, not vague
- Actionable, not accusatory
- Periodic, not constant
In general, feedback should be given in private (unless you address a team as a whole) to avoid awkwardness or hurt feelings.
Remember to time your feedback strategically. If the person seems to be having a bad day, wait to offer input until they are in a better mood. After all, you’re probably not receptive to feedback when you’re in a bad mood either.
11. Seek Feedback
It is just as important to seek feedback as it is to give it in developing leadership skills. Follow the 360-degree feedback model, and seek notes from your:
- Team members
Because this type of feedback stems from several sources, you may get contrary opinions. It’s okay to value a piece of feedback higher than the others if it rings more valid than the rest.
Use this feedback as a guide for growth, not a judgement on you or your work. If you’re not clear on a piece of feedback, ask questions before accepting vague criticism.
12. Be Positive
Practice modeling positivity to keep your team motivated. Of course, some situations necessitate pragmatism over positivity, but you and your team will benefit from a generally positive outlook. Leaders who constantly complain or see the worst in every situation do not provide compelling motivation to their subordinates.
Maintaining positivity doesn’t just mean seeing the proverbial glass as half full instead of half empty. It also means positioning communications and actions toward building people up and growing the business.
13. Be Reliable
Influential leaders can be relied on to show up on time, follow company processes, and hold themselves accountable. When leaders prove unreliable, subordinates follow suit with lateness, missed deadlines, and lack of responsibility.
Consider an unreliable person in your life. Would you trust that person to make a significant decision on your behalf? Most likely, the answer is no.
When people know they can rely on you, they will trust you to make the right decisions and look out for their best interests. You will find the people around you showing you more support and holding themselves to higher standards.
14. Be Confident
You can’t expect your team members or employees to show confidence in you if you don’t seem confident in yourself. Embrace your talents, be aware of your shortcomings, and assert yourself. When you present yourself confidently, you inspire your team to be confident in you.
Keep the following tips in mind to develop more confidence:
- Practice self-awareness (mindfulness)
- Set small, realistic goals
- Practice public speaking
- Step out of your comfort zone
- Do things that make you feel good (i.e., exercise)
The more you practice developing leadership skills, the more confident you will become in your abilities as a leader.
15. Never Stop Learning
A good leader never stops learning. Don’t let yourself become stagnant in your career and personal development. Instead, accept new challenges and responsibilities, and take advantage of learning opportunities.
Attend conferences, seminars, and skills classes to gain insight from industry and leadership experts. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and experience new things. Remember that this is new territory, and identify struggles and failures as learning opportunities because that’s what they are.
16. Practice Delegating
Delegating tasks becomes essential for a good leader. When you assign responsibilities to your employees, you allow yourself to focus on your time. However, delegating does not mean randomly giving work to get it off your plate.
Good leaders create team member roles based on individual skills and delegate each task according to who will best complete it. Remember to manage your team but not micromanage. Delegating tasks empowers employees, but micromanagement undermines their abilities and saps motivation.
17. Be Decisive
Be decisive in leading your team with a clear direction and, when necessary, pivot quickly when circumstances change unexpectedly. Indecision and delayed decisions create problems like missed deadlines, general confusion, and lack of motivation. Keep yourself and your team on track by practicing decision-making.
Remember that leaders don’t always make the “right” decision. If a decision causes unforeseen struggles or conflict, address it and move on; the key is to keep moving forward, learning, and growing.
18. Practice Conflict Resolution
Tensions arise in the workplace for various reasons, and it falls on leaders to resolve conflict when it occurs. You may deal with two or more employees who don’t see eye-to-eye, or there may be a single person behaving in a toxic manner. Professional workplaces are not immune to destructive behaviours like gossip and bullying.
Wherever the conflict stems from, keep the following tips in mind for successful conflict resolution:
- Do not ignore or avoid disputes in the workplace.
- Discuss conflicts with team members and employees in private.
- Consider all sides of the story equally and without personal bias.
- Don’t communicate or make decisions while angry or otherwise upset.
- Show empathy, but don’t escalate the issue.
Visit this excellent resource for more conflict resolution strategies specific to the workplace.
19. Expect and Manage Change
Change proves tricky for many people to handle, but you can improve your tolerance to change by learning to expect it. Change constantly happens in life and the workplace, from new technologies and updated processes to evolving company cultures and shifting relationships. You can’t always anticipate change, but you can train yourself to expect its arrival.
To manage change successfully, plan for what you can, and practice being flexible and adaptable. Remember that change proves essential for growth and often presents opportunities you didn’t know existed.
We hope you return to this article as you continue your leadership journey. Keep these 19 practices in mind for developing leadership skills and becoming the best leader you can be.
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