In addition to formal qualifications like certification and education, a career in management requires hands-on experience and a variety of leadership skills. To advance your career and become an effective manager, it helps to be a great leader. To prepare for the next stage of your career, consider taking a proactive approach to improving your management capabilities. In this article, we discuss why leadership skills are important and how to develop them in the workplace.
Why is it important to build leadership skills?
Developing leadership skills can allow you to manage teams toward better performance, inspire colleagues to improve productivity and guide your organization to success. As a great leader, you can accomplish bigger objectives and take on more strategic roles within your company. You may even be able to achieve your own professional goals, such as a promotion to a management position or executive role.
Read more: Leadership Skills: Definition and Examples
How to develop leadership skills
Seek out opportunities to learn new skills and strengthen your abilities to become a stronger team leader. Here are nine steps to take as you develop your leadership skills:
- Select a leadership style.
- Start a reading list.
- Join a training program.
- Work on your soft skills.
- Set goals and track progress.
- Ask for more responsibilities.
- Find volunteer opportunities.
- Network with leaders.
- Partner with a mentor.
1. Select a leadership style
Leaders take a variety of approaches to guide teams and organizations successfully. Start your pursuit of leadership skills by choosing a style that works with your past experiences, future goals and the objectives of your company.
For example, you could act as a coach by getting to know your team members well and finding ways to motivate them to do their best, including rewarding them for achieving smaller goals. You could also serve as a democratic leader by inspiring your team to accomplish their forward-thinking ideas, such as developing a corporate structure that allows for equal employee input at all levels.
Read more: 10 Common Leadership Styles
2. Start a reading list
If you are new to leadership, educate yourself by reading about established theories and staying up-to-date on new ideas. Create a reading list that starts with broad concepts about leadership and eventually narrows to more specialized ideas that interest you, such as ways to train teams effectively or encourage teamwork. You can begin by reading books about improving management skills and enhancing your professional qualities, then subscribe to leadership blogs to follow current conversations.
3. Join a training program
Reading can help you cultivate skills independently, but for a more interactive approach to learning about leadership, consider joining a training program. In a leadership session, you can study essential concepts, talk with experts and practice your new skills.
Try asking your employer about leadership training programs that your company offers. Alternatively, you can seek out community seminars and professional events designed to help you become a leader.
4. Work on your soft skills
To excel as a leader, identify the soft skills you need to succeed, and determine areas that need improvement. In some cases, you might need to improve your communication skills or decision-making abilities. Depending on your field, you may also need to work on your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You can use your soft skills to more effectively manage team members, organize workflow and help individual employees challenge themselves to grow in the workplace.
Read more: Soft Skills: Definition and Examples
5. Set goals and track progress
Structuring your approach can help you build leadership skills more efficiently. Consider setting goals for your leadership initiatives and tracking your progress as you go.
For example, try setting a goal of completing one training session each quarter or spending two hours each week reading leadership material. Add these tasks to your schedule, and monitor what you have learned and the ways you have improved.
Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career
6. Ask for more responsibilities
If you tend to develop your skills by applying what you have learned, try asking for ways to practice leadership. Consider asking your supervisor for more responsibilities in your current role so you can demonstrate your newly acquired capabilities.
Try starting with a small increase in responsibilities before expanding the limits of your new leadership skills. You can ask to organize a meeting or lead a project. You can also ask for certain new tasks that would best challenge you and put your leadership style into practice. You may find that certain styles may actually work in different scenarios, allowing you to decide which style you prefer.
Common leadership styles:
1. Coach (motivational)
2. Visionary (progress-focused and inspirational)
3. Servant (humble and protective)
4. Autocratic (authoritarian and result-focused)
5. Laissez-faire or hands-off (autocratic and delegatory)
6. Democratic (supportive and innovative)
7. Pacesetter (helpful and motivational)
8. Transformational (challenging and communicative)
9. Transactional (performance-focused)
10. Bureaucratic (hierarchical and duty-focused)
7. Find volunteer opportunities
Practicing your skills outside of work can be just as effective in helping you master leadership. To cultivate your leadership capabilities, consider seeking out volunteer opportunities that allow you to manage teams, guide projects and provide strategic direction.
For instance, you can volunteer to manage a project for a nonprofit group in your field or take on a leadership role in your community. No matter the focus area, you can improve your leadership skills and possibly gain experience to add to your professional resume.
8. Network with leaders
Seeing leadership in action can inspire you to take your skills even further or apply them in new ways. Consider networking with leaders in your industry to learn how they handle challenges, solve problems and develop effective strategies.
Try seeking out industry leaders at professional networking events. Ask questions about the difficulties they face, their proudest accomplishments and their objectives for the future to learn more about their approach to leadership.
9. Partner with a mentor
For more personalized guidance with your leadership initiatives, consider finding a mentor. As an advanced professional in your industry, a mentor can advise you about ways to build your skills, areas that need improvement and strategies for demonstrating leadership.
Consider connecting with a mentor in your company or a professional organization. Discuss your leadership goals, and create objectives that you can work toward together. If you want to guide your team toward a specific quota by the end of the quarter, talk with your mentor about creating a plan to improve productivity, encourage teamwork and accomplish smaller goals that can contribute to your overall objective.