What is leadership and how can you become a better leader? These skills are essential to later-stage career progression and ensuring that your business is successful through good times and bad.
If you dream about landing a managerial job in the near future, you will probably need to sharpen your leadership qualities. Alternatively, you may have already earned a senior role but are finding your team difficult to lead, especially if you are trying to do it remotely in the current climate.
Some people appear to be natural born leaders with their winning charisma and ability to make others tick in an instant. Other leaders struggle to communicate well or keep the team on track despite their best efforts. The reason for this is that leadership often revolves around our soft skills, and some people have developed these better than others over time – well before getting a managerial job.
But if that doesn’t sound like you, fear not. You might not have the best leadership skills today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop better ones and become the manager you always dreamed about.
What is leadership?
Leadership may be a complex topic that has received lots of attention from academics and researchers, but it has an agreeable definition. Most people define leadership as a type of action, or group of actions, that lead other individuals or teams to success. What that success is may differ depending on the group’s overall goals. Leadership may be required to hit a sales target, get to another destination on time or many other possibilities. When done well, leadership unites disparate individuals or groups in achieving a common goal, and provides both direction and reassurance to the people being led.
What makes a good leader?
Good leaders are able to lead their team to meet goals effectively, and on time, while acknowledging individual needs. They possess the best skills relevant to the tasks at hand to manage the different personalities within the team and get everyone to work together to meet the overarching goal.
Some examples of leadership skills are:
- Active listening
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Dispute resolution
- Relevant knowledge
These are just some of the skills that make good leaders. You can read about more of them in detail on our How to Be a Good Manager Guide.
Why are leadership skills important in the workplace?
The most obvious answer to this question is that leadership skills ensure that teams stay on track, meet objectives and keep the business profitable.
But from an individual perspective, these skills are crucial for people wanting to earn a promotion into a management or supervisor role. These jobs require good leadership skills no matter what industry you work in or the goals that the team will work towards. Whether you are trying to guide a team on a new marketing campaign or to create a new product, the leadership skills mentioned earlier remain the same.
When transitioning into a leadership role, you will need to build the confidence to make and communicate decisions on a day to day basis. You will also need to find tactful ways to move from being a peer to a leader, while retaining your current friends and allies. These abilities are all based on leadership skills.
The benefits of becoming a better leader
Aside from the hopeful promotion, enhancing your leadership skills comes with other benefits. Being a good leader is likely to earn you more respect around the workplace, and because you are a fair and an empathetic person, you are likely to make more friends with colleagues. This all contributes to improved working relationships and increased job satisfaction.
But the benefits of leadership skills stretch beyond the workplace. They can help you in your personal life to manage your close relationships and may be valuable at recreational sports clubs. The bottom line is that you don’t have to work a managerial job to want to become a better leader.
A word on leadership and imposter syndrome
Sometimes people get a job that requires them to lead a small group but feel like they don’t have the right leadership skills. Just like not having the right knowledge to do a job well, this is all tied to imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is when someone gets into a job and doesn’t feel like they belong because they feel they don’t have the right level of experience or skills. It is ultimately the personal perception of being out of your depth and it happens to lots of us at some point in our career. There are people who are just better at hiding it than others (also known as faking it until you make it!).
For more information on imposter syndrome and how to manage those negative feelings, consider this imposter syndrome course from the University of Southern Queensland. Alternatively, read on to discover ways to improve your leadership skills.
How to improve leadership skills
If you want to develop your leadership skills, there is more than one way to go about it. Below you will find some of the best methods you should consider.
1) Do something you are passionate about
One of the most crucial parts about being a leader is the ability to motivate others to want to succeed. Instilling that burning desire and drive in another worker can be a fulfilling experience, but it is by no means an easy feat.
The truth is, people can tell when you are here for the pay and not because the project is something you truly care about. Only by working in afield you are passionate about will you become one of the best leaders around. Ultimately, you need to show your own burning passion for the job to make others also want to succeed.
2) Take management and leadership courses
Most leadership skills are a type of soft skill rather than hard skills. To understand the difference, the main way to determine if a skill is hard or soft is asking if it can be taught or dissected into different skill levels.
For example, a hard skill like coding can be taught and some coders have higher certification than others. Whereas a soft skill like problem solving is not often taught and there are no recognised levels of problem-solving skills.
However, research has found that this is not always the case. Some soft skills often associated with leadership can be taught through structured learning and short courses. These courses can increase the individual’s awareness of their own behaviours and what is required, unlocking the potential to improve their leadership skills over time. Moreover, these courses can help us to understand the theory behind different leadership styles.
An example of these leadership development courses is the popular Management and Leadership Personal Development Course. However, many more courses are available on our dedicated management course page.
3) Consider every day as an opportunity
Because leadership skills are mostly based around soft skills, every single day you have an opportunity to develop many of the same skills that leaders need. From ordering a coffee at a local café to discussing a project in a team meeting, you can hone you listening, public speaking and many other skills associated with leadership.
Most of the time, we carry out these social interactions without even thinking and with minimal effort. By becoming more aware of them and seeing them as an opportunity to develop, we can be proactive in developing simple skills that go a long way for the best leaders.
4) Brush up on your hard skills
We just discussed how most leadership skills are soft skills, so why would we tell you to brush up on your hard skills? The answer is quite simple.
Members of a team will look to their leader when they get stuck on a task and don’t know what to do next. These team members expect their leaders to be able to provide effective solutions based on their knowledge and expertise. If they cannot, or frequently fail to impress, the team can lose confidence in them as a leader.
For that reason, a leader does need to have excellent hard skills and knowledge related to the overall project. Equipped with expert hard skills, their team’s confidence in them as a leader will be maintained and they may even have more appreciation or admiration for them.
The other benefit – not to be overlooked – is that specialist knowledge will increase the confidence of the leader to guide the team to success.
5) Personal reflection
If you have committed to improving leadership skills and have taken on some of the methods listed above, it is paramount that you incorporate some personal reflection time into your weekly routine. Reflecting on specific situations and how you handled them will enable you to identify areas for improvement and what you could have done better.
Only by reflecting on situations can you be prepared when a similar situation comes around again. The key takeaway is that there is no such thing as a perfect leader and everyone in a senior role should be reflecting on their work and targeting ways to improve how they lead a team.
6) Find a mentor
If you have manager or leader in your life who you would like to learn from, you can ask them to mentor you. If they already do this well, it’s likely they have put time and thought into leadership and reflected on what works well for them. This is a great way to both learn leadership skills and get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses from somebody who can help you work on them.
How do you demonstrate leadership skills
If you are jostling for a place on the management table at work, those who decide who gets the next promotion will be watching your leadership skills to see if you have what it takes.
But how can you show you have leadership skills without being in a leadership position? After all, you don’t want to be barking orders at colleagues who work in the same job as you.
Well, the truth is you don’t have to. Leaders may have to give instructions to team members, but that is only a small part of their job. You can focus on displaying the other key leadership skills that will help others, such as:
- Offering to help a colleague who is having problems
- Being supportive and encouraging
- Praising fellow workers for good work
- Giving credit to others
- Showing empathy for people with difficult tasks
- Communicating effectively
- Working to improve team morale in difficult times
You don’t have to start swanning around the office solving disputes and taking on a managerial type persona. Ultimately many of these items just mean that you’re being a helpful and proactive colleague. And when the interview does come around, you will have plenty of examples of your leadership skills to use. Some of which the people interviewing you will have seen you do first-hand.
Contemporary problems facing leaders
Leaders have grappled with the same problems and tasks over the decades, such as demotivated team members, team disagreements, and similar issues. But a leader in 2020 and beyond is going to be handed a new challenge.
The latest challenges facing leaders is likely to revolve around remote working. Working from home was already on the rise but was supercharged by social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more staff working from home, leaders are going to have to learn how to manage a team over video conferencing technology and with minimal face-to-face contact.
Maintaining team cohesion during such uncertain times can tax even experienced leaders, so brushing up on skills such as working remotely in a team or even mindfulness and resilience at work can only help.