Whether you’re the manager of an administration team that services a prominent accounting firm or the CEO of a global IT company, all leadership roles come with great responsibility over multiple people, projects and challenges.
So what makes a good leader? The best leaders have many qualities in common, from extraordinary technical knowledge to a range of refined and practised soft skills. Strengthening your leadership skills can help you move toward a position of even greater responsibility in any industry, and here’s how to do it.
Ingredients for leadership
Leaders need to be strong communicators, adaptable, decisive and positive. To understand why these skills need to be highly-developed and applied by leaders, see the below examples of how they are applied in the workplace:
This incredibly important soft skill is used by leaders to relay information, to listen, to address staff and stakeholders, to write reports, papers and strategies and to engage the best and most relevant people when a situation demands.
Example: The CEO addresses the organisation to announce a new organisational structure. They explain the details clearly and succinctly and address all questions. Comprehensive emails with additional information about the change are circulated to all staff after, inviting feedback.
Leaders don’t just adapt to constantly changing environments, they thrive in them. Being adaptable doesn’t just mean managing when things don’t go as planned, it means extracting the most value from any given situation. Being able to constantly evolve, taking people and products on the journey too, is a key leadership skill that gives great leaders their edge.
Example: An IT manager uses a failed data management project to develop a dedicated technology research team, who pitch innovative new ideas to the manager on a monthly basis.
Arguably one of the most important leadership skills, decisiveness, and an ability to make the best decision under pressure, needs to be possessed by anyone who aspires to lead a team, department or organisation.
Example: After considerable research and analysis, a finance executive decides to merge the accounting departments of two factions of the business for greater continuity and synergy.
If leaders are positive about people, purpose, projects and collaboration, employees around them tend to feel positive about their work too. Add to this an ability to remain optimistic when desired goals or outcomes aren’t achieved, and you’ve got a leader who’s able to constantly energise and motivate their team.
Example: Annual financial goals and growth metrics weren’t achieved, however, the CFO gave a rousing speech at the end of year celebrations and still rewarded all staff with a small bonus for their contributions.
Everyone can develop their leadership skills
Leadership skills aren’t just for managers or those in senior positions at an organisation. The qualities demonstrated daily by good leaders, (and likely the skills that got them there) are able to be learned and applied by employees at all levels. Here are our tips to improve your leadership skills:
- Take it from the best
Start by identifying the leadership traits that your organisation, and the industry you work in values most. Observe people, either internally or externally, who possess leadership skills that you admire and evaluate their skills and styles. Are they collaborative, including others in the decision-making process? Can they empathise with the needs and challenges facing teams and individuals? Are they able to rouse and inspire people to action? Identify the common traits among existing leaders to work out the desired skillset, but also establish were there are gaps, and how you might be able to bring something unique to a senior position.
- Find a mentor, be a mentor, or both
Great leaders don’t fly solo. Even as a senior member or the CEO of an organisation, a mentor can help you gain perspective, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and grow your network. However, you shouldn’t expect a mentor to find you. Finding the right mentor requires considerable research and planning, often looking outside your organisation to your broader network.
- Expand your network
It’s no coincidence that great leaders have influential and far-reaching networks. Get to know the employees and organisations that make up your industry by attending seminars, conferences and workshops. Develop a solid understanding of the market by consuming relevant news and information and knowing industry-specific language. Then, establish yourself as a leader by writing and publishing articles on industry issues, promoting the work of your colleagues and organisation, and being willing to take risks and unique approaches to industry challenges.
- Know how to delegate
Being able to manage people and delegate tasks is a critical leadership skill, but it can be a hard one to master. Delegating doesn’t mean dumping loads of work on other people while you lay back and wait for the success stories to roll in. It means assigning work to individuals and teams best equipped to complete it efficiently. Delegating is also a way to free you up, so that, as a senior manager or aspiring leader, you can direct your focus to more pressing high-level tasks at hand.
- Be visionary
Be a big picture thinker and be creative. Take considered risks and address challenges with optimism and excitement. This quality is abundant in good leaders and enables them to innovate under pressure. While you should be ambitious with your plans for a team or organisation, remember that such thinking should always complement the organisation’s direction and strategy, not undermine it.
- Never stop learning
Participate in online forums, read newspapers, watch TED Talks and dissect reports. Consume, consume, consume. What makes a good leader is their ability to find learning opportunities in the most abstract places, including from junior employees and very different industries. By committing to lifelong learning, you’ll find people to be inspired by, but also new leadership techniques and strategies to test out in your own workplace.
While there are common traits and qualities of great leaders, there’s no single, perfect style of managing people and projects. Leadership skills and tactics vary depending on the demands of the role, the organisation, the industry and personality type.
Leading people to achieving their personal, departmental and professional goals is however, immensely rewarding, and happy, rewarded employees are precisely what make organisations successful.