Being a leader, so the saying goes, only requires one thing: followers. I guess the trick is getting them and keeping them and that’s something you probably can’t work out with one pithy sentence. Leadership is a sort of nebulous concept. It’s all around us, we can see it and recognise it but it’s hard to actually table exactly what one needs to be a leader or even what is a ‘good’ leader. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to develop leadership skills, we have some tips below to consider. This is not a definitive exploration of leadership but rather a starting point for you to begin your journey.
Make Sure Leadership Is Right For You
‘What makes a good leader?’ – it’s the sort of question that could launch a thousand TED talks and, yes, in some ways it requires a thousand answers. Being a good leader to a group of software engineers would require a different approach to being a good leader of a theatre troupe, which in turn would require a different skill set to directing a film but there is one common thread that runs through all these positions and is integral to good leadership: a large part of leadership is having the ability and the desire to solve problems.
That sounds ok, we all love puzzles and games. However, problem solving in a leadership space sometimes involves making decisions that affect people personally. Leaders sometimes have to do unpopular things or even disadvantage one team member at the expense of another. These are the types of decisions that, even if you’ve got a really strong rationale and have thought everything through thoroughly can make you feel pretty yuck afterwards.
Is this something you’re up for? If not, you can still have a super-successful career without running the show and not have to concern yourself with the pressures of leadership. If you think it’s something you’d like to pursue, you’ll need to find some opportunities for real life leadership.
Leadership Is Lived Experience
Full transparency: no matter how many leadership blogs you peruse, how many courses you take or how many inspirational quotes you read accompanied by a pic of Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey or a lion, you’ll never be able to learn leadership purely looking at theory. Even this blog won’t teach you everything you need to know [gasp]!
It’s only in the act of taking on these leadership responsibilities that you’ll truly know what’s required of you as a leader. Yes, online resources, mentors and watching The Apprentice all help but your leadership style is unique to you so you need to develop it. When starting out, you’ll probably [definitely?] be plagued by imposter syndrome, you might second-guess everything you do [at least initially] and you’ll still have plenty of day-to-day work to deal with while getting your head around this impossibly abstract philosophy but with perseverance and time, you’ll come to grips with what is required.
If you are interested in leadership, put your hand up to manage, ask to be the point person for certain projects. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small internal job, these tasks will help you learn. Make sure you tell your manager or the relevant person internally you’re interested in these opportunities – even if nothing comes of it initially, you’ll at least get your name out there.
It’s Not Just About You
So much of leadership literature is focused on the individual’s leadership style without taking into account the individuals they might be managing and this really feels like a big oversight.
In reality, leadership styles or approaches should be adapted to meet the needs of the team as well as the objectives you are trying to achieve. If you’re working with super capable people who are all over their workload, you don’t need to come in and micro-manage their workload. If you’re working in an environment with some introverted personalities, you don’t need to come in every morning and inspire the team by playing Don’t Stop Believin’ over the office speakers [not gonna lie, that would be inspiring].
The world of sports [sorry, it wouldn’t be a leadership blog without a sports reference] is full of examples of coaches and managers bringing a talented but mercurial player into the team and adjusting their leadership style to accommodate the star, ultimately resulting in greater success.
Think about the sort of people you work with and what they need to help achieve any business or personal objectives. Yes, sometimes you need to be a visionary, sometimes you might need to be a motivator and sometimes you might need to be a bit more of a manager but it’s important to work out what the team needs.
So What’s Next?
Now this is by no means the final word on developing your leadership skills. Leadership itself is an ever-evolving area of study – just think about how much office culture has changed over the last 20 years! The most important thing you can do is work out how you can be true to yourself while also working with and motivating others to achieve common goals. If you can solve that problem, you’re well on your way to leadership success!