If you want to improve your leadership skills, do what some people call a “gut check.” The guts of leadership are the alchemic mix of natural talent, a drive to succeed, and a sincere empathy towards those who need to be led and inspired.
Talent: We can’t really define it, but we know it when we see it. We also know it when we have leadership talent. If that talent is leading a team in an organisation, the leader should be aware that when skills atrophy, talent diminishes.
Here are 8 suggestions for both leaders and managers on how to improve leadership skills.
1. Know the difference between leadership and management.
It is all in the details. The best leaders are already conversant with the nuts and bolts of the job. They have the education and experience that qualify them to head the organisation. It all boils down to letting their managers and frontline people do their job.
A practical suggestion for leadership improvement: Try to let go and permit your managers to learn from their own mistakes. Be a coach when required, and only intervene when necessary to prevent harm to the organisation.
2. Rely on trust and delegation.
This is a corollary to suggestion 1 above, and it also involves taking a risk. Delegation of authority requires the granting of trust. It demonstrates that the leader has confidence in the person and the backing required to do the job. Delegation is what grooms the leader’s eventual replacements to step in and extend the life of the organisation.
A practical suggestion: Inventory all your favourite “little” tasks—and maybe one or two bigger ones—that you could reasonably delegate to a promising employee. Delegate what you can and devote the resulting free time to the big picture. Someone once described a leader as the person who rides ahead of the pack and looks ahead, while the manager keeps the pack moving.
3. Practise saying “yes” to what life throws your way.
It is easier to say “oh, no!” than “Yes, that’s a challenge we can learn from and overcome.” The hard-wired “no” reflex into how we respond to difficulties is one of the biggest impediments to leadership growth. For example, when settling conflicts and disputes, a leader who knows the value of saying “yes” can see opportunities, where others bog down in negativity. A problem well defined is a problem half-solved.
A practical suggestion: Learn to recognise the internal tendency to say no. When confronted with a difficult person, for example, try saying, “Yes, that person challenges me, but there is something causing problems, and maybe I can help.”
4. Master the psychology of positive motivation.
This step in developing good leadership skills can occur more easily after mastering step 3—saying “yes.” Everyone experiences negative motivation. It is the natural concern about our safety and comfort needs that causes us to drive carefully and show up for work on time. The good leader, however, knows that there are higher motivations. They centre around the desire for accomplishment, recognition, and reaching one’s full potential.
A practical suggestion: Learn the positive motivators that drive your organisation’s people towards success. Integrate those motivations into the organisation’s goals with measurements that have a direct relationship how the people can move the organisation forward—rather than vice versa.
5. Work on team development through measurement of goals and objectives.
Our blog 12 Tips for Fostering Teamwork in the Workplace provides a handy roadmap for executives. Tip 2, Clarify Goals and Objectives, requires the leader’s constant attention and tweaking. The leader’s main role is to measure the performance and success of the organisation. That responsibility spills over into judging and reporting the performance of the people who are the elements of the team.
A practical suggestion: Continually test your assumptions on your measurements of team success. Do that by talking with those responsible for the plan. The old adage of “Those who plan the fight, don’t fight the plan” applies here. The more you do that, the more effective a leader you will become in all areas of leadership.
6. Expect, recognise and reward good performance.
Most good leaders are overachievers. They set high personal standards of performance and dedication and expect the same from others. Good performance and satisfaction with a job well done may be sufficient for the leader, but those on the upward path need more. The leader’s responsibilities include recognising and rewarding top performers. Whether that recognition is a simple compliment, rise in pay, or a special award, performance recognition must be a part of the leader’s repertoire.
A practical suggestion: Remember that people thrive on recognition. Make rewarding good performance a bigger part of the organisation’s culture. Doing so will pay dividends in individual and team performance. As you routinely recognise good performance, your leadership skills will improve through interaction with the people you lead.
7. Lead by setting a “higher example” of professional and moral excellence.
Part of expecting good performance in others is through personal example. Nothing demoralises an organisation more than hypocrisy at the leadership level. Likewise, moral excellence is a matter of uncompromising and ethical treatment of others and maintaining appropriate workplace personal relationships.
A practical suggestion: Be constantly aware that people in the organisation watch the professional and ethical behaviour of their leaders. Maintain the high performance and ethical standards and never compromise performance and integrity for the sake of expediency.
8. Concentrate on personal and professional development for yourself and your managers.
Finally, one key to improving leadership and management skills is to concentrate on personal and professional development. Personal development is a matter of becoming comfortable and content with what life brings (see Recommendation 4, above). Professional development is a never-ending quest to become the best, most technically competent manager/leader.A practical suggestion: Highly customised Leadership Training Programs are an outstanding resource for your management team to undertake. They will get your team started on the road to developing leadership skills.