Are leaders born or made? It’s a valid question. After all, some of the greatest leaders seem to have emerged from the womb charismatic, influential and destined for greatness.
However, most people must strive to develop leadership skills. Even those who seem powerful from the start must work to grow certain qualities. Thus, it’s entirely possible to learn how to become a successful leader.
Still, there’s no magic formula for it, and you certainly won’t become an icon overnight. If you want to become a leader, you must begin expanding your soft skill set. These nine skills will do you just as much good as a degree if you master them:
More than 90% of CEOs, employees and human resource professionals agree that empathy is key to success. However, many leaders mistake this quality for sympathy. To be clear, empathy is not feeling pity or sadness for others. Rather, it’s the ability to understand and share your employees’ feelings and emotions. On a professional level, this may entail sharing in their excitement when they come up with creative solutions.
Ultimately, empathy will help you build trust and create loyal followers. Begin developing this skill by listening to your team and truly valuing what each member has to say. Make an effort to see things from their perspective to understand their needs better. Balance out your empathy with a little tough love to become a well-rounded leader.
There are many reasons why leaders fail, but pride may be the most common. As the old saying goes, pride comes before a fall. Pride will cause leaders to lose themselves in self-promotion and turn a deaf ear to others’ input. Moreover, it won’t allow you to admit when you’re wrong, which can destroy your entire career — and your team — if you aren’t careful.
As you climb the corporate ladder, remember to practice humility. Focus on team dynamics and problem-solving rather than your own individual success. Be vulnerable and authentic and applaud your employees’ growth and achievements without laying claim to their accomplishments. Nearly 80% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving, so praising their progress may improve employee retention and help the company save money on acquisition costs.
Many employees also choose their employer based on whether the company has a culture of integrity. If the business has an honest atmosphere, people will be more likely to put in their applications. However, a positive environment begins with leaders. You can’t expect your team to be honest if you lack integrity yourself. Therefore, it’s essential to develop this leadership quality early on in your career.
Adopt a spirit of integrity by recognizing mistakes and apologizing for them both publicly and privately. Hold yourself accountable and foster open communication between yourself, your superiors and your subordinates. Keep the promises you make to others and treat everyone fairly, regardless of their position within the company. Your positive influence will rub off on your employees and create a company culture that radiates positivity and attracts new workers left and right.
Leaders must have the courage to take risks and share their creative ideas, even if no one else believes in them. Doing so will foster innovation and steer your business toward success. As you present your unique ideas to the team, remember these concepts will likely keep you one step ahead of the competition. Plus, they’ll ensure your brand adapts to the changing business landscape — as well as consistently shapes it.
Nearly half of all human resources professionals agree that agile thinking skills like innovation will be in high demand over the next five to 10 years. Therefore, you must make time to invest in yourself and indulge your curiosities. Embrace artistic ventures and try a new hobby to foster a state of flow and network with other creative minds. Get your hands dirty, make new connections and step outside your comfort zone to keep that creative flame ablaze.
All good leaders have vision. More importantly, they know how to articulate that vision on every occasion. In some cases, it doesn’t even matter what the vision is as long as you can convince your followers that it’s worth believing in. Unfortunately, only 22% of U.S. employees agree that their companies’ leaders have a clear direction for their business. Moreover, most leaders refuse to include a significant number of people when narrowing down and executing their vision.
If you want to create a compelling vision, consider involving the entire team. Real change often emerges from meaningful conversations, so facilitate honest, open discussions with your staff. Once you gain a deeper understanding of people’s perspectives and values, you can share your overarching vision with them and relentlessly drive it to completion. Since your employees had a say in the matter, they’ll be more likely to buy into it.
Being an effective leader also requires you to roll up your sleeves and take the initiative. Doing so will naturally require a hearty dose of self-confidence, even if you’ve been a manager for years. Instead of stepping back to avoid the spotlight, step up and take charge. In most cases, having the self-confidence to initiate change has a more positive effect than a lack of self-confidence has a negative effect. In other words, having confidence comes with more benefits than drawbacks.
Of course, you must also boost the confidence of the team who’ll blaze the trail to success. Roughly 32% of U.K. employees lack the confidence to share ideas with their employers. However, if you repeatedly show your team that you trust them, they’ll be more apt to introduce new concepts that can benefit your entire company. Remind them that your nerves can sometimes get the best of you, too, to bring yourself down to their level and avoid sounding arrogant.
Learning how to be a professional leader is an ongoing lesson in flexibility. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this soft skill has become more important than ever. As hundreds of thousands of businesses closed their doors, leaders everywhere had to transition their teams to remote workspaces. Thanks to flexible managers, some companies were up and running again within a matter of days. Meanwhile, others were unable to adapt and had no other choice but to close their doors forever.
In a post-pandemic workplace, flexibility will remain one of the best leadership qualities. Many brands are already actively searching for leaders with this invaluable skill. Practice developing a more adaptable approach by trying new ideas and finding alternative solutions to workplace issues. Focus on the future, create contingency plans and share them with the team so your employees can prepare for unprecedented circumstances. Most importantly, remember to maintain a positive outlook, regardless of any challenges you may face.
Radiating positivity, even in the direst of circumstances, takes practice. Luckily, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to build your resiliency in the workplace. Whether you’re dealing with demanding clients or receiving harsh criticism, you must work to overcome adversity by sustaining your energy levels. Instead of letting others discourage you or drag you into their drama, you must adapt to disruptive changes and press on.
Moreover, you must recover from these setbacks and achieve exactly what you set out to do. Of course, doing so may take more time — and more convincing — but those naysayers will eat their words if you prove yourself resilient. Plus, your team will begin picking up on your positivity and support you in future endeavors, even if they doubt you initially.
In the short term, you may find the energy and motivation to rise with the sun, check off every menial task on your to-do list and pull extra hours at the office. However, eventually, you’ll run out of steam. Extreme burnout will derail your efforts and result in major setbacks for both you and your team. Therefore, it’s best to ask for help in the very beginning and delegate simpler tasks to those around you.
Make yourself more essential and less involved by trusting your team. If they’ve shown they’re capable of achieving great results, there’s no reason why you can’t assign them individual tasks and rely on them to successfully complete each one. In your absence, they’ll still carry on as usual and extend your presence through their actions. Take the extra step by sharing the importance of each to-do with your employees. This way, they’ll find their own motivation to complete them.
Before take-off, flight attendants remind passengers that parents must put on their own oxygen masks before assisting their children if there’s a change in cabin pressure. Likewise, you must successfully lead yourself before attempting to lead others. Otherwise, you might lose yourself and your entire team along the way.
Cultivate a sense of self-leadership by investing in your physical, emotional and mental well-being. Prioritize creativity and rest and create healthy boundaries between your personal and professional life. Find ways to inspire yourself. Then, use that same energy to inspire others and create lasting change, no matter where you work.
About the Author: Ginger Abbot is a career and learning writer. When she’s not freelancing, she’s serving as Editor-in-Chief for the education publication, Classrooms.