Developing Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are the behaviors exhibited when placed in various situations.  That's the foundation for textbook theories such as conditional leadership.  Assessing one's style can not only help to identify strengths and weaknesses, but also develop leadership skills.

Leadership Skills Defined

So what exactly are good leadership skills?  One way to answer this question is through this simple statement:

Good leadership skills are the behaviors that allow you to get the results you're after, while at the same time positively motivating your followers.

Now while this might sound like an easy rule to follow, in practice it's not all that simple.  Many "leaders" achieve remarkable short term results at the expense of the long term morale of employees.  This article is going to focus on identifying skills that should provide both short-term and long-term results that are sustainable.

Emotional Intelligence

In Daniel Goleman's book on Emotional Intelligence, he provides a great deal of insight into the various types of leadership skills needed to be successful.  By its very nature, leading individuals is all about successfully interacting with people.  Emotional intelligence helps to explain the dynamics of those interactions.

The core skills that leaders need can be summarized by the following five attributes.  It is through these attributes, or skills, that it's possible to manage not only oneself, but the interactions with others.

Self Awareness

The ability to understand what makes individuals who they are at work or at home is known as self-awareness.  It's a leadership skill that allows people to understand not only their emotions, but also the impact they can have on work performance and relationships with coworkers.

Self awareness is the ability to understand one's emotions, moods, and motivations.

Self Regulation

While the leadership skill of self-awareness takes a look inside, the skill of self regulation is the ability to control emotions that are counterproductive to achieving goals.

How often have we observed a manager and think they are their own worst enemy?  Did they allow their emotions and impulsive behavior to lead them down the wrong path?  Self regulation is the skill used to control the moods, impulses, and emotions that can hurt relationships with coworkers.

Motivational Skills

Motivation can be an entire topic unto itself.  In fact, this website has an article dedicated to this subject:  Motivation and Leadership.  Motivation can be defined as the drive or passion that goes beyond money or status and it typically takes two forms:

  • Extrinsic Motivation:  comes from external sources, such as a manager's recognition for a job well done.
  • Intrinsic Motivation:  comes from within, often referred to as self or internal motivation.

As a leader, it's important to develop the skills needed to identify what motivates followers.  Finding out what motivates others is often accomplished by trial and error.  There are a number of approaches to improve this skill outlined in the motivation article referenced earlier.

Empathy Skills

Empathy is perhaps the most important leadership skill that touches relationships with others.  Empathy is the leader's ability to understand the other person's point of view.  Many leaders-in-training mistakenly believe that sympathy is the same skill as empathy - it's not.

Empathy is the ability to truly put oneself in the other person's shoes and understand how they are feeling.  It's the ability to understand the impact change can have on someone else, and taking their feelings into consideration before making a change.

Social Skills

Finally, it's time to discuss social skills.  Effective leaders need to be able to socialize with others.  In this way, social skills are very much like effective networking skills in a work setting.

Followers need to understand the leader is a human being, just like them.  It's important to take an interest and listen when employees talk about their families or loved ones because they play an important role in their lives.  It's important to be able to develop and guide others, and using the rapport developed through social skills.

Development of Leadership Skills

Now that there is a deeper understanding of the types of leadership skills that are important in the workplace, it's time to learn how to develop those skills.  These are the techniques that can be used to help become a more effective leader.

Golden Rule at Work

Perhaps the single most important leadership skill someone can practice nearly every day is treating others the way they wish to be treated.  Unfortunately, among the chaos found at work, this is not always as easy as it sounds.

Pressures to improve the "bottom line" and "just get it done" are two examples of attitudes that might prevent someone from following this golden rule.  As leaders in an organization, it's important to strike a balance of short term results and long term job satisfaction.  Practice this balance every day by asking this question:  Is this the way I would want to be treated?

Autocratic and Coercive Styles

While these two styles have a place in certain situations, the autocratic and the coercive leadership style are arguably the two most destructive approaches a leader can practice.

Autocratic leaders, by definition, make all the decisions themselves and take responsibility for the results achieved.  Autocrats can be extremely hard to work for over the long haul, and are characterized by the statement "just do as I say."

Coercive leaders were found to have the most negative affect on the workplace climate.  This type of leader demands immediate compliance, and uses threats to pressure coworkers into compliance.  The only time it's really acceptable to use these styles is to turn around an organization.

Coaching and Teaching

A leadership skill that's important to develop is coaching and teaching others.  This is especially effective in a situation where the leader might be viewed as an expert.  All managers should be extremely interested in the growth and development of their direct reports.

The benefit of coaching and teaching others is threefold.  For example, it creates an opportunity to develop a replacement from a succession planning standpoint.  It's also easier to be away from the office when there is a person that can act as a good backup.  Finally, many employees like the challenge of new assignments, and the act of teaching and learning can motivate many individuals.

It's possible to develop coaching skills by working directly with others.

Delegating Tasks

Here we're talking about true delegation of tasks; not dumping work on a coworker and walking away.  The proper delegating of tasks by leaders will not only result in an additional learning experience for the follower, but also serves as a signal of trust.

It's possible to develop delegating skills by starting small, assigning tasks that can be successfully completed on time and with acceptable quality.  As everyone becomes more comfortable and confident, it's possible to begin delegating more important and difficult tasks.

Democracy at Work

This final leadership skill could be referred to as "democracy at work."  This is simply encouraging independent thinking, and allowing coworkers to believe they have a say in the direction of the team.

There are a couple of things to watch out for when practicing this particular leadership skill.  The first has to do with timing.  The democratic leadership style can often result in delays in getting work done.  By allowing others to "vote" on how and what to do, there will be debate and dialog that often comes with this freedom to speak up and be heard.

As was the situation with delegating tasks, an example of how to practice this skill is in order.  This can start with a relatively trivial question or assignment; gathering the team together and asking them their opinion on how to proceed.

Final Thoughts on Developing Leadership Skills

Developing any skill takes practice; especially if this is something new.  Remember the goal is to be a better leader, and that can take time.

This website also contains a number of articles on topics such as leadership styles and conditional leadership.  These articles outline the attributes of the styles discussed, and also explain when each is most effective.

Finally, don't be afraid of making mistakes.  Good leaders take calculated risks, and therefore will make mistakes.  Learning from those mistakes is a valuable lesson in leadership.  Whenever in doubt as to the course of action to take, there is one simple principle to follow:  the Golden Rule.


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