The age-old debate around leadership centres around whether leaders are made or born. But no one has a birth-right to leadership. Like any other skill, leadership can be learned. Here’s how you can become a successful leader.
Start by auditing your own strengths and weaknesses. By taking a self-assessment, you’ll be able to pinpoint what qualities you have to influence a group of people towards a common goal – and realise what abilities you lack. Great leaders have the ability to motivate teams of individuals and they have a purpose-driven agenda. By taking stock of your ability to communicate effectively inside and outside your organisation, you’ll be able to fine-tune the skills you need to build productive relationships. After all, to be able to lead, you need to appeal to both heads and hearts.
The exercise of self-reflection goes back thousands of years to ancient philosophers and teachers like Confucius and Socrates. Confucius is thought to have said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
In the modern world, productivity demands self-reflection. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that self-reflection can boost productivity by 20 per cent. So, leaders need to take a step back and ask brutally honest questions about their performance and shortcomings. This sort of reflection gives you time for critical thinking and to ponder new possibilities. It’s a technique that helps you develop and grow by providing clarity on long-term goals and what steps must be taken to realise that vision. Organisations benefit more from leaders who take responsibility for what they don’t know, than from leaders who pretend to know it all.
Self-reflection is also the best way to find out about your own leadership style – are you transformational, or transactional? Do you prefer autocratic leadership and rule with an iron fist? Or do you lean towards charismatic leadership, and rely heavily on your positive charm and personality? Knowing your own leadership style will help you shape your company culture and direction.
Seek new skills
With workplaces continuously changing – as old ways of doing things are replaced with new ideas and new technologies – it’s become ever more important for leaders to keep up with transformation. Leaders need to stay up-to-date with the accelerating pace of change – whether it’s the effects of globalisation, automation and machine learning, or a cultural shift in the industry they’re working in. With the right outlook, effective leaders can turn challenges into opportunities. This requires leadership development through training.
At a time of such workplace uncertainty, mapping out a personalised learning journey will help leaders emerge with sharper skills in communication, critical thinking, digital literacy, and problem-solving. The ability to specify which skill sets to invest in also helps leaders to identify their own leadership challenges. Studies show that formal leadership training makes a significant difference to workplace outcomes. In the medical field, for instance, leadership training has a positive impact on healthcare results.
According to the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, only 14 per cent of CEOs worldwide say they have leaders who have the capability to drive strategic results. Yet leaders need to be able to evaluate progress, analyse results and create opportunities for improvement.
Through training, leaders can develop the skills to see what’s on the horizon for their industry, usher in the necessary changes, and shape the future of their organisation confidently. Learning new skills helps leaders maintain their competitive advantage and remain innovative.
Study the great leaders of the world
History shows us that leadership can be both taught and learned. There is so much that can be learnt from past leaders, whether it’s Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs or Julia Gillard.
One of those lessons is that to be an effective leader you must be motivated to lead. With the mounting pressure and responsibility that leaders sometimes face, having the ability to inspire others to commit to purposeful actions is paramount. Motivating employees should be one of a leader’s top priorities. America’s sixth President John Quincy Adams summed up this notion in the statement; “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Other valuable lessons to learn from past and present leaders is to be a good communicator. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” While not every leadership style fits into this way of thinking, good communication will always allow leaders to effect change. By polishing your written and interpersonal communication skills you’ll avoid any misunderstandings and workplace conflict. And on a positive note, you’ll be able to build trust, foster a collaborative environment of knowledge-sharing, and promote a culture of respect.
Another lesson from experienced leaders who have lived through both success and failure is that leadership is not a solo pursuit. Leaders do not operate in a void, and it’s important to cultivate connections. Great leaders don’t set out to achieve goals on their own – they’re able to innovate through others. Australia’s Governor-General Peter Cosgrove once said, “We want our leaders to be fair dinkum, as much among us as above us.” Using influence rather than authority, productive leaders build a network of highly skilled individuals and empower them to deliver on agreed objectives.
Leaders of all stripes have at some point had to prepare for difficult times and make tough decisions. History is littered with such examples. So, it’s important to practice the skills of leadership. This harks back to the old adage, “practice makes perfect.”
To become a better leader, it’s essential to seek feedback, set goals and measure outcomes. One way to do this is through modelling. By setting an example of desirable behaviours and resolving problems that limit business outcomes, you’ll be demonstrating the kind of workplace you’d like to create.
Learn more about the Master in Leadership online, our innovative Professional Practice degree where you can use your experience to gain a master’s degree. Call our enrolment team on 1300 043 524.