Leadership: We Can Always Improve

Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

What is Leadership?

There have been numerous studies and dozens of books addressing this topic. But what does leadership really encompass? And, how does a leader differ from a manager?

Leadership is a quality or skill that can be acquired, but many people are not sure how to do this. Also, leaders exhibit certain qualities such that people are willing to follow them. I define leadership as the ability to influence people to reach a common goal. Additionally, successful leaders usually possess a certain amount of charisma, though this is not necessarily a requirement.

If we define charisma, it is the ability to create rapport with all kinds of people—from varied cultures and different generations as well as up, down, and across the business. Many of our national and world figures have natural charisma. But how do we obtain leadership skills? Is there anything I can do to increase my leadership abilities? The answer is “yes.”

In my years of serving clients, doing research, and leading teams and companies, a clear picture has emerged on what are considered good leadership qualities. If you are aware of these qualities, you can take steps to acquire them yourself. Are you ready to start? The following list should get you thinking and working on your personal plan to increase your leadership skills.

1. Personal Integrity – pick up any book on leadership, and you will find integrity is high on everyone’s list. If people cannot trust you, they will certainly not follow you. Ways to demonstrate integrity include always delivering on commitments (meet those deadlines you promised), giving honest assessments, and being fair in dealing with your coworkers, customers and suppliers.

2. Great Communicator – The ability to communicate your message is key to influencing people. If you can’t get across to your team a clear and concise vision of what you are thinking, you will not be taken seriously. Before speaking—especially in a public venue—be sure to practice your speech and have your thoughts summarized in bullet points. Equally, important, be aware of what questions may be asked. Part of being a good communicator is being prepared and listening.

3. Strong Interpersonal Skills – You must be able (and willing) to relate to people. What if you’re an analytical type and your boss is a driver? There are many evaluation tools that can help you determine your personality style and how to relate to others. If you have not taken one of these personality profiles, see if your HR department can help; or find a qualified person and pay them for the assessment. It will open a whole new world of why people act as they do and how you can relate to them.

4. Need for change— Most leaders are not happy with the status quo. They are always looking for ways to do things better or more efficiently. Keep in mind that businesses today are under pressure to compete not just in price, but also in product features, how quickly they can bring products to market, and meeting customer expectations (quality). Ask yourself: Would Apple be content to have just developed the iPod® and then take a rest? Leaders are always looking for change or advancement.

5. Never Stop Learning—Leaders, in their search for change, will always be enhancing their skills through learning. Most that I know are continuously reading the latest management or business strategy books, attending conferences, and doing their own research. You do not necessarily need to get an advanced degree (although this may help depending on your industry), but you do need to strive for continuous personal improvement.

6. Confidence—This develops by going through some trials and tribulations. Many people have asked me how to develop confidence. Confidence comes from exercising good judgment. How do we get good judgment? My answer is that you only get good judgment by having exhibited bad judgment at some point in your career. Have you ever made a mistake? All leaders at some point have made mistakes—but they learn from them. Many times there are tough projects that most people will run away from, but you should consider these as opportunities. Take on assignments that are challenging and may have an element of risk to them. You cannot learn confidence until you test yourself under fire.

7. Risk Taker. Following on from number 6 above, most leaders will take a calculated risk. There is a saying that goes: “you cannot steal second base with your foot firmly planted on first.” Essentially, you have to take some risks in order to be successful or to achieve. Who has ever made it to the top by staying under the radar and avoiding all conflict or risk?

Conclusions

Leadership is not just for people at the top of corporations. Within companies, government, and non-profits, leadership skills are needed at all levels. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a first line supervisor, a project team leader, or a COO in waiting; each step or assignment along the way provides the opportunity for you to improve your leadership skills.

So what is the difference between a leader and a manager? Hopefully, in reading this, you have discerned that a manager can manage from an administrative standpoint, but is not necessarily a leader. Leadership should inspire and motivate others so that you can set broad organizational goals and allow others to grow through their personal and professional contributions.

One final thought; if you have targeted a job you want to be considered for, get the skills needed for that role. I have seen some bright managers fail because, while very capable, they did not prepare themselves with the skills needed for the role they were promoted into. This is especially true for technology professionals who aspire to managerial roles. You will need a different skill set, and you must learn to adapt quickly. For example, most managerial roles require some knowledge of budgeting, negotiations, and conflict resolution. If you have never been exposed to these in your past roles, training or a mentor can assist you in acquiring these skills.

We all have unique skills and strengths to bring to the table. Be sure to follow the above principles, and you’ll be on your way to further success.

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