Are some people just born to lead? Perhaps. But is that to say that if you haven’t made it as a manager yet, you never will? Absolutely not.
Leadership skills are those essential traits and competencies that all successful leaders share — and they are well within your reach. Because when you boil it down, how to develop leadership skills is all about being open to learning. And if you’re here reading this blog, then you’re halfway there already.
Leadership just isn’t in the development crosshairs for a lot of companies, the numbers below tell us that! But those companies are missing a trick, because leadership really matters when it comes to employee engagement, retention and business performance – here are nine statistics that help you understand why:
Everyone has their own approach, style and unique management skills that they develop over time. That said, there are a number of soft skills you’ll need to master throughout your leadership development journey. Those are:
Sometimes you need to close down Slack and talk face-to-face. Great leaders excel in all forms of communication — written and verbal, formal and informal. Colleagues will take on board how you do it and look to you as a role model, whether that’s managing client communication or in how you talk to your teams.
Strong communication skills are essential to develop as a soon-to-be manager as they underpin all of the other leadership traits covered in this list.
Speaking of leadership role modelling, everything you do as a manager will help shape the culture and expectations within your team (no pressure!).
Is it important to you that everyone shows up by 9am? Then you’d better be there on the dot (if not before!). Want to foster a culture of psychological safety and transparency? Then speak up yourself; show your knowledge gaps and how you’re planning to fill them.
Reliability and trustworthiness are key to getting, and keeping, your colleagues on-side during that leadership development process — which leads us on to…
Leadership requires a balance between supporting your teams and creating commercial success. So you’ll need to hone your motivational skills sooner rather than later.
You’ll have both intrinsic and extrinsic levers at your disposal (or put simply motivation that comes either from within and externally) and one may come more naturally to you than the other. Extrinsic motivation can be achieved in the form of financial bonuses and status symbols, like better job titles and promotions. Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, will help connect employees to their deeper passions, interests and values.
Being empathetic to a colleague’s personal motivators will set you in good stead to triumph as a manager.
It’s easy to lead a team when everything’s going smoothly but what happens when you hit choppy waters? Your leadership talents are really put to the test when a crisis or conflict arises!
Some disagreements are relatively minor – like not seeing eye-to-eye on the tagline for a new marketing campaign. Others have the potential to derail a team’s progress entirely. As a good leader, you’ll need to recognise the signs of brewing tension and contempt, and then work hard to resolve them before the whole thing blows up.
You might not need to step in as a mediator if you’re spotting trends, evolving situations and potential problems within your teams. Critical thinking encourages that proactive mindset, where you’re also spotting opportunities earlier and while it’s still beneficial for everyone to jump on them. By anticipating change, you can help the team manage and prepare for it – so that people are happier and more productive as their roles and responsibilities evolve. In fact, this is a skill that everyone can benefit from building, not just those on leadership development courses.
If your door’s always open but you’re not hearing anything people say as they stroll through it, you might as well close it. Good leaders recognise that there’s just as much they can learn from their employees, whether that’s about a subject they’re an expert in, brainwaves they’ve had and want to share or an experience they want to discuss with you.
Listening and following their suggestions and ideas is a great way to recognise that they’re taking the initiative, keeping them engaged and enthusiastic. It’s also crucial in creating an open culture, driving learning, creating a rapport and building your relationship as a leader.
Improving leadership skills isn’t a ‘one and done’ process. Great managers are committed to continuous improvement and ongoing self-development. As Darwin E. Smith, who was CEO of personal care juggernaut Kimberly-Clark for 20 years, once said: “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”
But how do you take your first steps?
Firstly, you need to ascertain which management skills you already possess and which your developing leaders need to work on. Spoiler alert: even the skills you think you’ve perfected today would benefit from further development, we’re never the finished article.
This doesn’t have to be a fancy leadership development exercise. Simply mapping it out with pen and paper will do the trick. Or if you are looking to get fancy, you could use HowNow to build a 360-degree skill profile based on peer and self-review? We even benchmark live job roles to help you benchmark your skills against those in demand and work out how to close that leadership skill gap. Here’s a bit more about our skills engine.
Now that you know what you need to develop, next you need to work out where and when.
There’s never a shortage of leadership development opportunities, but you may need to take the initiative and seize those chances for yourself. Can you lead on a new internal initiative, for example? Or could you act as a mentor for someone more junior in the organisation?
You could flip that completely upside down and seek out mentors within your organisation. That’s tapping into the power of social learning, leveraging the wisdom of other effective leaders and subject matter experts within your bank of colleagues. In those cases, you’re learning from their tacit knowledge and experiences relating directly to your product or company.
Excellent leaders appreciate the value of frequent feedback. Gather insights from those you work with — upward, downward and peer-to-peer intel included! Only then will you know how well you’re performing in your leadership development journey.
This feedback may even help highlight skills you didn’t know you had, which could be a welcome ego boost as you grow!
The above advice is more about what individuals can do to become great leaders. But if you’re the CEO or a director in a company, how are you going to find potential leaders, ensure they’re developing the right skills and do it in a structured or measurable way? This template should help you out!
How you can develop leaders and their skills
Start by asking yourself three fairly straightforward questions:
It’s a lot like planning a great road trip! You remind yourself of the exciting end point, but you need to plan the route and the right people to get you along it as smoothly as possible.
The thing is, road trips are rarely this straightforward. You need to work out who’s your best map reader, when you’ll stop for fuel and, most importantly, who’s in charge of the snacks and playlist!
So, it’s worth applying the same mindset to each department to work out where their needs differ. You also need to consider the company culture and how that influences the way leaders act, as well as whether or not there’s an existing leadership style within the business. If so, where does it work and where does it fall down?
You do all of the above and presume you’ve worked out where you’ll need leaders and the skills it’s crucial they possess. But do the people they’ll be leading and working with agree? They’re on the frontline each day, working towards those goals and really feeling the hurdles that make accomplishing them more difficult.
And that’s why it’s crucial you add in a step to collect their thoughts. Otherwise, you might mould somebody into a leader who just doesn’t click with the team. Present your ideas, ask for their input and then take the time to reflect. If you need to adjust your leadership development goals, this is the time to do it. Plus, you’ll help employees feel more involved and like their opinions are valued.
Think about any elite sports player, their success doesn’t just come down to skill. Mindset matters, so does temperament and a lot of the time it’s about experience too.
When you’re working out what your leaders need, it’s important to recognise that having skills and applying them are two different things. For example, somebody might have studied mediation from cover to cover, but how much experience have they got putting that into practice?
By this point, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you need from a leader. So, it’s worth working out who in the team is showing the right traits and potential to step into that role.
It’s no secret that upskilling people and promoting talent from within is far cheaper than recruiting a new employee. But that also shows a commitment to employee development and helps drive that famous duo of engagement and retention.
At the same time, it’s worth analysing your current leadership team – where are they right now? Is there further room for them to develop? Can anyone be held up as a beacon of why stepping into leadership shoes is more memory foam sole than blisters on the heels?
It’s time to formalise everything above into concrete goals and objectives! Whether that’s on a general, departmental or individual level – a lot of that will depend on how many leaders you need to build to reach your overall objectives.
Of course, they need to be specific and measurable BUT you also need to establish how you’ll measure them and the metrics that indicate success. It’s important that you’re transparent about them, to encourage people to buy-in, and that you shout about the progress and successes as they happen.
Naturally, this links back to everything you’ve established about your goals and budding leaders, so you’ve got to work out which leadership development method aligns best.
And not just at the end of the process! It’s so important that you’re measuring progress along the way, in order to make any corrections when it looks like you’re not heading for the desired outcome. This is also incredibly useful when the company goals shift or changes happen in the organisation itself.
When you do approach the end of the process, however, it’s important to assess whether the person has built the necessary skills but also if they’re ready for that leadership role. Assignments along the way might indicate the desired progress has been made in theory, but is the individual demonstrating those traits in practice? A 360-degree review can help work this out, by asking key stakeholders to provide honest feedback alongside your thoughts and those of the learner.