How To Improve Leadership Skills

By Deanna deBara Posted December 9, 2020

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out in your career or are next in line to run your company—putting time and energy into improving your leadership skills can help you both be more effective in your current role and have greater success as you continue to grow professionally.

 

But what, exactly, are the leadership skills you should be working on—and what steps can you take to actively improve those skills and become a stronger leader?

 

Let’s take a look at four strategies you can use to improve your leadership skills, become a better leader, and inspire the best in your team (and yourself!):

 

Be a leader—no matter what role you’re in

 

Many people think that to improve and strengthen their leadership skills, they need to be in a leadership position. But that kind of thinking is a catch-22; you can’t grow into a leadership position—whether that’s manager, supervisor, thought leader, or CEO—if you can’t show your higher-ups and colleagues that you have what it takes to lead right now.

 

That’s why, if you want to improve your leadership skills, the time to start is today—regardless of what your current title, role, or position may be.

 

Every role has opportunities to learn, improve, and grow leadership skills—and if you want to grow into a better leader, it’s important to take advantage of those opportunities. For example, your current position may not have any direct reports—but you can improve your managerial skills (a must for leadership positions) by mentoring a more junior member of your team. Or let’s say your organization expects its leaders to be high-level communicators. You can sign up for a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters group to hone your speaking skills—and then offer to give a presentation on a relevant topic at your next all-hands meeting to showcase your improved speaking chops.

 

The point is, you can’t wait for someone to recognize your potential as a leader to start working on, improving, and showcasing your leadership skills at work. You need to start now—even if your current role doesn’t technically qualify as a leadership position.

Recognize your colleagues’ achievements

 

The best leaders inspire the best work in their team. And one of the best ways to inspire and encourage great work? 

Recognizing it when it happens.

 

People want to be recognized and appreciated for their work—and when they aren’t, it can harm employee engagement, productivity, and retention. In fact, according to research outlined in a 2019 NBC News article, a whopping 79 percent of employees who quit their job cited lack of appreciation as a major motivator for their exit. 

 

So, if you want to hone your leadership skills and be the kind of leader that inspires the best from their team (and keeps top talent at your company), start taking notice of your colleagues’ work—and recognizing and acknowledging them when they go above and beyond. 

 

For example, if you notice that your co-worker has been logging extra hours to make sure your team hits a project deadline, give them a shout-out and let them know how much their work is appreciated—and make sure to let their boss know how much their efforts helped to make sure the project was delivered on time. Or, if you have an assistant that’s been doing a great job of managing your calendar, get them a Starbucks gift card as a thank you for their hard work and dedication.

 

By letting your colleagues know that you notice and appreciate their work, you’re getting in the habit of recognizing and acknowledging your team’s efforts—a skill that will prove incredibly important as you grow as a leader.

 

Get comfortable with feedback

 

It’s important for leaders to let their teams know when they’re doing a great job. But it’s just as important for leaders to be able to have honest conversations with employees about things that need to be improved—and to be able to stay open when their team approaches them with the same.

 

Knowing how to give and receive feedback effectively is non-negotiable for leaders—but it can prove difficult for many people. The thought of delivering challenging feedback to an employee or colleague—or receiving that feedback from someone else—can make a lot of people nervous.—

 

But it shouldn’t! Feedback—even when it’s negative, challenging, or hard to hear/say—can be a springboard for positive change. According to research outlined in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, 92% of the respondents said that, when delivered appropriately, negative feedback can be effective at improving performance. 

 

So, if you want to improve your leadership skills, getting more comfortable with feedback—both giving and receiving—can be a great place to start. Ask the people you work with to give you feedback on what you do well and the opportunities they see for improvement—and then remain open to what they have to say, even if it’s hard to hear. If you manage a team, carve out time to have more feedback conversations—and use those conversations as opportunities to help them identify areas where they excel, areas where they can improve, and figure out how you can support them on their journey.

 

Feedback can be a great tool for driving growth and positive change within an organization—and if you want to improve your leadership skills, you need to get better and more comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback.

 

Become the model for work-life balance

 

Constant connectivity, long hours, and increasing workloads—and the burnout that ensues as a result—are at unprecedented levels. A 2018 study from Gallup found that 67 percent of workers surveyed felt burned out at work at least some of the time (with nearly a quarter of all workers surveyed reporting feeling burned out “very often” or “always”). 

 

And when employees hit the point of burnout, it can lead to a host of issues, including increased absenteeism, decreased engagement, and employee turnover—all of which can prove disastrous for a company (in fact, a 2017 Kronos and Future Workplace study found that an astonishing 95 percent of leaders surveyed said that burnout was sabotaging their workforce).

 

In order to avoid massive employee burnout—and keep their teams intact—leaders need to model a healthy work-life balance. So, if you’re looking to improve your leadership skills? Creating a better sense of balance between work and personal time is a great place to start.

 

It might sound counterintuitive (don’t you need to answer every email—even if it comes in at 9 pm?), but learning to set boundaries around your work and time is a must for effective leadership; not only will it help you avoid burnout (which will make you more effective at work overall), but it will signal to your colleagues, co-workers, and direct reports that they should also set boundaries around their work and time—which can help them avoid burnout as well.

 

Have a clear end time for work—and make sure you sign off at that time every day (or close to). Make sending or responding to work emails during off-hours the exception—and not the rule. Take time off when you need it.

 

Being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance is, without a doubt, a leadership skill—and improving that skill will only do good things for yourself, your team, and your organization.

 

Get out there and grow as a leader

 

To be an effective leader, you need to be working on and improving your leadership skills continually. And with these strategies, you have everything you need to do just that—so get out there, hone those leadership skills, and grow into the best and most effective leader you can be!

 

What are some ways you could improve your leadership skills?

 

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.

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