Although it is often said that leaders are born and not made, this is incorrect and should be ignored. Most people have the ability to become a leader. However few have the steely determination that is required to learn leadership.
There are many articles on how to develop and hone leadership skills, but it’s very unlikely you’ll adopt them. To become an effective leader involves a lot of hard work and practice. If you have that mindset, you are ready to learn leadership skills. It is important to prioritise leadership skills in order to maximise the return on all your hard work.
I have laid out the 6 key elements below. Master these skills and you will have laid the foundation to become a great leader:
1. Know your field
Gary Vaynerchuk, is a hugely successful entrepreneur with over 800 employees. He has often said that he is a practitioner. He uses a metaphor ‘Clouds and dirt’ to represent his dream (the clouds) and learning all the details of his craft (dirt). Everything in-between such as office politics, ego, etc are not important. Watch the video here:
Knowing the ins and outs of your company at the most basic level allows you to make informed decisions. A leader earns respect by making the right decisions. Even the most charismatic leader will eventually lose credibility if they don’t know what they are doing. Poor decisions will also impact the company’s performance. Leaders can inspire and motivate a team but without a good understanding of their company they will lead their team in the wrong direction.
“If you spend an extra hour each day of study in your chosen field you will be a national expert in that field in five years or less.” – Earl Nightingale
2. Learn how to be confident
Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher once said, ‘In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.’ Confident individuals often gain respect without being the brightest spark. A study by David Dunning and Justin Kruger showed that the unintelligent get confident while the smart get modest. Does this sound familiar?
Although we may like to think leaders are the ones that know best, it is often not true. Once you know your field well, it’s important to learn the skill of being confident. Without it you’ll be another intelligent voice that falls on deaf ears. Like it or not, it is human nature to follow and respect confident individuals. To be a leader you need to be confident.
3. Listen to and understand your employees
It is often the perception that the boss knows what needs to be done and spends most of their time telling people how to do it. It is important to understand that the most effective leaders listen the most and only exercise their authority when it is needed. The strongest person in the room is usually the quietest.
Richard Branson once said “Great leaders are great listeners, who know their best asset is the people they work with”. When you understand and support your employees you make the transition from a manager to a leader.
4. Take full responsibility
Harold J. Smith once said “more people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them”. People prefer to pass on blame than accept responsibility. Although it may get you off the hook, you will slowly lose credibility. Taking responsibility earns you respect. Everyone makes mistakes. It is how you deal with them that defines you.
In the years I have built my company, I have learnt the first step in learning from your mistakes is to take responsibility for them. Denying responsibility may be an easy option but you are missing out on the chance to improve. To be a true leader it is mandatory to improve yourself. If you are not prepared to better yourself how can you expect your team to improve? To be successful requires continuous self-improvement; true leaders know this.
5. Delegate properly
There are right ways to delegate and there are wrong ways. Firstly, you need to prioritise tasks. Typically the leader should deal with the most important tasks. The least important tasks should be delegated to employees low in the hierarchy. It sounds so simple but when you are in a position of power it’s tempting to shy away from those hard tasks that are often the most important.
Some leaders can be perfectionists such as Steve Jobs. Perfectionism may allow you to climb the ranks but it can lead to micromanagement. A leader that micromanages is fighting a losing battle. The aim of a company is to grow, that means more tasks and more responsibility.
Eventually there comes a point where micromanagement significantly reduces productivity. True leaders learn not to manage everything. Instead they focus on understanding their team so that they can delegate tasks to the most suitable employees.
“The inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels.” – Eli Broad
6. Think of the big picture
Leaders have a vision for the company and have a strategy to achieve it. It’s common for employees to implement tasks and leave the strategy as an afterthought. Therefore a leader always needs to be thinking of the bigger picture.
Without a common vision a company can quickly lose direction. Leaders often have to make tough decisions that sacrifice short term profitability in order to achieve their long term vision.
Ultimately, leaders think on a different level to the rest of us. To become one you need to learn these six leadership skills.