Do you want to improve your leadership skills?
To influence and persuade your peer group?
Perhaps you want to claw your way up the oily professional totem pole of career or simply become a slick social operator.
If so, becoming an effective leader is imperative.
But how do you master this dark art? In this article, we’ll take a look.
What is leadership?
First, we should know what we’re getting ourselves into.
According to John C. Maxwell, the grandaddy of the subject, leadership is simply influence. That’s it. Those you influence, you naturally lead.
Leaders are the ones who make movements happen, encourage action in their followers and shape the world according to their vision.
On a grand scale, great leaders have shifted societal opinion, influenced humanity and improved the world. Poor leaders, in contrast, have done exactly the opposite.
As history has taught us, it’s possible to wield mighty and yet grossly misplaced influence, so the commitment to becoming a good leader is essential.
Benefits of becoming a boss
But why would you want to work on such soft skills?
Well, leaders are often favoured, awarded priority and social capital.
When your words carry weight, fringe benefits emerge.
Not only do you gain more respect from your peers and slicker social relationships, but also often faster career progression, better professional ties and greater wealth.
However, greater reward necessitates greater responsibility.
As a leader, there’s the expectation to ensure that your wider tribe survives and thrives.
This is the implicit contract. As soon as you break the agreement, your position becomes, unsurprisingly, precarious.
Just think back to our evolutionary days.
A leader likely wasn’t chosen lightly, having not only to influence and inspire action, but also determine the fate of the entire tribe.
Social skills were obviously important, such as the capacity to coordinate various competing interests into a singular, unified vision.
Assuaging fears, motivating followers and dispelling fractional elements were likely core components.
However, leaders must also have been elected on competence.
It’s no good being a smooth social operator without any tangible supporting skills.
The decisions you made concerned life and death, calling for logical, rational thinking and undoubtedly a potent blend of practical experience to underpin the theory.
Don’t seek permission
Here’s the thing…while many may occupy a formal leadership position at work or in social clubs, leaders are everywhere you look, regardless of rank or title.
Anyone can be a leader, and indeed, it’s often those that assume such responsibilities without any formal reward that make the most effective role models.
The best bit? These skills can be learned.
Like anything, while some people may have a natural predisposition toward the role, with practice, it’s possible to excel in such a position.
So, rather than waiting for permission, implement the techniques below and embody the role you wish to assume.
Qualities and traits of effective leaders
To be a great leader, you have to care. It’s as simple as that. With no concern about those that follow you, you’re unlikely to win the respect of your peers. If you’re self-serving and simply out to reap the rewards of power, it obvious. Natural empathy encourages you to put people before yourself, making sacrifices on their behalf.
If you’ve ever talked to someone who’s constantly distracted, you’ll know how infuriating it is. Therefore, a vital component of empathy involves developing sound listening skills. After all, we have two ears and one mouth. Active listening clearly demonstrates the value you place on others thoughts, opinions and input.
Showing interested is vital to earning social credits. As with empathy, it’s impossible to fake true interest. This could involve knowing the names of your colleagues’ children or asking them what they did on the weekend. It could be showing enthusiasm for a friend’s new hobby or side project. Curiosity is a powerful ally in the game of life.
Great leaders know they don’t know everything. In fact, they actively cultivate a beginner’s mind, absorbing information and advice from those around them to make the best decisions. They’re not trapped in their dogma and pre-existing beliefs, but are flexible enough to incorporate new and novel ways of thinking to facilitate the best outcomes.
Honesty is vital in all spheres of life, including leadership. Back to our caveman days, trusting a person in charge was the difference between life and death and those primordial neurological pathways still exist, warning us of potential threats. Unremitting honesty as a leader allows you to develop a reputation as a trustworthy source of information, someone worthy of greater responsibility.
A corollary of honesty is ethics. History has demonstrated the perils of putting our faith in unethical leaders. Morals should underpin every decision to ensure they’re aligned with the common interest. Displaying integrity in every action will create a culture of trust.
Most people in positions of power are good communicators. They skillfully and willingly interact with those around them, inspiring confidence and drawing others into their social circle. This could be water cooler chat or phoning a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while to maintain contact.
Face to face communication is one thing, but public speaking is a whole other animal. However, to build influence and persuade, you must be able to communicate your opinions in a larger social group, disseminating ideas quickly to encourage action. Public speaking is hard, but the rewards can be great.
Directness can be uncomfortable, especially when a challenging conversation is required. Great leaders, however, are ones that address such challenges head-on, without sugar coating. Even with difficult news, people appreciate the honesty of someone who says what needs to be said, especially when combined with the empathy mentioned earlier.
A core component of enjoying greater influence is making better decisions. People follow those who will improve their future, which entails making choices today that result in a better tomorrow. If a leader has a good track record of making such calls, they’ll naturally attract a tribe.
Humans dislike uncertainty and don’t respond to vague messaging. A good leader, therefore, is naturally confident. It’s the only way to draw others into your circle of influence. While it’s essential to adopt a beginner’s mindset, acting on your decision without conviction sends mixed messages to your team. It’s perceived as a lack of belief, which ultimately undermines your mission.
Natural leaders often appear as smooth as silk, able to inspire and encourage effortlessly. They seem gifted in ways that aspiring leaders feel incapable of emulating. Charisma, however, isn’t magic. Rather, it’s a cocktail of several core skills. Active listening, adept public speaking, coupled with quiet confidence all contribute to this mysterious, and yet compelling, trait.
It’s no good overdoing the confidence and charisma, which can easily be construed as cockiness. Tempering such displays with humility shows you don’t possess all the answers and can respond openly and unbiased to new suggestions and information.
As a leader, it’s essential to practice what you preach. This involves living your role, from personal decisions regarding health, exercise, work routines and reliability, to the broader skills mentioned here. It’s only possible to wield influence when you visibly embody the changes you wish to make. For example, lecturing employees on their punctuality won’t work if you’re routinely late to the office.
The best leaders are the ones capable of taking one for the team. This comes in many forms, from protecting your colleagues from external threats and attacks to enduring personal discomfort for the benefit of others. Outside of work, this could be as simple as taking the initiative to organise an event or cleaning up at a friends house after a party.
A good leader is always someone who’s willing to help. This could be as easy as connecting two individuals who would benefit from the introduction or taking up slack for a colleague experiencing a tough time. If you become to the type of person who goes out of their way to assist those around you, leadership status follows.
The willingness to sacrifice yourself is rewarded with respect. Shouldering the burden instead of ducking responsibilities shows you’re a person worth following. Also, you have to give respect to earn it back. Treating people well and investing in them, regardless of their social position, creates better relationships and reciprocity.
Perhaps one of the best ways of becoming a better leader is through genuine belief in your mission. Coupling this faith with an inspiring mission is a surefire way to recruit others to your cause. Starting a company with a determination to help customers and employees is a vision many can rally behind. Even on a personal level, a purpose to create a happy, nurturing family shines through.
One of the best books I’ve read on this topic is, ‘Leaders Eat Last’, by Simon Sinek, which follows a military tradition of senior officers waiting for the lower ranks to start eating before they tuck in.
It provides a simple, albeit, powerful message.
Putting others before yourself and making personal sacrifices is the best way to win respect and the opportunity to lead.
Bloomsoup offers business and executive coaching for emerging leaders.
Improving your professional expertise and executive presence has never been more important as markets trend toward increasing disruption.
In addition to improving your technical abilities, enhancing your soft skills can easily accelerate your career progress, allowing you to lead teams and deliver on your objectives.
Click here to see our coaching options.