Some of us are natural-born leaders; the rest of us have to figure it out along the way.
If your goal is to become a better leader in your office or your field, but you’re finding it a struggle, then maybe it’s because you’re focusing on the wrong things. It’s important to understand the process of actively developing leadership qualities and skills over time. Leadership isn’t something that randomly pops up due to genes or suddenly appears when it’s needed. Great leaders aren’t made overnight; you’re better off developing a plan on how to get there and taking it day by day. Here’s some advice that might help:
1. Learn how to listen
Unfortunately, too many people make the false assumption that good leaders are proficient at talking and barking out orders. This is not the case. The best leaders are people that have recognized the value of listening. They try not to speak without first thinking carefully. If you want to be a stronger leader, you’ll need to hone your listening skills. The problem with most conversations is that too many of us spend most of the time either talking or thinking about what we’re going to say next when the other person is speaking. So even though the other individual may carry half of the conversation, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re listening during that half. Dr. Ar Markman, a psychology and marketing professor at The University of Texas, frequently points out, “When you focus on your next contribution, you may miss the emotion behind what is being said… You need to listen fully to what the other person is saying and respond accordingly. If you don’t have the answer, tell the truth. The other person will respect you much more if you avoid dishing out poor advice just for the sake of having something to say.”
2. Become a good storyteller
If you want to be an effective leader, you must be a good communicator. But remember that communication is more than just talking to people. Effective communication involves strategic storytelling. “A good story is compelling, has a beginning, middle, and end, and is relevant to its audience,” says leadership development firm Esprit de Corps. “Whether you’re telling your brand story or simply explaining an important concept, people are hardwired to seek out the narrative in what you’re saying. Make sure they can find it.” The sooner you learn how to communicate as a storyteller, the quicker you’ll be able to influence people and shift them in the right direction.
3. Lead by action and example
An effective leader never orders anyone to do anything he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. If you’re going to expect certain things from your followers, then it’s imperative that you lead by action and example. You don’t actually have to do everything on your own, but if you occasionally reach down and contribute to mundane tasks and entry-level work, you’ll gain the respect of your employees and possibly even learn a thing or two in the process.
4. Really get to know people
If there’s one thing that separates an average leader from a great one, it’s the ability of the latter to build meaningful relationships with their colleagues and followers. Average leaders know little more than people’s names and positions, but great leaders dig beneath the surface and forge personal relationships.
If you want people to respect you, then you have to care about them as individuals. Stop seeing employees as names on the payroll sheet and start seeing them as mothers, fathers, artists, and skilled professionals. This will change your entire outlook and the way they look at you too.
5. Commit to being better
Leadership isn’t something that can thrive independent of effort. If you want to become a strong leader and maximize the talents and abilities of your followers, then you have to make a concerted effort to mold yourself into the person you want to be. Keep these tips in mind as you grow. It may take some time and plenty of patience, but you’ll eventually see the results of your hard work.
Author: Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.