Leadership Skills : How Do We Acquire Them?
Are we taught leadership skills, or are we expected to acquire them from thin air?
We are trained in our professional skills.
We are expected to make mistakes, be supervised, and taught. The learning and teaching is gradual, layered, repeated. We have a mix of teaching and doing. We develop our expertise as we go.
Is this also true for our leadership, management, and behavioural skills?
For many, the answer is no. We discover we are meant to have somehow acquired, or absorbed, them into us (sometimes overnight).
Do any of these sound familiar as skills you might be expected to have had?
- The ability to deal with the many things competing with our time.
- The ability to talk in a reassuring way when someone is struggling.
- The ability to stay calm and respond with self awareness when someone does something that conflicts with our values or expectations.
- The ability to deal with the passive-aggressive, aggressive, unwilling, reluctant, intrusive, lack of action, overly enthusiastic, naysayers, and everything in-between, behaviours from someone who we lead or manage, a peer, clients, or our own bosses.
- The ability to manage projects, communicate effectively, read between the lines, motivate teams and individuals.
- The ability to coach, teach, mentor and handle difficult situations with ease.
- The ability to become all knowing and give effective feedback on promotion.
Perhaps you have come across other expectations?
Where do we learn?
The challenge, is how do we become skilled in these areas? Especially when, quite often, we:
– receive little or no training to cover the basics, nor offered repeat training to keep it fresh, and enhance our skills.
– have limited sight of these skills being carried out, if at all, to learn through observation. Or if we do, they perhaps aren’t carried out well.
– may not need to use these skills all that often, as such we don’t have an opportunity to develop them thoroughly.
– find that even if we do need to use these skills regularly. When we aren’t sure how to move forward, or want to learn how take a new or different approach, or something doesn’t go to plan. We don’t have anyone to talk things through, gain feedback, support, or new ideas. This becomes even more significant as we move into senior roles.
If this is your experience here are six tips to help develop leadership or management skills:
1. If you are doing it in your own time, or in addition to training covered at work. Be specific. Then focus your attention on that particular skill to maximise the time you dedicate to it. Read books, go online for free and/or paid webinars, watch video clips with a practical application. Find training sessions or days to attend. Times, locations, and pricing varies for flexibility.
2. If possible, and needed for sign off, talk to your organisation. Explain what you want to learn to do well and how you think that can be implemented in the short and long term (do some research, ie for training opportunities with costs and dates). Be clear why it’s important to you and how it benefits the organisation. Plan ahead for future role or promotion commitments.
3. Ask to have greater visibility of others who are doing something you want to learn. Shadow them on a project. Share an office so you can listen in to calls, sit it on meetings. Attend focused networking events for idea exchange if more senior.
4. Find a mentor who does it well and ask them to share their wisdom. Even if they can’t mentor you as ongoing support, ask to book a meeting. Arrive with clear and specific questions about what you want to know. This might include what is coming up or how they may have dealt with a recent situation, you faced, differently. They don’t need to be within your workplace.
5. Choose a colleague, or find a trained coach, that you can talk through any situation. What happened, is happening, what went well, what didn’t, what was unexpected, what can be improved upon, and how. Set up regular conversations rather than it only being at times of crisis. Ask them to be honest about what you might not be noticing or may have fed into the situation.
6. Keep going. It can be discouraging when we try something new, which took courage, or felt complicated, and then it didn’t work how we intended. In the same way as our other work and life. Until we put what we have learned into practice, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we are unlikely to cover all eventualities. We learn through trial and error.
Leadership through thin air?
It might sometimes feel like it, but with some clarity on the skill, focused direction, support, and repeat learning, those skills can develop like all others.
Leadership skills, what will you do next?