Whether you’re the entrepreneur of a growing startup, the de facto captain of a small team within your company, or the president of a local community group, your success will depend on your leadership abilities. Growing into a better leader can help you get a better performance out of your team members, get closer to achieving your goals, and can even help you advance to a higher position.
The question is, how can you become a better leader?
Develop Your Own Leadership Philosophy
“Better” leadership is hard to define. The qualities that make a great leader in one organization may make a terrible leader in another organization. While there are some definite no-nos to avoid and universally positive qualities to embody, you also need to find your own leadership style and philosophy.
What kind of leader do you want to be? Do you want to be a mostly hands-off, laissez-faire type of leader who encourages independence and autonomy in your employees? Or would you prefer to be a hands-on, coaching type of leader who’s deeply involved with your employees’ work? Neither of these approaches is “right,” but they often work better in certain industries, within certain teams, or for certain types of people. It’s on you to figure out which approach suits you better.
Education doesn’t necessarily make you a better leader, but it certainly helps. Learning more about your industry can make you more knowledgeable, and therefore better capable of helping your teammates achieve a better performance. And learning about a wide range of different subjects can make you more empathetic and more creative.
Education doesn’t stop when you get a degree, either. Continue taking classes and pushing the limits of your own knowledge throughout your development as a leader.
Next, consider getting certification. Depending on your industry and the nature of your leadership position, certification could introduce you to new norms, ethical structures, and considerations that can make you a stronger leader. According to efficientlearning.com, for example, you can become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and get access to principles and concepts that can make you into a more knowledgeable and capable accounting leader.
Find a Mentor
Great leaders often learn from great leaders. While it’s entirely feasible to develop your own leadership strategy organically, from the ground up, you might learn faster or be exposed to more diverse concepts by working with a mentor.
You can find a mentor through networking or by specifically applying for a mentorship program. Either way, you’ll eventually find a match and learn from someone who has been developing their leadership abilities for years (if not decades).
Read and Review Other Leaders
Your mentor may be able to teach you a lot of fundamentals about leadership, but they’re still only one voice – and they probably represent only one leadership style. If you want to become a more robust, diverse leader, it’s important to read and review other leaders.
The easiest way to do this is to read books and listen to podcasts by successful people. You can also study their approach by reading interviews, researching their biographies, and learning from the people who have worked with them in the past.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Try to keep a positive attitude, even when things get tough. Your optimism will help you find solutions for even the toughest problems and keep you from experiencing too much stress. On top of that, your positive attitude will be contagious; if you’re consistently optimistic, your team members will likely follow suit, resulting in a much more positive (and therefore productive) work environment for everyone. If you’re not feeling especially positive, fake it.
Admit Your Mistakes
Don’t be afraid to admit your own mistakes and imperfections. Doing so takes humility and confidence, but it has a few different positive effects. For starters, freely acknowledging your weaknesses gives you a chance to improve them; if you already believe you’re perfect, you’ll never spend time improving anything. Instead, you’ll remain stagnant indefinitely.
Admitting mistakes to others is also a powerful tool to build trust. When your team members see you as a genuine and transparent human being, they’ll be much more likely to respect you, trust you, and open up to you about mistakes and weaknesses of their own.
Encourage Leadership in Others
Leadership shouldn’t be about forcing everyone else to work the way you want them to. It should be about inspiring people to be their best. In most cases, this means it’s incredibly valuable to encourage other people to be leaders in their own right.
You may think you have the right process down already, but there might be something even better you can try. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest as a leader to experiment frequently. Try out new styles, new techniques, and new approaches, and observe your results. Over time, you’ll cultivate a much better collection of leadership tactics.
Finally, take the time to collect feedback. Leaders often spend a lot of time giving feedback to their team members, helping them identify their strengths and weaknesses while guiding them to improve. But it’s just as important to take feedback from them.
In periodic reviews, ask your employees to give you their honest opinions about your leadership style and approach. Which of your approaches seem to get favorable results? Which ones fall flat? Are there things you could be doing better? Collect these answers anonymously as well as in one-on-one interviews.
You don’t have to act on every piece of advice you receive, but if you notice a general trend across several team members, it’s probably worth looking into.
Whatever type of leader you want to be, you’ll get closer to achieving that vision if you’re passionate and serious about your work. If your leadership development is a top priority for you, and if you’re willing to put in extra hours and extra effort, it’s only a matter of time before you become a stronger leader in your own right.