Leadership Skills for Life: A Complete Guide
What you’ll find as you move through school and into your professional career is that it takes a little bit of both at different points to get where you want to be. In the following article, we’ll be discussing two things about leadership skills in greater detail: why they’re important and how to become better at them.
Why It Is Important?
The world requires good leadership, more so now than ever. As a country, we’re divided in ways we’ve never been before. If you’re a student of history, you understand that deep divisions can occur and that the pendulum of values swings back and forth from left to right. But what many on the extremes won’t tell you, usually because they’re too busy jockeying for control, is that you can do great damage to a society if you’re hanging out on the extremes.
Extreme right-wing ideals warped into the lethal Nazi ideology. Extreme leftists led to the even more deadly rise of Josef Stalin and his ilk. Societies do not belong in the extremes. They belong in places where people of differing views can have rational conversations with one another. They belong in places where we can have fundamental differences and still call each other friend.
The only way our society can be on that trajectory is with leadership. So, to that end, here are some ways that it can personally affect you for the better.
1. Leadership skills help you for selfish reasons
When we’re born and start to develop, we think the world revolves around us. As we get older, we realize that it doesn’t. Leadership skills can help us process that realization in ways that help others and, in turn, help ourselves.
With a strong grasp of them, we can go further with our families, our friends, and our jobs. Without them, we go wherever the winds take us. We have no control over our own destinies.
2. They improve your world
We’ve touched on it already, but it bears repeating. Your ability to lead others (and yourself) will result in the world of tomorrow. What kind of world would you like that to be?
One person may not feel as though they can make a difference. But if enough people start to believe they can make a difference in their small corner of the world, that leadership quality will lead to stronger societies as a whole.
3. And make you a better follower
Why is it important to make you a better follower? How does following an order or a person have anything to do with leadership? Actually, the two are more connected than you might think.
Everyone follows at some point in their lives, and it’s a position that can come and go at different stages. When you embrace leadership skills, then you know what the person calling the shots is going through when you’re in the position of follower. That makes you more appreciative of big-picture thinking.
The ability to see the forest through the trees, so to speak, gives you the patience and the professionalism to take direction when needed. It also makes you ready for the big time when it’s your turn to step up and take a leadership position, even if you’re just a leader of one (yourself).
4. Learning to lead builds resilience
There are going to be things not go your way in life. You probably already know that. Leaders understand this, and it forces them to find ways through difficult scenarios. They know how to regroup. Rally the troops. Make new goals and objectives when the previous ones fall through. And find a path that will eventually lead to success.
This is called resilience, and it’s something everyone is going to need if you hope to navigate the rapids of life. That’s true regardless of your comfort level with taking charge.
5. The ability to lead controls fear
Being forced to take charge of a situation can be scary. This is true especially if you don’t consider yourself the type. But here’s a reality check for you. Fear is a sensation that everyone experiences, even when they seem like they have it together and know exactly what to do.
No one likes to think they’ll go down as a bust. They don’t want to be remembered as the guy who missed the winning shot or wrecked a once-successful business. However, never getting off the bench to see what you can do in the game of life will guarantee failure. So, you might as well take a shot at taking charge.
Stepping up to lead will get you used to a leadership role, and it will help you realize that even when things get tough, there is a path forward. That realization can make fear into an afterthought.
6. And it boosts the confidence you have in your decision-making
Confidence is an intangible thing. You can’t bottle it up, but you know it when you feel it. While it may be difficult to feel comfortable with your decisions when you start a new class or job, you’ll become better-equipped to actually succeed if you embrace it and start making decisions (even if they’re wrong).
In time, you’ll grow better in your knowledge and more comfortable stepping up to the plate. Before long, the hesitancy that derails many a would-be leader will drift away, leaving a stronger, more confident person behind every decision.
So How Can You Become a Better Leader
Now that you know why it’s important to embrace leadership skills, it’s time to think about what you can actually do to improve your ability. Quality leaders usually start in the same place, and they cultivate their abilities over time. Here’s how they do it.
1. Isolate a problem
Leadership without a problem is like a job without a paycheck. What the heck are you even doing it for? Luckily, we guess, the world is full of problems that need to be solved. You never know which one you’ll be best-suited to take on — at least, you won’t until you try.
Isolating a problem is easier to pull off when you know where your strengths and interests lie. If you’re not invested in anything, change that immediately. Explore what it is that grabs your attention. Ask, can this be done better? Ask yourself how you would do it. Give yourself permission to probe and experiment until you find a way you can help.
2. Brainstorm what needs to be done
Once you have highlighted a problem, turn your brain loose on it. Don’t worry about sequencing at this point. Don’t worry about getting it right either. The keyword is “experimentation.”
Just like it takes a few broken eggs to make a good omelet, it takes the daringness to be wrong to find new and better solutions. Find a way to get your ideas into something tangible. That’s all that matters at this point.
3. Develop a success mindset
The next thing you need to focus on is positive visualization. At this point, all you have to do is think it’s possible. Positive thinking requires no other physical effort and not even a full awareness of the moving parts that will be involved. You can afford to ignore the important stuff at this stage because you have to get into the correct mindset to be of any use down the road.
What are some things you can do to think more positively, particularly from a leadership perspective? Start by daydreaming the end result. What will success mean for you? What will it mean for the problem you’re solving? The people you’re helping? Explore it from every angle that you can. Next…
4. Work backward
Once you have a positive end result in mind, it’s time to backward-engineer it. What is the thing that happens just directly before success is achieved? What will have to happen before that? And before that? Create a reverse-action plan. As you do, it will become easier to take your success-mindset and turn it into an attainable goal.
Of course, you can’t start from the end. You have to work towards it. That’s where the next step will come into play.
5. Write down your action plan
If you did the last exercise, then you have a pretty clear idea of some action steps that you will need to take to get to your end destination. With those in tow, go back to the beginning and figure out how to get from the beginning to end and all points in between, in the proper order.
Take the time to gather a pen and paper and list it out. You’ll find at this point that some of the events may not go in the order you initially think. But the simple act of giving yourself permission to create a sequence will help you figure out what needs to go where, and it will lead to you feeling more fully prepared to take charge of a situation.
6. Play to strengths
The larger a problem is, the less you’ll be able to handle it on your own. More on what to do about that in a moment. For now, you’ve got to have an honest assessment of where your strengths are, as well as how they can factor into the situation at hand.
This is important because, when it comes to taking on a leadership role, you have to first step up and take action. This shows others that you’re willing to lead. If the willingness is there, others will follow.
7. Farm out what you can
Small issues could be handled on your own, provided that they are in your wheelhouse. But as a problem grows with time, so, too, does the need for outside assistance. But leaders have a role in this process because they have to know how to manage other talents with the goals and objectives to which they are the most suited.
This requires more than the ability to lead. It takes the ability to let go. You have to make decisions with the faith that others can pick up the slack. But you also have to have faith in yourself, that you have the ability to place others in the right positions. Don’t be timid about delegating. It’s how you can build a strong team around your leadership ability.
8. Listen more than you speak
Leaders act, but they don’t do so for the sake of it. To be effective, they understand that it’s necessary to take an overview and to listen to different viewpoints and opinions. Those outside stimuli help them to make educated decisions that move every effort towards success.
It also helps them to understand the balancing act necessary for getting others to work together. The next time you’re having a conversation with someone, be mindful of your words and actions. Try to mute them and let the silence do the talking for you. This will lead the other person to reveal something more real and rawer that can help you in being able to assess their future benefit to a task or challenge. Make it a habit to be slow to speak and quick to listen, and you’ll go further than you ever thought possible.
9. Focus on accomplishment instead of credit
The worst leaders are the ones who are opportunists, paying more attention to appearance than what actually gets done. They may get credit for a win or two, but they’ll ultimately lose the support of the people under them. To survive, they’ll always need to find other people that they can control.
Good leaders do not try to control others. They try to bring out their best qualities and create new leaders. That doesn’t happen with opportunists. They merely create resentment. Resentment ultimately leads to abandonment. Abandonment puts one into a perpetual, hit-or-miss cycle of team building.
10. Stick with one thing at a time
The last bit of leadership skills advice we can give is to think about a problem you’re trying to solve like it’s a knot. The knot looks like one woven ball of shoestring, impossibly constricted into a puzzle of despair. But it’s really several problems and misdirections happening at the same time. Not just one.
However, focusing on the overarching goal of untying that knot — that one goal — it will mean you solve the dozen other smaller problems that got in the way without thinking about it. You essentially end up solving the smaller problems in service to the larger goal. Lesson learned: intense focus on the big picture means the smaller issues will take care of themselves.
Leadership Skills Will Make Life Better
Leadership skills are not something every person possesses. In fact, few are born with it. They have to work at it. Without putting in the work, they will fail. The good news is that, following the steps listed above, you can hone and improve your leadership skills until you’re ready for each phase of life, no matter how challenging.
What are some of the leadership skills on this list that you need to work on? What did we leave off the list that needs to be here? Sound off in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by Air Force]