Not every organization needs a leader to function properly, but a good leader is a valuable asset for any organization. However, being a leader is not the same as being a boss, despite the fact that many bosses take this for granted. It takes more than a place of authority to lead a group of people in a pursuit of a common goal. While being in a position to manage people does not guarantee that a person will perform this task well, the good news is that leadership is a skill like any other, and can therefore be studied and perfected. Contrary to what seems to be the trend nowadays, this doesn’t necessarily involve taking ‘leadership’ seminars or reading manuals on the topic. Being a leader for the most part involves developing those competencies which allow a person to connect with their peers, creating a bond of trust that enables an efficient division of labor. In the rest of this article, we will focus on three such skills, and offer some suggestions on how to cultivate them.
- Diversify your knowledge. Leadership is equal parts know yourself, and knowing others. Your job is to guide a group of people towards a common goal. To do this, a leader needs to properly understand the skills of each of his team members. It is not enough to be aware that your PR specialist ‘talks to media’, or that your developers ‘write code’. But it would also be too much to ask of a leader to know the intricacies of every team member’s job. A good leader should know enough about the kind of work each team member performs, to understand how it relates to what everyone else is doing. In practice, this includes knowing basic technical facts, time-frames for job completion, average stress levels which job work entails, and other facts. In other words, a leader should be something of a jack-of-all-trades.Becoming sufficiently proficient in multiple areas can seem like a difficult task, but nowadays there are ways to bring a person up to speed in any subject. For example, services like Ted Talks, Coursera, Udemy or Lynda cover everything from accounting seminars and web-development boot-camps, and even leadership training. Use them to get a better handle on the work your team members are doing.
- Learn how to talk with people. Communication is the bedrock of any organization. If team members are not engaging with each other on a regular basis, the flow of information within the group will get stifled. And without access to pertinent information, no one can perform their work properly. A leader is in a unique position with regards to communication. By definition, he has to be able to interact with every other member of the organization. Equal engagement is necessary to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the overarching goals of the organization. Therefore, a leader has to learn how to talk with other team members on equal grounds.There numerous ways an up and coming leader can brush up on his conversation skills. He can sign up for an English course at a language school if he is a non-native speaker, to minimize miscommunication that results from poor phrasing. He can practice body language in front of the mirror to ensure he is utilizing all multiple channels of communication. He can observe how people behave in various social situations, taking notice of how people respond to certain topics. And perhaps most importantly, a leader should develop a strong sense of empathy, so he can authentically reach out to other members of the organization. Learning how to talk is important, but one should be aware that is always talking to living, breathing people.
- Be prepared to take responsibility. A lot of people consider leadership to be a privilege. History textbooks regularly present kings, generals and politicians as great leaders of men, as individuals who have somehow transcended the people they are leading. This transcendence is then taken to be a sing of greater worth, and becomes something to be coveted as such. The truth of the matter is that this kind of attitude can be extremely detrimental to the practice of leadership.A leader with an inflated sense of self-importance will start to think he is not serving an organization, but that the organization ought to serve him. It should be obvious how this clashes with motivations of other members of an organization. Instead of thinking that it is all about him or her, a leader should realize that he is a member of a team same as everyone else. He has value only insofar his skills can contribute to the whole. And the most important skill a leader can have is nothing other than responsibility. Rather than others being responsible to him, a leader should be ready to take responsibility for every action that the organization takes as a whole, good or bad. Carrying this burden is the reason why people accept to be led in the first place, so cultivating the strength of character to do so should be a top priority for aspiring leaders.