It doesn’t matter if you are running a business, managing a team, or teaching a class–leadership skills are important. Some people seem to be born knowing what to do to inspire and lead people, but for most of us it doesn’t come that naturally.
Luckily for us, leadership isn’t a magical gift but a set of skills that you can acquire and practice. It may come more easily to some than to others, but it’s within reach of all of us. You just have to want it, be willing to work and dare to take a risk.
Wherever you are, whatever you do, here are 21 ways you can start to become a better leader today:
1. Manage your emotions. Your emotions give you energy. If they’re low, your energy is low; if they’re running high, you feel positive and optimistic. To be at your best as a leader, manage your emotions–when you do, you manage your energy too.
2. Develop your skills. If you don’t have the skills to lead, no title or position will ever make you into the leader you want to be. There’s only one way to become a better leader, and that’s to work on your leadership skills, develop expertise in your field, and discover the heart of what leadership is about for you.
3. Become a great communicator. Discipline yourself to understand what’s happening around you by observing and listening. A great leader is always a skilled communicator–not only as speaker but as a listener, someone who stays focused and tuned in to the nuance of a conversation.
4. Admit when you are wrong. It takes a strong, confident person to say they are wrong. Sometimes people think that admitting you’re wrong is a sign of weakness, but in fact just the opposite is true–the more honest and open you are, the more people will respect you as a leader.
5. Learn how to spot talent. A huge element of great leadership is knowing how to connect with the right kind of people–those who can move your vision forward and develop successful strategies. But hiring great individuals is only half the game; it’s just as important to understand how people of diverse backgrounds and abilities can best work together.
6. Be part of the team. There’s an acronym that says “team” stands for Together Everyone Achieves More, and great leadership comes from those who see themselves as part of a team, who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to support, help, guide and mentor.
7. Give credit where it’s due. It’s not uncommon to see someone in a leadership position take credit for the work of others, but true leaders are generous with credit. They know that any great accomplishment takes many people and talents.
8. Be a mentor, not a preacher. People are interested in growth and development; they want to know how they can do better and find their own path. As a leader your job is to mentor them, guide them and support them–not to boss them or preach to them.
9. Invest in people. To be a great leader, you need to start at the heart of what matters in your organization–and what matters is your people. If you want to see them happy, engaged, loyal and dedicated, make the time to invest in them, nurture them and provide them with a clear vision of what needs to be done.
10. Give freedom and be flexible. As long as people know how to get the job done right, stay out of their way. A leader who fosters freedom and flexibility gives people room to work in whatever way is best for them.
11. Be quick to praise. Praise people often and openly. Let others know when the work is well done, a job is completed with excellence and the results are great. But when it comes to feedback that’s focused on development and growth, do it privately. It’s likely to feel like a negative assessment, and no wants to feel they’re being berated in public.
12. Bond with your team. It’s easy for people to talk about wanting great teams, but that doesn’t happen by itself. It takes a leader who’s willing to get in the trenches and spend time working with their team to create the bond that great teams share.
13. Get out of your office. Come in early to get your work done while things are peaceful. Then, when everyone else arrives, get out of your office and connect with people. It’s an efficient way to balance the demands of a leadership role, and people feel good about their team when they can see a leader not only working hard but also being available and accessible. It’s a win-win.
14. Give the benefit of the doubt. Many of the bad things that happen in the course of a day or a week–a miscommunication, an uncomfortable moment, an act of disrespect–happen because someone is quick to judge and to give their opinion. The best leaders give the benefit of the doubt. They work on being fair and kind and on always giving people a second chance or the benefit of the doubt.
15. Stop micromanaging. Leaders who micromanage their teams are not allowing the talented to excel, the gifted to produce, and the experienced to make best use of their skills. If you want to be a better leader, step back and give people the room they need to do their best.
16. Have fun. Business may be serious, but the best leaders know how to build excitement and fun. They’re great at creating an optimistic culture and an enthusiastic environment–they know fun’s important when people are working hard.
17. Recognize the gifts of your people. Learn to quickly pick up on the gifts and strengths of your people. When you do, you’re best equipped to help them build on their strengths and grow in the most productive direction.
18. Hold people accountable. One of the biggest derailments of leadership happens when people aren’t held accountable. If responsibility and accountability are important to you, don’t let those who are slacking get away with it. You gain respect by sticking to your principles, and your team stays highly functional. It can’t get better than that.
19. Give trust to earn trust. When you trust, you send a message that you believe in people and have confidence in them. And, in turn, they’re more inclined to trust you.
20. Show compassion and care. Compassion helps to bridge the gaps between what the organization needs, what your people want, and what you can give. And it’s the leaders who show compassion who are the most admired.
21. Lead with love. Even the ancient Romans knew that love conquers all. Love your people, love your organization and love those you serve, and you’ll have discovered the secret of great leadership.