Career Development

How to Develop Leadership Skills Before You Have a Leadership Position

If you want to assume a leadership position at work, going to school online for a BA in Management can help you develop the practical and technical skills you’ll need for such a position. But academic learning won’t teach you all there is to know about being a leader, because many leadership skills are soft skills, gained through experience interacting with other people. You won’t learn much about developing the key personality traits of a leader through classroom learning.

But that’s okay, because the workplace offers plenty of real-life opportunities to hone your leadership skills. Great leaders know how to motivate the people working under them, and they’re experts at self-discipline as well as keeping others disciplined. They have critical thinking skills, and know how and when to delegate tasks to others. They’re good listeners, and demonstrate personal qualities that include self-confidence, humility, extraversion, emotional intelligence, assertiveness, courage, and flexibility.

Determine Your Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses

Even if you’ve never held a leadership position in your life, you probably have some natural leadership strengths and weaknesses. Take a leadership style quiz to get some idea of how you’re inclined to lead, and what areas of your leadership style might need improvement. Researchers have identified several styles of leadership, each with its own drawbacks and advantages. You’ll need to change your leadership approach based on each individual group member’s needs in specific situations. An authoritative style might be best for a group member who doesn’t know how to proceed, while a delegative style might be better suited to a group member who knows more than you do about a particular issue.

Work on Your Self-Discipline

Even the best idea will wither up and die if there’s no discipline behind it. You need discipline to be a good leader and to inspire discipline in members of your team. The people working under you probably won’t feel terribly inclined to work hard themselves if they see you shirking. You may think that self-discipline is something you either have or don’t have, but in fact it’s a behavior that can be learned. It’s all about establishing good habits and removing bad ones.

Know When to Delegate Tasks

A good leader makes it a point to get to know the people working beneath him or her, and to understand each team member’s skill set. That way, you’ll know when a particular team member has more knowledge or expertise in an area than you do. When that happens, it’s time to delegate tasks to that team member.

You’ll also need to practice delegation to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed in your own job. In many leadership positions, you’ll have specific responsibilities that only you can handle. Allow team members to take over responsibilities they’re capable of tackling, so you’ll be free to handle your own.

Learn How to Motivate Others

As you’ll discover when you go to school for your BA in Management, good leadership is largely about motivating others to work harder. In order to motivate your team, you’ll need to spend time learning what they need and want. Motivation tends to flag when employees aren’t getting what they need out of a job, and the needs aren’t always monetary.

Sometimes employees want a little recognition for their work, a change from boring repetitive tasks, some scheduling flexibility so they can address personal issues in their lives, or the chance to get more involved with projects going forward. Sometimes doing something as simple as sharing a motivational quote can inspire others.

Good listening skills are essential; a good listener maintains eye contact, avoids distractions, and responds in ways that show he or she has heard the speaker’s concerns. Remember to be aware of body language. It’s a huge part of nonverbal communication, and will give you valuable insights into what people really mean.

Build the Right Personality Traits

Good leaders have a number of personality and character traits that help them motivate and guide others. You’ll need to be self-confident, but also humble — share credit with others, admit when you’re wrong, and avoid being pompous or bombastic. You’ll need high emotional intelligence to guide your team members and give feedback without hurting their feelings, and so you can be appropriately assertive without lacking tact.

If you’re naturally extraverted, that will help you get involved with the group members, but if not, you can fake it by making a conscious effort to be friendly and involve yourself in group activities. You’ll need the courage to take risks and put forth new ideas, and the flexibility to adjust rapidly to change.

Many of the skills and traits you need to be a successful leader can’t be learned in school, but you can work on developing these skills in all your interactions with co-workers and even friends. With a little work on your character and leadership style, you’ll soon find yourself ready to take on whatever new challenges come your way.

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