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Leader Generation: Developing Leadership Qualities In You and Your Team

What are the characteristics of a leader? And how can you develop leadership qualities in yourself while helping your team to grow, too?
by Jennifer Duffy | May 6 2019

While many of us will end up in leadership positions, not all of us are natural-born leaders. Luckily, there are key leadership qualities you can cultivate to make sure you make the most of your management skills.

Leader Generation Developing Leadership Qualities In You and Your Team

That doesn’t mean that every leader has to behave the same way, but there are some common threads and the characteristics of a leader can be developed and honed. You, too, can develop these skills and improve your own leadership qualities, to build your success and enhance the experience of your team.

One of the Most Essential Leadership Qualities? Empathy

In Radical Candor (2017), Kim Scott explores how a boss can be direct while still showing empathy. Her practice has two key concepts – caring about your employees and pushing them to be the best they can be. ‘Contrary to what some may think, a good working relationship is a highly personal one.’ Despite the stereotypical images of ball-busting managers, it is recommended to show caring and empathy in the workplace. This helps build better working relationships, and avoids creating a toxic culture.

It is important to understand your employees’ motivations. Supporting them working towards achieving their dreams and goals is also valuable. Having a growth plan for your employees will better your team and your project. You will also be contributing to creating leaders for the future in your field. As one of the most famous leadership quotes states, ‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.’

Get Honest

Scott recommends setting an example of radical candor in order to improve the conditions and atmosphere in the workplace. Good leaders work to be honest with their employees without hurting feelings or causing offence. Scott gives an example of when constructive criticism was helpful in her career, and points out the importance of speaking to employees about positives as well as negatives. This balance can help you communicate better. When practiced with empathy, honesty really can be the best policy.

Value Collaboration

It is better to think of working with your team rather than thinking of them working for you. They are an important resource in the workplace – by listening to their ideas and communicating with them openly, you can achieve far greater results. Teamwork will make your project more successful, and your leadership. Scott recommends finding out what your listening style is, and which style is most appropriate for your workplace. She writes about quiet and loud listening.
Quiet listening makes it comfortable for others to share their opinions, and making sure you are silent so others can speak up. Loud listening involves being more confrontational, and pushing others to contribute or react.

Lean Into Your Vulnerability

Brené Brown’s TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the top-five most viewed TED Talks, with over thirty million views. Brown’s book Dare to Lead (2018) is about getting rid of the power plays and strategies, and learning how to lead with courage. Brown points out that vulnerability and courage are inseparable, and that vulnerability forms a key part of creativity and innovation.

Brown shows the importance of exploring your feelings and your vulnerability. Then you can bring this empathy into your work. Vulnerability may not spring to mind as one of the top leadership qualities, but it feeds into improving communication and cooperation with your staff, and creating a healthy work environment.

Resilience is essential to great leadership

Failure isn’t a term we usually associate with leadership, but learning how to deal with failure and recover from it is an essential characteristic of leadership. Brown suggests resilience training early on in the management process to work on dealing with difficult challenges. This links with her assertion that you must shed perfectionism to be a courageous leader, seeking instead to always improve.

One of the under-valued characteristics of a leader is self-awareness. Knowing your strengths and your leadership style will make you a better leader. Self-awareness also means knowing your weak spots, and working with your colleagues to cover these, knowing when to delegate.

Lead By Being A Great Communicator

Strong communication skills are one of the essential qualities of a good leader. Different people communicate in different ways and being a leader is about knowing your employees and how to work well with them. Asking the right questions in the right way is a key quality of a good leader.

In Humble Inquiry (2013), the author Edgar H. Schein explores how to ask questions to your co-workers in a way that shows you value their perspective and input. He shows that communication within a team will make it stronger and more efficient. Good communication builds good relationships, fostering trust within your workplace.

Leadership quotes reflect the importance of strong communication skills. As presidential speechwriter James C. Humes said: ‘The art of communication is the language of leadership.’

Know Your Purpose

Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies (2006) by Nikos Mourkogiannis reminds us of the importance of values and purpose in gaining success. Inspirational leaders don’t get to where they are if they only care about the money. Mourkogiannis shows that success is built on more than ruthlessness. Purpose is essential in terms of creating long term goals for your business or project and keeping that momentum going. Purpose forms a solid basis for building your company or project, and forging relationships and strategies.

The notion of purpose is one also discussed in Bill George’s True North (2007). Having interviewed 125 leaders, the author found that authenticity and having a clear aim (or a True North) was what made for successful leadership. Bréné Brown points out that inspirational leaders achieve their success through having solid ideas of what their values are. Knowing your values can help you lead with integrity and purpose.

Great Leadership Means Supporting and Being Supported

We often think of leaders as individuals, but they need a strong support network to help them succeed. You can build up support networks in many areas of your life. Professionally, you can look to your team, your peers, or mentors in your field. Good leaders don’t go it alone. And, of course, don’t forget your personal support network. On a similar note, maintaining a work/life balance is essential. This will reduce the stress of leadership, and improve your quality of life. It will also renew your energy for your project, and a short break can be valuable in the long run

Think SMART

In Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO (2015), Beverly E. Jones relates the importance of planning – having achievable goals, and motivating yourself to get the career you want. She writes about the intrapreneur. This individual works within the larger goals of the company to achieve their own aims, seeing projects through. Keeping the bigger picture in mind and focusing on your long-term goals can cultivate a sense of stability and help you stay on track and not sweat the small stuff. Becoming a leader is a process of incremental change. Try creating SMART goals for yourself. These are Smart, Manageable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely goals.

Cut out the BS

We sometimes consider leadership as a trait, or a series of traits that make someone a “natural” leader. Chris Hirst takes a different approach in his book No Bullsh*t Leadership (2019). Rather than something inherent, leadership, according to Hirst, is a skill. And, like any other, it requires practice and the acceptance of a certain amount of uncertainty as you grow and improve your leadership abilities. Part of this requires an emphasis on action versus thinking too much about a given decision and the capacity to evaluate their success or failure afterwards.

Ultimately achieving a balance between the professional and personal is how to develop leadership skills. Bring some of your personal skills of empathy and communication into the workplace, and be professional about organizing your support network and downtime. You can check out these titles, and many more, on Blinkist.

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