At some point, a great leader should be able to kick up their feet, declare that they’ve “made it” and rest on their laurels a bit, right? Not so fast.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an emerging leader or a seasoned pro — there’s always more to learn. You have to have higher expectations for yourself and never stop growing. So, let’s spend some time talking about how to improve your leadership skills no matter where you are in your career.
Never Stop Learning
Great leaders know they can never know enough. They continue to raise the bar and push out of their comfort zone to learn new tasks and practice new skills. They attend Webinars and workshops and maybe even seek out interesting podcasts focused either on leadership or their industry. They practice good time management to keep their skills sharp and their knowledge up to date.
Reading leadership books and biographies of effective leaders, especially those who faced exceptionally challenging times, can be both entertaining and enlightening. In fact, numerous benefits to reading have been reported, from lower stress levels to better decision making to improved focus. And those benefits aren’t exclusive to educational or nonfiction reading by the way. You get pretty much the same cognitive benefits if you’re reading a Bill Gates biography, a dystopian adventure, or a fantasy novel, so let yourself have a little fun in your reading. What’s most important is that you read on a regular basis to keep your brain stimulated and sharpen those analytical skills.
Don’t like to read? Or feel like you struggle to fit it in? It turns out listening to a book is as beneficial as reading it. Studies have shown that adults get similar long-term benefits by listening to audiobooks as they do by reading the printed word.
So, while it’s worth a little time to figure out which types of books work best for you in which medium, consider repurposing your treadmill or commute time to listen to Malcolm Gladwell, Brené Brown, or maybe even some J.K. Rowling. If you’re new to audiobooks, you might consider the memoir of an artist you admire who has narrated their own story. A familiar voice can be a great way to learn to love audiobooks.
Engage with Peers
There are few tools more valuable to you as a professional than a strong peer network. Beyond the benefits of identifying projects to partner on, sharing learning experiences, and finding out about opportunities, a strong peer group allows you to continually learn from people doing similar jobs. It helps you to keep up-to-date on cutting-edge industry trends and share leadership experiences. Conferences, local industry groups, and even community service organizations all provide experiences that make you a more effective leader.
And what about within your organization? What steps are you and your team members taking to stay sharp? By engaging in problem-solving activities with peers within your organization, you’re able to access the knowledge and experience of those who already know your work environment and all the players. Think of the time you’ll save by not having to explain all the ins and outs of a problem or situation but while still gaining an outside perspective that will help you better lead your team through tough situations.
Formal and informal approaches to peer learning help good leaders become great leaders. By engaging team members to provide direct and honest feedback while also encouraging each other along the way, you can all improve your leadership skills and create a more productive and positive work environment.
For years, people have good-naturedly (and sometimes not so good-naturedly) quoted George Bernard Shaw in saying “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” It has been shown, however, that learning by teaching others is actually a very effective method. A recent study’s results indicate that this is because when we teach we have to think back to what we had previously learned to effectively educate our students.
This is possibly the most effective way to continually improve your leadership skills: helping others become great leaders. When we challenge others to be better, we naturally hold ourselves accountable for doing the things we know good leaders do. Plus, coaching others means that great leadership stays top of mind even when the pressure’s on and distractions arise. We’re more likely to think about leadership styles to implement, strategies to share and helpful articles to pass on.
You don’t have to be the greatest leader ever to help others reach their own leadership potential. You probably don’t even have to be the best leader in your company. By understanding your own leadership style and struggles, you have the opportunity to help others who share similar difficulties, or even just those who are good leaders but want to become more effective leaders.
If you’re having some success as a leader, and you’re willing to put the time and effort into it, you have a real opportunity to help others apply best practices and create a happier and healthier team.
The Bottom Line
Great leaders (and great learners) are never done. By continuing to invest in your personal knowledge, engaging with your peers on a regular basis, and pouring into someone less experienced or successful in leadership, you can set the example for your team.
There’s always room for improvement, and these practices will allow you to continue developing your leadership skills each and every day.