How to Develop Exceptional Leadership Skills: A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Strong Leader
Published on: July 19, 2023
Are good leaders born or made? The true answer seems to be a mixture of both. While some people have intrinsic personality traits that make them natural leaders, learning how to develop leadership skills will help you add value and make you a better leader. If you’re wondering, “How do I develop leadership skills?” This article will help you start the process.
Why Should I Develop Leadership Skills?
Leadership skills can go far in advancing and developing your future career. The technical or hard skills you learn in school are helpful, but if you really want to push forward in your career, you need to learn how to lead people. You can develop leadership skills if you put in some effort, even if you are not a leader by nature. Doing so while you are a student will help improve your career in the future.
Understanding the Leadership Fundamentals
While there are people that are naturally good leaders, even these “natural-born” leaders must learn and hone their leadership skills.
Traits of a Good Leader
What makes someone a good leader? Here are a few examples of character traits that make someone an effective leader:
- The ability to manage conflicts
- The ability to motivate others
- The ability to delegate responsibilities
- Effective listening and communication skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Taking initiative
- Charisma and a positive attitude
If you want to be a better leader, these are some good leadership skills to develop. Your time as a student is a great opportunity to work on this goal.
Difference Between Leadership and Management
As you think about leadership, remember that leadership and management are not necessarily the same. While effective managers are often effective leaders, you can lead without taking on the role of a manager, and you can be a manager but a poor leader.
Leadership and management can work together, but they are not the same thing. According to the Harvard Business Review, management is the controlling of a group to reach a specific goal. Sometimes, management is managing the work of an organization. In contrast, leadership is someone’s ability to influence and motivate others to reach a goal. The goal may be for a business or organization, but it may also be for something completely outside of the world of work, such as leading people toward a political or societal goal.
Develop Your Leadership Skills
Leadership skills can take you far in your career, but how can you develop them? While programs are available to instill leadership skills in business professionals and students alike, there are also practical steps you can take right now to begin developing those skills, even without a formal program.
Seek Out Opportunities to Lead
When possible, look for opportunities to lead. Is there a club on campus that needs a president? Run for office. Do you see a community service opportunity in your local town? Get a group together to help, and then lead them in the work. Whenever you can step into a leadership role, even in a small capacity, take it, and work to grow your leadership skills with the opportunity.
Practice Communication and Active Listening
Good leaders are good communicators. Good leaders are also good listeners. Practice both skills as often as possible.
Communication starts with active listening, which is listening in a way that seeks to understand meaning and intent as well as the actual words being said. Active listening involves noticing non-verbal communication, paraphrasing what the other person says and stating it back to them, showing interest by using questions and being fully present in the conversation. All this takes practice, so use this skill whenever you are having a conversation with someone.
Once you’ve mastered or at least practiced the art of active listening, start looking at other areas of communication. Learn how to communicate with both your words and body language. Practice stating what you need or want in a clear, confident manner. Practice written communication as well. When you have these things down, you will be ready to lead more effectively.
Be Open to Feedback and Self-Reflection
In college, you will receive feedback in many areas of life, both in and out of the classroom. Be open to this feedback. When you can lead others, listen to their feedback about your leadership abilities.
Self-reflection is important for strong leaders. You must be able to take feedback and then reflect on yourself, your abilities and your strengths. You don’t have to accept all feedback critically and change yourself based on it. Self-reflection gives you a place to think through the feedback and decide whether it applies to you.
Nurturing Leadership Skills as a Student
As a student, you have specific opportunities unique to this time of life that can help you develop and nurture your leadership skills. By focusing on these now, you can prepare yourself for a leadership role in your future career.
Encourage Teamwork and Collaboration
Whether in the classroom or in your clubs and activities, learn to foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration in your fellow students. This is a leadership skill because good leaders inspire their teams to work well together. Good leaders also take their team members’ ideas, opinions, experiences, and skills into consideration when they are making choices.
Seek Leadership Roles in Extracurriculars
Take advantage of extracurricular programs while in school. Clubs, non-profit organizations, music groups, plays and sports can all help you flourish into a well-rounded person. When you have these opportunities, look for leadership roles within them. Being the club president, heading up a committee or taking a lead role in a play all give you a chance to practice your leadership skills while doing something you already enjoy.
Learn Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills
A final way to develop your leadership potential as a student is to learn problem-solving and decision-making skills. As a leader, making the more crucial decisions for your organization will fall to you. You will need to be able to think creatively about problems to help your team members solve them. By learning how to do this now as a student, you’ll be ready to tackle these responsibilities as a leader in the future.
Improve Your Leadership Skills as an Employee
As a student, you are probably working at least part-time to get through school. Your role as an employee gives you some chances to practice your leadership skills, as well.
Seek Out Mentors
Seek out leaders in your workplace who are willing to serve as a mentor for you. Ask them what you need to know to be an effective leader. Be teachable, and when they show you areas where you can improve, be receptive to that critique. If you become a leader while working with this mentor, ask them to provide feedback on your abilities.
A mentor can do two things for you. First, they can show you a real-life example of what it takes to be a good leader that people trust and follow. Second, they may be able to move you into higher leadership roles within the organization if they find that you are a teachable employee.
Read About Successful Leaders
Successful leaders have many common traits, so take some time to study successful leaders of the past. Some of these leaders may be people you admire, while others may be historical figures that amassed huge followings but for causes you may not agree with. What you are looking for when you read about these leaders is not the cause they supported but the leadership skills they employed to rally the people around them to their cause. Make notes about what worked and what didn’t as you read about these leaders.
Set Goals and Track Progress
Goal setting is a vital leadership skill, so learn to set goals and track progress, not only for yourself as a leader but also for your team if you move into a leadership role within your company. Goal setting keeps you and your team members focused on what you are trying to do for your employer. It prevents distraction, and it can also increase your creativity.
Put Your Leadership Skills Into Practice
Even as a student, you have opportunities to put these carefully developed leadership skills into practice. In your workplace, community and personal life, you have opportunities to practice your leadership abilities and get better at what you are doing.
Leading in the Workplace
When you go to work, start putting leadership skills into practice. Even if you aren’t a manager, you can lead the other team members. Here are some ideas:
- Lead by example: If something needs to be done, be the first one to step in and do it.
- Encourage teamwork: When a big task is brought to your group, lead the charge, but encourage your team members to come alongside and help, too.
- Keep a positive spirit: Leaders inspire through positive attitudes, so keep a positive spirit as you work through challenges in your daily work.
- Practice good communication: No matter whom you are communicating with, whether a customer or your manager, practice good communication skills, including active listening.
- Leading in Your Community
You can also practice leadership skills within your community, whether that’s your campus or your town’s community. Find places to volunteer or organizations to jump into, and then be a solid leader within those contexts. Once you find a place, here are some ways you can practice leadership skills:
- Take initiative: Is there a big project that needs someone to start it? Is there a committee that needs a chairperson? Jump on board and take the initiative.
- Step out of your comfort zone: Sometimes, community-based leadership roles aren’t in the comfort zone of the average college student. Be willing to jump in where you are needed.
- Start something new: Not only can you volunteer for leadership roles within existing organizations, but you can also volunteer to start something new. Do you see a need within your community that’s not being met? Be the one who steps up to meet it and organize a team to tackle the task.
Leading in Your Personal Life
How can you practice leadership skills in your personal life? There are several things you can do that will fine-tune your leadership abilities, even in your day-to-day life, including:
- Have self-discipline: If you are going to reach goals in your personal life and as a future leader, you will need to be self-disciplined. Meet deadlines. Keep a careful schedule. Learn to discipline yourself now, and you will be prepared for your future.
- Handle conflicts: Leaders will face conflicts. If you can learn how to handle personal conflicts well, you will be better equipped to handle them in a future leadership role.
- Think critically: Learn to foresee problems before they happen and to think through potential solutions. Your critical thinking skills apply to every area of life, and they will make you a better leader in the future.
- Learn to self-reflect: The ability to think about your weaknesses and strengths, and to make changes, accordingly, will reflect well on you as a future leader.
Your Future Starts Here
Developing leadership skills can also be something you do throughout your college experience, and Park University has several programs designed for career professionals who are ready to take on a higher level of leadership. For example, the Master of Education in Educational Leadership focuses on helping teachers improve leadership skills, as well as how to develop leadership skills in students. Many graduates of this program become administrative professionals within the education world.
The Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership helps business and communications professionals grow in their leadership abilities. We also offer a Master of Education in Organizational Leadership and Adult Learning, which is an award-winning program to help leaders in lifelong learning environments. If you’re not looking for a full degree program but want to add additional leadership skills to your repertoire, consider the Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership.