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How to improve your leadership skills for work

A recent survey showed that employers rate leadership skills among the top skills they look for but which graduates lack.

If you’re scratching your head wondering how on earth you can improve your leadership skills before you start work you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we look at the qualities which make up a good leader and give you some pointers on how you can nurture these skills.

What makes a good leader?

A good leader is someone you admire and look up to, someone you trust and believe in. “Inspirational” and “visionary” are two words people often use when talking about good leaders. This is because they create a vision their team believes in, and inspire others to work towards this vision because they believe in it.

Gandhi, Angela Merkel, Nelson Mandela and are often held up as being among the best leaders. However, a good leader can be someone a lot more everyday. Think of a person you admire and believe in, and who inspires you to be the best person you can be – they could be a parent, friend, teacher or family member.

Although the “inspirational visionary” is perhaps the most recognisable and well-respected kind of leader, different leadership styles are suited to different situations. Sometimes, a strong and autocratic style of leadership can be an effective approach. Usually, leaders like this command little respect as they tell people to act in a certain way rather than inspiring them to do so.

'Good leaders inspire others with a vision, but practice can improve your leadership skills'

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What are leadership skills?

Rather than being one single thing, leadership is a collection of skills and attributes. Some of the qualities than make up leadership are:

  • Vision: We’ve already talked about vision but this is perhaps one of the most important leadership skills. The ability to see the bigger picture and identify important goals is vital to good leadership.
  • Initiative: Being able to predict problems and obstacles before they occur, and acting to stop them. Initiative is also about seeing how to make improve the way things are done and taking action to make things better.
  • Responsibility: True leaders take responsibility for their decisions and actions, and those of their team.
  • Ownership: When faced with a problem, a good leader will own it and think creatively to come up with a solution – or inspire their team to work together to do so.
  • Teamwork: A good leader understands the strengths of the different members of their team – and knows how to nurture these strengths. This enables the team to work together to achieve their best.
  • Reflection: Good leaders reflect on their experiences – in particular, their mistakes – and learn from them.
  • Communication: Being able to get your ideas across clearly and passionately is important to being a good leader. It’s also important to give others a fair say and make a judgement about what is right and what is wrong – while making everyone feel listened to.

How can I improve my leadership skills?

Sounds tough, doesn’t it? Well, here are some words of encouragement – few people become good leaders overnight. As with so many things, leadership skills are honed through practice.

See the bigger picture

Why is seeing the bigger picture important to good leadership? Because to lead well, you need to have a strong vision of what you want to achieve. With this vision, you can begin to inspire others to work towards your goal.

In a game of football, the aim is clear: to win the match by scoring the most goals. In life, the aim isn’t always so clear. How often do you think about why you’re studying the subjects you’re taking at school, and how they connect to one another?

Try to see the bigger picture in your own life by thinking about your career plans. How do your studies relate to this? What about the activities you do outside of school? Maybe you have other aims which your studies and activities support as well.

Improve your other skills

Break leadership skills down into the individual qualities it’s made up of. You can practice skills like communication, teamwork and initiative separately. These are important components of leadership, which means that improving each of these skills will make you a better leader. Use our individual articles to practice these skills.

Practise your leadership skills

You’ve probably found at school or college that some people like to take charge of group situations. You’ve probably know already that this doesn’t necessarily make them a good leader – good leadership is about much more than having the loudest voice!

Next time you’re facing a group challenge, practise bringing your leadership skills together:

  1. Think about the challenge you face and what your goals are (vision).
  2. Explain your thoughts to the group, and encourage others to join in with figuring out your goals (communication, teamwork, vision).
  3. Consider any obstacles you might face and how you could overcome them (initiative, ownership).
  4. Never blame others if things don’t go to plan, particularly if it’s the result of a suggestion you’ve made (responsibility, ownership).
  5. Instead, think about how you might make the best of the situation as you find it to achieve your goals (reflection, ownership).

Becoming a good leader isn’t easy – but you don’t have to be the next Barack Obama! By focusing you on the individual qualities which make up your leadership skills, you’ll improve many of the important attributes employers look for as well as becoming a better leader.

Good leadership is all about inspiring trust and admiration – but some of us would just settle for being a good colleague! Find out how to be an interesting person to work with.