There will be a time in your career where you start to think, I have been doing what I’m assigned really well. I would like to do more. Maybe this time, I should lead people.
What do you think you need, in order to start working on leadership? Attend a leadership course?
Read a book? That is a good start.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was one place where you could go to find out what you needed to become a good leader?
I may not be able to show you that one stop shop for leadership. But I have been on this quest for a while too and found some useful tools along my journey.
One of the first and foremost skills required to step up to leadership is to learn self-management/self-leadership.
What is self-management?
It is the ability to lead and motivate yourself to set your own goals and work towards achieving them thereby demonstrating that you have the ability to achieve what you set as target, by being in control of your emotions and behaviour.
You might wonder why this is so important. If you thought that being a leader is about following your leader then you have clearly misunderstood what leadership is.
Self management is important because that is what helps you achieve your personal and professional goals. You demonstrate this and you lead by example. Thereby demonstrating to those around you that you are capable of leading others.
What can I do to get better at self management?
This is not an easy thing to do and it requires reflection on oneself. This being difficult and time consuming, gets ignored entirely.
Some of the most important skills you need to be better at self-leadership are:
- Self awareness
- Motivation and dedication
- Social skills
- Decision making skills
This is an underrated skill. Please do not misunderstand this as being self-conscious. There is a big difference. Conscious and aware maybe synonyms but self-consciousness is an unhealthy, preoccupation that makes an individual cautious about everything they do.
Being self-aware however, is to understand yourself, your goals, your strengths, your weaknesses. A good way to find out how self-aware you are is your ability to do a good objective self-assessment, which often leads to improved self-confidence and development.
This also helps keep your emotions and thoughts in check and ensures that you behave in a way that is socially acceptable and inspire those around you. The more self aware you are, the more considered your responses will be.
Motivation and dedication
Motivation is the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal oriented behaviours. It is what makes you act or work towards achieving something. It is the force that drives you forward in the face of obstacles. Leaders are good at overcoming obstacles because they are extremely motivated to achieve their goal. One of the things you need to become a good leader is to be driven - constantly, whatever comes at you or your team.
The goal may look impossible but showing that you trust your team to accomplish it, supporting them when they need you to unblock them, and asking them for regular updates to understand how to coach them to get to the goal, is an essential trait of a leader. One can only do this if they are driven to get to the goal too and not freak out in the first sign of an obstacle.
Dedication on the other hand is the commitment to doing or achieving something. This helps you stay motivated.
This is another one, the skill to build rapport, make strong connections with others and to maintain those relationships. Starting with building trust and respect to hold their team together, to resolve conflicts, to influence decisions, to arrive consensus etc. This is a given, but there are so many leaders who shy away from building this rapport. This is not just the connection you make with one of your direct reports. It is about encouraging the team to build a rapport among themselves. Hanging out together, having team lunches or dinners, solving problems together - this includes discussing solutions to the problems that need solving, reflecting on the ways of working together and seeking out ideas from the team and appreciating the ideas and keeping an open mind to suggestions of change, showing the willingness to try out suggestions from team members and steer based on what is learned!
Your social skills are not just valuable in building your team. It is extremely important to build a support network among other leaders in the organisation to help overcome obstacles, reduce friction or even come together when there is a fire to put off. These leaders maybe your peers or leaders who you report to.
“The ability to understand and be sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objective manner” - that is the dictionary definition of empathy.
This ability gives you the strength to respond appropriately and respect the other person’s point of view. This is vital in order to build genuine connections with the people they are leading.
Leading without empathy causes distrust, and over a period of time, lack of motivation among those reporting to you.
Empathy is at the heart of leadership, every decision made by you, as a leader, affects someone or the other reporting to you. So you have a responsibility to understand the effects of the decisions. What better way to do this than developing a connection with those working with you. Find out what they like or not, understand what’s going on beyond their work life that could affect their work, check-in on them when they are just back from an accident or injury, these are important ways to show that you empathise with your coworkers.
A leader must always be accountable for their thoughts, decisions, actions and their team’s outcomes. Whether you like the outcome or not, you were in charge, hence you must own the outcome. Thus finding someone or something to blame is the wrong thing to do in leadership. Look back and consider what you could have done to help your team achieve the desired outcome. Admitting the mistake openly and taking ownership to ensure that every effort will be made to not repeat it, helps your team understand that it is okay to make mistakes but important to own the outcome and learn from it.
Influence and persuasion
The ability to influence others by inspiring them to model positive, productive and helpful behaviour. Those who are led, often look to their leaders for the right way of doing things. Thus being a good inspiration to your team helps inspire the behaviours you desire from them too. Showing up on time, seeing the positive side of a mistake that you made, celebrating failures/mistakes as lessons learned instead of complaining about them, and so on are just some examples that come to my mind at the moment.
In order to be able to influence someone, you need to be able to build trust with them and understand their motivations. These will help you understand what best to guide them to get the desired outcome.
This is where I always come back to practice what you preach.
The ability to influence will help you persuade others to doing what is right for the team and organisation too. This is why I have combined them together. I appreciate these are a lot easier to state here than to put into practice but if you don’t try you will never get there.
No leader would have all the information required to make a decision. However, if they sought just enough information from their team, they would be able to get to a decision. Self awareness helps a good leader understand when to seek input from their team/peers and when to make a call. This also means being open minded, prepared for changes and challenges, would in turn help one to be able to respond effectively and efficiently as they arise.
The higher go up your career ladder, you higher the likelihood that those reporting to you will know more about the problem and domain than you do. This is a fact and must be left that way, so that you can empower them to make the right choices. Understanding that you don’t have to make every decision on your own and can rely on the leaders that report to you, will help you make better decisions.
These are the skills/traits that came to my mind when I was discussing leadership roles with my peers. This pretty much nails what I look for when I hire technical/engineering leaders. I am sure a lot of these skills are necessary to lead people even if the role isn’t technical or engineering related. If you haven’t noticed already, the skills required for self-leadership is often the same required to lead others! So I think, I strongly believe that if you can’t lead yourself, you will struggle to lead others.
This article was inspired by
- Career Advice on leadership - https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/self-leadership
- Why self-awareness: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/self-awareness-in-leadership
- Emotional intelligence: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/emotional-intelligence
- Many conversations with leaders and videos around leadership I found online and the mistakes I have made along the way.