When you’re aspiring to a leadership role but perhaps not yet in one, developing the skills you need to be successful can seem like a Catch-22: How do you become a great leader when you haven’t yet had the opportunity to lead?
And developing leadership talent matters. A February 2018 DDI study found that organizations that develop high-potential talent below senior levels are 4.2 times more likely to financially outperform organizations that don’t based on a matrix of factors. Developing leaders can have a widespread effect throughout the organization.
But whether your company has thorough development programs or takes a more laissez-faire approach, the reality is that every day, you have opportunities to hone your leadership abilities, says Libby Gill, founder of leadership coaching firm Libby Gill & Company and author of The Hope-Driven Leader: Harness the Power of Positivity at Work. Often overlooked, these simple practices in your everyday life can help you on the job as well.
Make More Intentional Decisions
One simple practice Gill advocates is to begin being more intentional about your decisions. Whether it’s your relationships, finances, health, or other areas that matter in your life, be more thoughtful about what you’re doing and whether you’re making the best choices, she says. As you cultivate more mindfulness in decisions and actions you may be taking for granted or dismissing, the practice will help you develop a stronger sense of self and identity, which will also help you in the workplace, she says.
“You’ve got to be a leader in your own life and that sounds obvious, but some of us just sort of float along, while others who are the real leaders make specific and intentional decisions that serve not only our best interests, but those of the peoples in our lives,
Cultivate A Diverse Network
Recent Boston Consulting Group research found that companies reporting above-average diversity on their management teams enjoyed innovation revenue that was 19% higher than those with below-average diversity (45% versus 26%).
Just as there are benefits to cultivating diverse teams, there are benefits to having people with varied backgrounds and life experiences in your life, says social scientist, speaker and coach Frank Niles, PhD. Make cultivating a diverse network a goal in your personal life. Getting involved in your community and becoming acquainted with different people will lead to surprising outcomes, often professionally, he says.
Get involved in community organizations, a church, or other groups where you’re likely to meet people who have different experiences and backgrounds. Being around people who have varied experiences can expand your thinking and teach more about yourself, he says.
Listen And Communicate—Even When It’s Tough
How often do you tune out certain people in your personal life? Yet listening is an essential skill if you’re going to be a leader, Gill says. Who better to help you perfect that skill than the people who may challenge your listening ability sometimes?
“Put your gadgets away, look them in the eye, nod, listen, reflect what they have to say so they know, not only that you’ve heard them, but that you’ve understood them,” she says.
Additionally, while many of us take great pains to communicate clearly at the office, we may slack off a bit when we get home. Niles says that in working with leaders across a broad range of organizations, one of the things that most often derails careers is not technical performance, but the way in which they relate to other people, he says. There is often a code of conduct in the office that defines expectations in the way people communicate. Without that “safety net,” personal relationships offer an opportunity to improve how we receive, process, and relay information for the best outcome, he says. And with better listening and communication, we may also find that our relationships improve, too.
Take The Lead
Get involved with a cause you care about and raise your hand when a leadership opportunity arises, Niles says. When he was in graduate school, he volunteered in a local faith community. He had the opportunity to take on a leadership role with another person, and he got a crash course in strategic planning. “All of a sudden I’m here with another individual, we’re setting strategy for the next year. We’re vetting volunteers, so we’re doing interviews and writing the descriptions. We’re coming up with procedures and processes around how to do background checks and all the rest,” he says.
While the role had a lot of responsibility, the stakes were lower than if he was doing these things on behalf of an employer. Niles says the education was invaluable.
“We often talk about leaders leading from behind, and that’s absolutely correct. Leaders create the conditions for people to flourish,” he says. By using the many opportunities in your daily life to improve and strengthen the skills to help your own leadership skills flourish, you can hone those critical skills, even outside of a formal training program.