A common misconception about leadership is that it involves telling people what to do, being bossy. Such a person is often seen as commanding and a disciplinary figure. Although some do act in this way, good leaders are often charismatic individuals that lead the way by showing others how to do things, aiming to develop people rather than just use them.
A well-known Latin principle Docendo discimus (well if you didn’t know now you know…) has come to be understood as “the best way to learn is to teach”, so with that in mind allow me to share what I have learnt about leadership and what I think are some of the most important skills you need to practice or cultivate to become a good leader.
The following will not be an exhaustive list (I’m still learning myself) but I feel comfortable advising you to focus on;
Communication is very important and often when you think of effective leaders like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Angela Davis you could be forgiven for thinking that it is only important to be a great orator. I would argue that the best leaders are better listeners than speakers as without listening communication breaks down. But listening is not the same as hearing, it is an active effort that involves trying to understand the message (which is often more non-verbal than verbal) being delivered and asking for clarification if needed by asking relevant questions.
In my experience, I have always achieved more within a team when I have actively listened and tried to understand my teammates. From this you can build upon their ideas, learn their motivations and get a better understanding of where they are coming from which can lead to improved creativity and success for all.
This is linked to listening as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others is aided by actually listening to them. Its obvious, but the point bears repeating. Often, we can be insular and think only of ourselves. This can lead to self-centred action that seeks to command people and use them. Instead attempting to understand others can be more fruitful and honourable as it can aid in building relationships and more importantly trust. This is vital as someone who trusts you is much more likely to follow your lead through tough times which is important as
“you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”.
Additionally, once you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it is easier to understand them, which is key because that knowledge can be power. This understanding is important as the feelings of others and what elicits certain feelings is critical as our performance is linked to how we feel (I know I score more points in a basketball match when I am confident rather than afraid). Being able to empathise with people can enable you to understand why they are feeling a certain way; maybe they arrived late and now feel embarrassed and as result are not contributing that much, and how you could help them feel better; for example giving a summary of everything you had covered to that point so that they can catch up. This is important because as the great Poet Maya Angelou said,
“…people may forget what you said and did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Finally, as important as it is to understand others, it is equally important to know yourself. The ability to honestly self-assess and know and own your strengths and flaws could be the most essential skill to learn. This awareness not only helps to give you the ability to control and express emotions professionally, it also enables you to handle interpersonal relationships sensibly and with empathy. Furthermore, knowing yourself enables you to assess and potentially improve your emotional intelligence.
This is crucial in life generally and team settings specifically as increased emotional intelligence can help you make better decisions, unmuddied by things like pride or resentment. It can help you become more adaptable as you are able to analyse others and yourself reasonably which enables you to know what you can do to best help the team. This is what separates great leaders, as high emotional intelligence enables them to realise they do not have to be the smartest or the best at a thing. It also allows you to realise that sometimes you lead and equally sometimes as the situation dictates you are better served following someone else.
So, remember to listen to others and try and see where they are coming from. Try to understand them as you hopefully know and understand yourself and remember as Harry Truman mused
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”.
Peace and Love