Regardless of where you are on the career ladder right now, there will be a point when you’ll be handed a leadership role and your team will expect you to hit the ground running. Maybe you’re aiming to lead an initiative, chosen to lead a team project out of the blue, or given the opportunity to apply for a management position earlier than you thought.
Whatever the case, you’re probably wondering how you develop leadership skills on the fly. Sure, you probably have a rough idea of the basics from watching your manager (and her manager). But, doing it effectively requires finesse and complex knowledge.
So, rather than waiting for the opportunity to arise, start developing those skills now.
1. Take a Leadership Personality Test
To improve your skills, you need a starting point.
First things first, take a minute and spend some time thinking about how you behave under stressful situations. What is your preferred leadership style? Do you ask others for their opinions? Do you tell everyone what to do and how you expect them to do it? Do you lead from the front? Do you worry about where your team is headed and whether there is a clear vision ahead? You’ll gain great insight into your preferred style of leadership by taking a few minutes to introspectively think about these questions.
Unsure what your tendencies are? Take a quiz! There are many leadership-style quizzes online, but one of my favorites is on Skillsyouneed.com. This test will determine your leadership personality, and it will also identify how you can improve your abilities and build on your specific strengths.
2. Keep a Journal
In this case, I recommend making this journal strictly about your career—save reflections on that awkward exchange with an old friend for a different diary. Note instances you could’ve handled differently or times you could’ve communicated better. Keep records of your own and your team’s accomplishments, long-term goals, mishandled situations, time-management, and more. You can write it out by hand or keep track online (and if you opt for the online route, I suggest DayOne).
Unsure where to start? Write an entry on what you consider to be the five best traits of a leader.
3. Find Your Passion
In order to be an effective leader, you need to be passionate about what you do.
Think about it: It’s inspiring to follow a person who’s all-in—who eats, sleeps, and breathes the work. Of course, passion isn’t really something you can fake.
So, if your current job feels like little more than a paycheck, take a “passion test” to discover what you care about. Go to Pymetrics, play 12 short games, and you’ll get an analysis on your personality traits (cognitive, emotional, and social) to further understand what drives and motivates you.
When you’re truly engaged with your work, others will be more likely to follow you.
(Still not sure what your passion is? Our find your passion worksheet can help you sort through all the clutter in your brain—for free!)
4. Beef Up Your Communication Skills
Even someone who excels in many aspects of leadership will probably hit a ceiling if he or she is not a good communicator.
Starting now, you should aim to over-communicate with everyone on your team, so nothing gets misunderstood or misinterpreted. Set up routine meetings with your manager and any colleagues working on ongoing projects with you (even if they are only brief check-ins).
No matter where you are on the chain, you can work on this. Do you excel at written reports, but clam up when it’s time to speak during a meeting? Alternatively, are you a natural when it comes to conversation—but secretly worried that your lack of grammar know-how will hold you back?
Instead of relying on your strong suit, beef up whatever area of your communication skills is lacking. It will make you a more valuable employee now, and a better leader later.
5. Become a Leader Outside of Work
Being a charity board member is one of the best ways of getting hands-on team building and leadership-building experiences. Yes, it’s true that some organizations have boards composed of people with massive name recognition, experience, or bank accounts. But, there are probably numerous nonprofits in your community that would be thrilled to have you join and offer your time and skills.
Not only will you be helping a great cause that you feel dearly about, but you will learn about each facet of the organization for which you have oversight. Never seen an operational budget before? Now you will!
To get started, ask friends, family, or Google for suggestions. And, if you’re still stumped (or perhaps overwhelmed with all the options), check out one of these organizations: AllForGood, CreateTheGood, HandsOnNetwork, and VolunteerMatch.
6. Learn How to Build Solid Teams
Another really important part of being a successful leader is putting together the right team. Start developing those skills now by paying attention and taking note of your co-workers’ strengths and weaknesses.
Have you noticed who does (and doesn’t) seem to work well together? Or maybe if Terry’s skill set perfect complements Maribel’s?
Understanding personality dynamics and how different types work together will enable you to be a strong team member, regardless of your actual position. Finally, remember that the best leaders also reflect on their own weaknesses and see people who have different strengths as important contributors (not threats).
7. Take an Online Leadership Building Course
Take an online course geared toward building your professional skills. For example, at my company MOGUL, we have the MOGUL Career Course, with resources and expert advice provided within that will help accelerate you into a stronger, more confident leader.
Sometimes being a leader includes a fancy title—but it doesn’t have to. No matter where you are in your career, the steps above can help you grow your skills, so when that big opportunity does come your way, you’ll be ready.