3 Ways To Improve Your Leadership Abilities

Even for those who are born with innate leadership skills, the need to improve and develop is constant. What constitutes good leadership is constantly evolving. So improving your abilities in this area will stand you in good stead throughout your career. In this article, I will describe three different ideas that can help you to build on your existing leadership skills in the future.

#1 – Ask for feedback

If you are currently in a leadership role, ask for anonymous feedback on your performance, with a special focus on your strengths and weaknesses. You can then seek to build on the areas of strength, and remedy the areas where there is room for improvement. Make sure to get feedback on your performance from a range of people. Think of the “360 degree feedback” approach as an example of how you could do this.

The 360 degree feedback model works by collecting feedback on your personal and professional performance. But as opposed to doing a performance review from your manager, this way works by collecting feedback from a wide circle (hence the 360 degree name) of people around you. Your managers, your reports, your peers, and your stakeholders.

This wide range of viewpoints can capture things that wouldn’t be picked up by a simple survey or performance review done in a traditional way.

Make sure feedback is something you gather regularly, not just once a year. HR processes have become influenced by agile thinking and ways of working lately. And much like agile has focused software development on moving in short frequent cycles, HR processes can also move in a similar iterative fashion.

Make sure to get feedback at least once per quarter, if not more frequently. Monthly or even fortnightly could work (though be careful not to overwhelm people with feedback questions).

#2 – Explore different listening styles

Many people believe that leadership should be domineering and assertive, but this is not always the case. Sometimes, the best leadership quality you can have is the ability to listen. It’s worth taking the time to research different listening styles – such as appreciative listening, or demonstrative listening – and then experiment to see which works best for you.

Try to think of the “servant leadership” ideas that are popular in agile and Lean circles now. Servant leadership is all about leading by listening, supporting and helping, rather than directing, controlling and dictating. Books such as Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek might help inform your approach here.

Make sure you have established a circle of “pychological safety” as well. People need to feel sure that they can speak up and speak out. They need to feel comfortable that they can criticize ideas and plans (though not people). Nobody wants a gang of “yes men”. This just results in “groupthink” and dishonesty and doesn’t serve anyone.

#3 – Empower your teams

The most effective teams are empowered teams. You want to build up groups of people who are self-directed and empowered to make their own decisions and own their own products or value streams. If your teams need to keep running around to get approval for this, and sign off for that, they will never be truly effective.

Empowered teams are not just more efficient – they are also more motivated. If a team feels they truly “own” their product or service, they will feel far more motivated to improve it and build its quality and reputation. Nobody wants to be in a ticket-punching “feature factory”, that just processes generic work items thrown over the fence.

Try to get buy-in from the team before a big project or upgrade, by “selling them the dream”. Show them the benefits and results. Get them to talk to customers to understand their goals, frustrations and pain points. Try to remove as many barriers as possible between the teams doing the work and the customers who enjoy the value at the point of consumption.

These ideas are at the heart of Lean Thinking and have been taken up and championed by Radical Management thinkers like Steve Denning.

#4 – Seek specialist assistance

While the central tenets of leadership are fairly concrete, there are subtle variances that are relevant to particular niches and sectors. It is therefore worth seeking advice regarding leadership in your specific industry. If you’re working in a for-profit sector, there’s plenty of advice online that can help in this regard, so check business communities on Facebook or even Reddit for further assistance. If you’re working in the non-profit sector, then the infographic below is a great place to start when seeking to improve your leadership abilities, so why not read on to find out more?

Infographic Design By University of Southern California

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