5 Steps to Grow Your Leadership Skills, Even If You Are Not A “Born Leader”

I have frequent debates with friends as to whether leaders are born or made. Leadership evokes images of people with great charisma, great vision and the capability to inspire others to take action. These leaders include (among many others) Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. Some have had great social impact, others have grown successful businesses, some have done both. There are many leaders, too, we have never even heard of, despite their impact on the world.

Much has been written about these leaders and leadership topics in general. I try to keep up with all of this scholarship (I’m being generous about this characterization), but none seems to answer the question: Can you make a leader out of someone not born with fabulous charisma, intelligence, wit and money-making abilities? I have come to conclude the answer is a resounding (but qualified) “yes.” Inside all of us is a leader, and we can acquire the skills to help us become better and more effective leaders. Here are the steps you can take:

Lead yourself first: You can’t lead others unless you lead yourself. Start by developing emotional intelligence, which begins with self-awareness and self-control. Manage your energy and stay focused on investing your leadership time wisely. Be stress tolerant. Learn from others in your organization and through a steady diet of thought leadership. Be humble and empathetic. Practice these disciplines relentlessly.

Lead the business: Your business needs leadership. That is not about making decisions on the spot and having all the answers; it is about creating a clear strategic path and vision for others to follow and then executing with discipline. Sharpen your focus with relevant data, robust team discussions and the pursuit of excellence. Strategic dialogue, clarity and execution are enhanced when there is a process in place to drive these activities. Work continuously on the improvement of these leadership processes.

Lead change: Leaders lead change and change comes when people understand why change is necessary and why it is necessary now. Creating a line of sight between what people are working on and how these things will lead to achieving the company’s mission/vision will help you create openness to change. Frequent and clear communication of the “change messages” are essential to change leadership. Change will be most effective when the leadership team speaks with one voice. Good change leadership takes effort and practice.

Lead others: Those you lead need you to help them be their best and to learn how to lead. Leaders must therefore allocate time to their people—to listen to their hopes and dreams, offer constructive feedback, challenge their thinking, and give them opportunities to lead. To clear the decks for this important “people work,” leaders must delegate work to others who are best suited to perform that work. Transforming groups of individuals into teams is another skill of a leader that leverages their self-knowledge, business knowledge and change knowledge. The leverage of an aligned team of leaders will create faster growth, more wins and greater enterprise value.

Be committed: As Winston Churchill said: “success always demands a greater effort.” This is especially true with leadership success. Leadership is a full-time job, which is why I believe that even those who possess more natural leadership ability must still be vigilant in pursuing these leadership skills. Those who do not possess an abundance of leadership talent can be great leaders through commitment to excellence of their leadership processes. Leaders need muscle memory that comes from thousands of hours of practice—much like an elite athlete. It’s true that not all leaders are going to be exceptional, but I’d rather work any day with a humble leader committed to be the best at their craft.

All of us have talents that will shape who we are as leaders, but these talents alone are insufficient without robust leadership processes and without regular practice, intention and improvement. So, go out and start your leadership journey now. Leaders can be made, and we will all benefit from the pursuit of leadership skills.

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Susan M. Diehl

Susan M. Diehl

Partner and Advisor

Susan Diehl is a is a partner with Trinitas Advisors, an executive coaching firm that helps business leaders build the leadership alignment they need to win more, grow faster and succeed longer. She can be contacted at susan@trinitasadvisors.com.

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