Are you familiar with the concept of leadership? Though it has become a popular word in the world of work, a little caution is in order: the term is not only widely used, but frequently overused or even misused. Do you know what leadership really is? What does it take to be an effective leader? Most important, how can you develop your leadership skills?
What is leadership?
Leadership is a process by which a person directs a team in a specific way. A leader must have (or acquire) a number of skills to enable the group to meet specific performance objectives. The qualities of an effective leader include determination, vision, problem-solving ability, genuineness, independence and flexibility. As Isabelle Lord, president of the consulting firm Lord Communication managériale and author of Gestionnaires inspirants: les 10 règles de communication des leaders (“Inspiring Managers: The 10 Rules of Leadership Communication”), writes: “Inspiring leaders are people who are clear, convincing, competent, and accomplished in their field. They are good listeners, they assign their team’s workload in a coherent way, and they follow through on their commitments.”
Why the focus on leadership?
This concept deserves particular attention from job seekers because many employers are looking for candidates with leadership potential. “Today’s job market favours positive, ambitious, proactive young people who are willing to get involved and demonstrate strength of character and a sense of responsibility,” says Dominique Trudel, Operations Coordinator of Université Laval’s Career Centre. Developing your leadership skills can be an advantage if you’re interested in working with organizations that value those qualities.
Do you have what it takes to be an inspiring leader?
To find out, Ms. Lord suggests that you ask yourself three questions:
1) Am I a good listener? A good listener shows genuine interest in others. Being a good listener also means not jumping to conclusions, and listening objectively to be sure you understand exactly what the person is saying.
2) Do I spend enough time communicating? “Inspiring leaders spend most of their time—up to 80 percent—communicating,” notes Ms. Lord, “and they use any and all means available, from formal situations like meetings to informal ones like conversations around the coffee machine.” A good leader appreciates the importance of communication, and never considers it a waste of time.
3) Do the members of my team speak to me openly and directly? Your colleagues should feel comfortable sharing their concerns and comments with you. Open communication builds their confidence in you as a leader.
How can you become an effective leader?
You don’t have to wait until you’re in a management position to start developing your leadership skills; all you need is an interest in being an effective leader and in improving your skills. If that describes you, there are several ways to go about it: for example, you could join a student association, get involved in extracurricular activities, become a team project leader, or head up a volunteer group.
“The idea is to develop your skills by trying out various activities and building on those different experiences,” advises Ms. Trudel. She adds that it’s essential to have a good sense of your personal strengths and the aspects of your personality that can influence your colleagues in a positive way.
To improve your leadership style, “you have to be willing to take a good hard look at yourself, to accept constructive feedback from your peers, and to work constantly on improving yourself,” says Ms. Lord. As well, a big part of leadership is attitude. When faced with difficult situations, a leader sees them not as obstacles but as challenges—opportunities for the team to improve, to learn new skills and to build team spirit and effectiveness.
By taking time now to develop your leadership skills, you’ll be in a good position to show your current or future employer that you are a valuable asset to their organization!
An effective leader is NOT someone who:
- craves power or popularity
- seeks the approval of others
- doesn’t take risks
- thinks he or she knows all the answers
- has to have the last word
- speaks loudly
- is a control freak and therefore can’t or won’t delegate