Difficult work is often the most rewarding. This is especially true for those in leadership roles. I am incredibly proud of our software and the high-growth business we built at Aha! — but I am even more proud of the leaders we have helped grow. I am amazed at how we have grown our leadership team entirely from within the company.
Helping people grow skills and into new roles is the noblest type of building I can imagine. It is why I believe that leading a company is important and truly rewarding work.
Leadership is also complex. After all, people are dynamic and organizations are even more so. Workplace cooperation is a fickle beast. Navigating it takes a lot of gumption and effort to do it well over the long haul. But leadership is a skill like any other — it can be learned.
Let’s talk about you for a minute. Clearly, you have the desire to lead a team. Otherwise, you would not be reading this. But you also know you need more than ambition to lead people. You need to be forward-thinking, self-aware, and incredibly detail-oriented. You also need to think beyond yourself.
Great leaders understand when the individual should come first and when the team should. At the same time, you need to ensure that the individual’s growth is aligned with what is needed by the team as a whole.
Of course, you do not have to wait until someone officially reports to you to start growing your leadership skills.
You can get going today. Start by doing some serious self-reflection and examining if you have the right foundation.
These questions will help as you identify the areas where you can develop more:
Can you think beyond the tactical?
Look past the immediate need (the to-dos and tasks at hand) and see the big picture. You have a strategic mind and it should guide the decisions you make. The actions you take are based on that big-picture understanding. You are focused on what will benefit the work, the team, and the company in a lasting way.
Are you good at listening?
The people you are leading need your full attention. This is something you take seriously. I know I do with our leadership team at Aha! — we want to see everyone be happy and become better. So I spend a lot of time listening and helping individual teammates discover what is most important to them, while also understanding what the team as a whole needs to grow.
Are you curious about the issues your teammates face?
Take meaningful steps to really understand your colleagues and what they are trying to accomplish. When they ask you for help, you do not look for “just enough” information and hope to complete the work as fast as possible. Instead, you try to really understand why help is needed in the first place. Maybe they are lacking resources or do not have clear goals. You do your best to get to the root of the problem.
Do you throw credit to others?
Embrace a team-first mentality. Success is never just about one person. So when great achievements happen, you throw credit to others. Sure, maybe you were the one who came up with the idea or led the project — but you recognize that it was a team effort. Receiving personal praise yourself is nice, but not as meaningful as working with a team that feels proud and supported.
Can you take (and act) on feedback?
Hear feedback — no matter if it is good or bad. You see all feedback as an opportunity to improve. So when someone gives you a suggestion, reflect on it and distill the key points. Then, incorporate those points into your work. If the critique is big enough, you might even put together a comprehensive action plan for change. You set the tone for how others do the same.
Can you say no to others with kindness?
Yes, yes, yes. On the contrary, you have the ability to say no to requests that will not bring real value to the team or organization. You have the fortitude to weather the burden of not pleasing everyone. Of course, you do so with kindness — explaining the reason behind your decision and why the answer needs to be no right now.
If you aspire to be a great leader, be one. Start now. We all have the opportunity to support the growth of others and the organization we work for.
So, evaluate your answers. If you answered the majority of the questions with “sometimes,” that is fine — developing leadership skills takes time.
If you answered the majority of the questions with “yes,” then I have great news — you already have a strong foundation to be a leader. Now you need to build on the foundation. Do what you can each day to become more strategic, curious, humble, transparent, and kind.
After all, anyone can manage other people. But few can actually lead. Being a great leader requires a practiced commitment — to your work, your team, and your own self-improvement.
How do you grow your leadership skills?