How to Develop Leadership Skills

Instructor: Anthony Aparicio

Tony taught Business and Aeronautics courses for eight years; he holds a Master's degree in Management and is completing a PhD in Organizational Psychology

Leadership is a trait that nearly all employers want to have in their organizations, but just how do you get to be an effective leader? This lesson will outline some of the techniques that can be used to develop and improve on your own leadership.

Leadership Reflection Exercise

Chris wants to develop his leadership skills but does not know where to start. He has had some good bosses and not-so-good bosses but is not sure how to use the information he's gleaned from them to enhance his own skills. Chris decides to ask one of the executives in the company, Bob, to help him with with this challenge.

The first thing that Bob tells Chris is that he should take a really good look at his own personality and leadership experiences and be honest with himself about what he considers to be important and how well he himself has executed those skills. Bob develops a questionnaire for Chris that lists dozens of potential leadership skills and asks Chris to go home and reflect on whether he was good at them by using a five point scale--'five' for highly developed/experienced and 'one' for those skills considered a weakness or having no experience at all. Some of these areas included:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • delegation
  • creativity
  • responsibility
  • motivation
  • ethics
  • honesty
  • trustworthiness
  • flexibility
  • ability to multi-task
  • conflict resolution
  • mentorship
  • emotional intelligence
  • directing
  • controlling
  • confidence
  • decision-making
  • financial/accounting
  • judgment
  • initiative
  • training others
  • negotiation
  • planning
  • having a vision
  • taking risks
  • use of technology
  • change management
  • dealing with setbacks
  • goal setting

Bob knows that this list obviously goes on and on, but it is a start to get Chris to take time to reflect on his own strengths, weaknesses, and challenges so that together they can develop a plan to improve Chris' leadership skills.

Developing the Plan

That night, Chris spends many hours thinking about his experiences in school, other jobs, volunteering, and interacting with members of his community. He also asks some of his coworkers, friends and family to fill out the same form to assess how they think he performs in each of these areas. To his surprise, the ones in which he does not think he does very well, others think that he excels. Without knowing it, Chris is actually using a form of the technique called 360 degree feedback. 360 degree feedback is when you gather information from a variety of sources since people in different positions will often have varying expectations for individuals.

After completing the self-reflection exercise and asking others for help, Chris takes the results of his research back to Bob, and they sit down to develop Chris' leadership development plan. One of the first questions that Bob asks Chris is to describe some of the people whom he finds to be effective leaders and to list the reasons why. Many of the characteristics named are the same or similar to the skills and traits listed above. The ones that Chris mentions Bob marks with a star on his form.

Bob reviews the skills with stars and looks at which of those Chris needs some work to develop. In this case, Chris needs to work on communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and financing/accounting. Bob decides to select only a small number at a time so that Chris can really focus on looking for (or making) opportunities to develop these skills.

Implementing the Plan

Bob and Chris work together to figure out short-term goals and opportunities for Chris to work on the selected skills Bob has written out. In the communication section, Chris is to prepare and present information to a group of his peers on negotiation techniques. Bob sees that this will help Chris with two areas at once. Chris is given permission to send out an email to his department that he is offering a 'Lunchtime Lecture' series on Mondays during the next month on negotiation techniques.

Chris is instructed to take notes as he goes along and ask any questions along the way. They will have a meeting after the lecture series to review the notes and see what improvements are made and where to go from there.

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