Many people think that being a boss means being a leader. While it’s true that bosses have power, get to give direction, and tell people what to do, that doesn’t necessarily make them a leader. On the other hand, many leaders never become a boss. In fact, some prefer not to be in that position.
If you’re just starting your professional career, you may be wondering who wouldn’t want to be the boss. They make more money, they have a staff, they have perks, and they get to make decisions. All of that is true, but that still doesn’t make them a leader.
What, then, are the qualities and skills of a leader? Is it something innate—”do you have to be born a leader”—or can you learn leadership?
Some people do seem to show leadership skills at an early age. We see this in school athletics, in student government, on debate teams, and in community service activities. Other people, as they gain education and experience, seem to grow into the leadership role.
What skills does it take to be a leader and how can you best hone your skills so that your leadership potential is noticed?
One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to listen to others—especially to those with opinions and suggestions different from yours. Leaders realize they can’t, and don’t, know everything and that the input of colleagues and staff can be key to solving a problem or turning a situation around.
Another attribute of a leader is the ability to maintain momentum and enthusiasm. This skill can be seen frequently during sports events, where the actual leader of the team is someone other than the team captain. This is just as common in the workplace where you find a staff member, other than the boss or manager, encouraging colleagues to try harder and finding solutions to what seem like unsolvable problems.
You also find that a leader frequently finds opportunity in set-backs. That’s not to suggest that you adopt a “Pollyanna” attitude (which only irritates your colleagues), but be certain you don’t become a “naysayer,” quickly vetoing the solutions and ideas of others. Look instead for patterns and synthesis in their suggestions. Can they be tied together in a creative way? Can the group move forward without having all the answers?
One final attribute of leadership is teamwork. Leaders don’t quickly take individual credit, but are quick to point out that it was a team effort.
Make it a habit to pay attention to the skills and qualities of the individuals who are the formal or informal leaders in your organization. Note what attributes they display, how they listen to and motivate others, how they voice their opinions, how they problem-solve, how they lead. Then practice what you have observed and work to develop a personal leadership style others will notice and admire.