I was born a leader, at least that’s what my mother tells me. But somewhere in my toddler years I apparently lost many of those leadership traits that were imbued on me in utero. Oh sure, as I was growing up kids followed me around, but it wasn’t like I was leading them. They just wanted to see what I was getting into. And that was how my childhood went – no real leadership abilities, but everyone was sure curious about me.
Fast forward to adulthood. I can say that I do have leadership qualities, but the art of leadership is a little more difficult.
What exactly is leadership?
Leadership is one of those things that a lot of people can’t agree on, at least what the definition is. For the most part, though, leadership is the ability to inspire people to work towards a certain cause.
If we look throughout history at leaders who inspired people to work towards a specific cause, some come to mind, some good and some bad.
Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Adolf Hitler, Susan B. Anthony, Karl Marx, and Napoleon are all considered great leaders. And all of them created some sort of change in the world because of how they led. Even those considered malicious, or negative leaders, inspired millions of people to fight for their cause.
Does that mean that every one of these “great” leaders was born a leader? Probably not. In fact, most leaders are not born, they are made.
This means that all of us have hope. We can all be leaders, even if we weren’t born with leadership traits.
Researchers have studied different personality traits and have discovered that leaders have higher levels of certain skills:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Problem solving abilities
Wow, that’s a lot of skills. Looking at this list, though, I realized that the majority of these traits can be learned, or are often ingrained in us through our upbringing. Charisma, honesty, humor, and extroversion are thought to be traits related to personality; however, environment plays a vital role in the emergence of these traits.
Research indicates that leadership emerges in certain situations, such as if the individual is given tasks that increase their problem solving abilities, or is required to work as a team member.
The exciting this is that means anyone can learn leadership skills, even if they weren’t raised in an environment that supported honesty, charisma, extroversion, and humor. So, how can we do that? What can be done to learn leadership skills?
There are several things anyone can do to learn leadership skills. I am including 4 specific ones here to make the quest for leadership easier.
Learn Emotional Intelligence
One of the most important skills a leader can have is Emotional Intelligence, which is emotion regulation. This skill allows a leader to understand their own emotions, but also the emotions of others, including those in a group.
Emotional Intelligence helps regulate conduct, which means that honesty, fairness, sensitivity, compassion, and open-mindedness are all impacted by Emotional Intelligence.
The unfortunate thing is that many people are not in control of their emotions, including those in charge of organizations.
I am often shocked at the way CEOs react to their employees, or how government officials react in public. Whenever I see these reactions, however, I realize that these people in charge of so many important things and so many people lack Emotional Intelligence. That’s pretty scary.
Learning Emotional Intelligence involves learning how to regulate stress, learning how to keep emotions from going negative, and to be proactive rather than reactive.
Improve Critical Thinking Abilities
Critical thinking is important, not only in a leadership capacity, but also in everyday life. Critical thinkers base their decisions on logic and evidence, rather than social media posts, other people’s opinions, or news reports that are not evidence based.
Critical thinking is an essential component of leadership. In fact, critical thinkers excel in the following areas:
- Problem solving
- Being practical
- Being realistic
- Building teams
In addition, critical thinking works with Emotional Intelligence, because it is logic based.
Improving critical thinking skills takes time and is done by examining one problem at a time, looking for valid research concerning the problem, and then making a decision.
The awesome thing is that critical thinking, like Emotional Intelligence, can improve leadership abilities, as well as different personal aspects, such as relationships, conversations, and arguments.
That’s right. Anyone with high critical thinking skills can logically and rationally argue, or debate, anything. This is something important to me, because I want my point to be valid, logical, rational, and interesting. Don’t you?
Sometimes I think people just like to hear themselves talk. I have been guilty of this as well, although not recently. However, to be a good, effective leader, listening skills are essential.
Someone with effective listening skills hears and understands what other people are saying, even if they don’t agree. Leaders who are good listeners are also considered
- More compassionate
One important way to develop effective listening is through feedback. Feedback is good in different areas, but if leaders lack listening abilities, then feedback is the way to go.
So, how does that work? If a leader lacks listening abilities, how can they respond to feedback?
Well, the leader has to be willing to ask for feedback, but they have to also be willing to listen to it. This, basically, is an exercise in how willing the leader is to change in order to acquire positive leadership skills. Ultimately, the leader asks for feedback, or is given an evaluation, and then the responses have to be taken to heart.
I often don’t like being evaluated, but I also know that the evaluations I receive will help me grow, change, and become better at what I do. Everyone needs to be evaluated, but they also have to be willing to accept and learn from those evaluations.
Increase Enthusiasm and Motivation
I know, most people are not born motivational speakers, but this is the reason that learning how to be more enthusiastic and motivated/motivating is important. Enthusiasm and motivation sometimes escape me, because, let’s face it, sometimes it is difficult to be enthusiastic and motivated. What might be even more difficult is to help others be enthusiastic and motivated.
In fact, motivation is the one skill a person needs to get people to do what they don’t want to do. The great leaders of the past were very enthusiastic and motivated about what they wanted everyone to do, but they were also able to motivate the masses to follow in their footsteps.
Being able to motivate people goes along with understanding their needs. A good leader has to know what motivates someone. So, leaders have to know and understand where the people they are leading are coming from.
So, how do you motivate someone, when you might not even be motivated yourself?
This is where listening comes in. The more we listen, the more we understand. The more we understand, the more we are able to motivate.
Enthusiasm and motivation are grounded in encouragement. People enjoy encouragement. I know I do. I like to have my own cheerleader cheering me on when I do well, and I like to do this for other people. It helps me not only motivate them, but also motivate myself.
So, what’s the take away here?
It’s okay to not be born with leadership traits, because most people aren’t. We are able to learn, though, and that’s what matters. To acquire the traits and skills of all the great leaders, all that is required is work. Anyone can do it; they just have to choose to.