One of the realities of advancing in your career, whether it's moving up the ladder within one company, switching fields, or pursuing opportunities in new organizations, is that the higher up you get on the organizational chart, the more likely it is that leadership and management will become key pieces of your job responsibilities. For those who have spent years as individual contributors, or perhaps overseeing one or two other people, making the jump to a management or supervisory role introduces a whole set of new challenges, and they may feel in over their heads.
If you find yourself in this position, you might be wondering how to develop leadership skills to get you up to speed and able to perform your new duties to the best of your ability. While becoming a great manager and leader requires time and experience, there are some things you can do to improve your leadership and management skills right off the bat, positioning you for success in your new role.
Ways to Develop Leadership and Management Skills
1. Find a Mentor
Whether your workplaces offers formalized mentorship programs or not, it may be useful for you to seek guidance from an experienced manager who can serve as a sounding board for you when issues arise and offer wisdom from their own past experiences. These could be individuals within your own company (such as senior management, or your own supervisor) or trusted colleagues and friends who work elsewhere.
2. Study Different Leadership and Management Styles
Spend some time researching different leadership styles and determine which one you identify with the most - this will help you recognize your strengths and potential weaknesses as a leader. The best managers know how to tap into these strengths, and how to draw on other leadership styles to compensate for areas of weakness.
3. Go Back to School
One of the best ways to develop your leadership and management skills is to take a class or pursue a degree or certificate. Many accredited higher education institutions offer programs that focus on these subject areas, both on-campus and online - if you are looking for broad-level business management skills, a master's in business administration might be right for you, or if you're looking to develop your leadership skills specifically, you could pursue a graduate certificate in leadership. There are also intensive leadership programs available, such as a year-long master's in executive leadership.
4. Read - A Lot
While formal education is a great choice for those looking to build their leadership and management skills, self-education is a good alternative for brushing up on specific skills, learning new theories and techniques, and keeping up-to-date on the latest industry trends. Dedicating an hour or so a day to reading management-focused publications, such as the Harvard Business Review, how-to or management theory books, and watching talks, webinars, or videos is a great way to keep your skills fresh and learn something new.
5. Identify the Areas in Which You Want to Improve
We all have things about ourselves that we'd like to improve on, especially when it comes to how we interact with others. If you are striving to become a great manager, it's important for you to have a clear understanding of what those areas are, and actively work to change them. Maybe you'd like to be a better communicator, or find it difficult to make decisions. Once you've identified what it is you'd like to work on, find ways to practice every day in low-stakes situations, like deciding which route you're going to take home after work.
6. Attend a Training or Workshop
If you don't have the time to dedicate to a full degree or certificate program, you might want to explore options for leadership and management trainings and certificates in your area or online. These can range in length from a few hours to a full week, and might cover very specific topics such as critical thinking or be more broad, giving an overview of a topic area such as general management skills. Many organizations offer such programs, but a good place to start is the American Management Association's Leadership Training Programs.
The absolute best way to improve your leadership and management skills is to practice! If you're already in a leadership role, try applying new techniques to your interactions with your team, or putting a new skill into practice, like better listening or giving more constructive feedback. If you are not in such a role, you can still take on responsibility within your team or division on specific projects, or find a leadership role outside the workplace - for example, joining the board of directors of a nonprofit, or helping to run a local professional association.
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