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5 Ways to Develop Leadership Skills

Nov 6, 2023

Skilled leaders inspire, motivate, and guide others. Whether in an educational or professional setting, good leaders play a pivotal role in helping individuals and organizations achieve their aspirations. Leaders provide guidance during projects, improve morale when challenges arise, and drive innovation and positive change. 

Improving your leadership skills can initiate a cascade of benefits in your life. Strong leadership skills can open opportunities for career advancement, expand your professional network, and increase your earning capacity. On a personal level, leadership development cultivates self-confidence, enhances problem-solving skills, strengthens relationships, and empowers you to reach your goals. This blog provides practical advice for developing your leadership skill set, including a step-by-step plan for maximizing your leadership potential.

How to Develop Your Leadership Skills

Leadership development begins with taking an honest assessment of your current leadership capabilities. What skills do you already possess? Are you a manager who keeps your employees engaged and motivated? Are you an employee who fosters inclusion in your work environment? Do you display leadership qualities at school, church, or within your friend group?

After you assess your current leadership skill set, identify some areas for growth. Do you struggle with assertiveness? Is perfectionism an issue that holds you back? Could you become a better leader by working on your active listening skills or emotional intelligence? Once you identify some leadership development opportunities, you can create a strategy for improving in these areas. 

Authentic leadership extends well beyond positional leadership. You don’t need an official title to demonstrate leadership. Whether you’re a student, working professional, or volunteer, strong leaders positively influence your life and the lives of those around you.  

Great leaders develop over time by taking consistent steps to identify and work toward their goals and address their weaknesses. The transformation doesn’t occur overnight. You can build your leadership skills by finding a mentor, learning from established leaders, participating in a leadership development program, and consistently practicing the skills you’ve learned. Leadership development looks different for each person, so the steps you’ll take depend on your personal and professional ambitions. 

Find a Mentor

If you want to advance your leadership skills, consider finding a mentor. A mentor is a trusted advisor who provides guidance and support. Mentors are often older or more experienced than their mentees, but a peer mentor can also be a valuable source of direction. A mentor can impart wisdom and advice regarding professional development, networking, personal goals, and much more. 

Before choosing a mentor, identify your objectives and needs. Are you searching for an established leader who can help you take your leadership skills to the next level? Do you need someone with a gentle, compassionate approach or someone who will push you out of your comfort zone? Find an individual who embodies the leadership style you’re interested in developing. 

Once you know what you’re looking for in a mentor, you can start narrowing down your choices. Often, the best way to establish a mentor-mentee relationship is to ask directly. Talk to your potential mentor and describe your intentions. Explain why you think they would be a great mentor. Ask them if they would be willing to mentor you.I f your first choice doesn’t pan out, don’t be discouraged. It may take a few tries to find the right mentor. 

Observe the Effective Leadership Skills of Others

Another way to develop your leadership skills is to observe people you admire. Find effective leaders who you look up to and want to emulate. Coaches, business owners, entrepreneurs, community leaders, teachers, and others in leadership positions may inspire you. 

Take some time to observe how these individuals exhibit leadership. How do they handle challenges and setbacks? What strategies do they use to inspire and motivate others? How can you model similar behavior? Finding real-world examples of leadership and effective communication can help you discover the leadership qualities you most aspire to.  

Take a Leadership Course

You can further develop your leadership skills through leadership training, courses, workshops, or conferences. WGU offers a leadership certificate program through our College of Business that can sharpen your skill set and enhance your résumé. Our leadership development program provides opportunities to enhance and apply your leadership skill set to real-world scenarios. The program focuses on foundational leadership principles, including values-based leadership, management strategies, business concepts, organizational behavior, and other career-relevant subjects. Earning the certificate can prepare you for further education, show future employers your commitment to leadership success, and give you a competitive edge in the workforce. The certificate also provides transferable credits toward a WGU College of Business bachelor’s degree program.

Set Leadership Goals

Goals are foundational to leadership development. You can establish leadership goals by assessing the leadership skills you already possess and identifying the skills you want to expand. Good leaders aren’t perfect. They're set apart by a growth mindset that allows them to embrace challenges, pursue continuous learning, and seek personal improvement. 

The acronym SMART can help you set meaningful, realistic leadership goals. Each of your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, you may want to set a goal to attend a particular leadership workshop by the end of the year or complete a leadership certificate before you finish college. You may have a work goal to get promoted to a management position within five years. Or your goal may be as simple as spending 10 minutes a day expanding your professional network or looking for a mentor. The most important thing is to choose goals that are reasonably attainable, relevant to your long-term ambitions, measurable, and bound by a specific time period.  

Practice Your Leadership Skills

Leadership is a muscle that you can strengthen. Like any skill, becoming a better leader takes practice. You can find ways to practice leadership at work, school, or even in your personal life.

Gaining an official leadership position provides ample opportunities to practice leadership. But being a leader doesn’t require a formal title. You can exhibit leadership in your family by planning holiday events or volunteering to help with household responsibilities. You can be a leader in your friend group by redirecting the conversation when your friends gossip or speak negatively about others. At work, you can lead by example by meeting deadlines, arriving to work on time, and demonstrating a positive attitude.

Completing a leadership program is a concrete way to expand your skill set and enhance your résumé. WGU’s leadership certificate curriculum is aligned with the leadership qualities and skills employers seek in employees. 

WGU offers online degrees in business, IT, health and nursing, and education. Our degree programs and certificates are self-directed, meaning you can complete them on your own schedule. Whether you’re pursuing advancement in your current career or want to change career paths, WGU can help you reach your goals.  

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