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Part of Western Governors University

April 10, 2019

Business

Leadership skills that change the game.

Businesswoman presents to a group of her colleagues.

It might seem that some people were born with leadership skills, but becoming a great leader takes education, experience, patience, relationship-building, and self-confidence. Effective leadership means being able to balance many skills, each of which has a unique learning curve.

Whether you're just starting your business journey or you've been forging your path for years, you can learn to be a great leader by following the leaders who came before you. Here are four things you can learn from the example set by CEOs, managers, and directors who have led their businesses to great successes.

1. Believe in yourself.

One of the basic tenets of leadership is simple, Minutehack says: If you don't believe in your leadership abilities, no one else will. Everyone has the ability to master leadership, the site notes, and self-confidence is the key to success. You can learn to believe in yourself by developing a rationale for how and why you make your professional choices and acknowledging the time and energy you've spent honing your skills. The more experience you have with different people and businesses, and the more formal education you pursue, the better leader you'll be.

According to Fortune, former Intuit CEO Brad Smith was so confident in his abilities that he was able to pass leadership of the company on to his successor in a way that helped the company stay strong. Sometimes, being a leader means knowing that you aren't the only one who can do a job. The best leaders use their self-confidence to lift up those around them so that everyone—and the organization as a whole—has the opportunity to grow.

2. Build a positive culture through relationships.

The old saying is that we're judged by the company we keep, and nothing says more about your approach to building a professional culture than the people you surround yourself with. The best leaders surround themselves with positive, creative problem-solvers who are able to help foster an environment wherein employees are provided opportunities for growth and flexibility. 

Great leaders, Forbes says, are models for how employees can build each other up through problem-solving and collaboration, which can help instill in employees the meaning and value of their work. Building this kind of culture requires leaders to listen to those around them and lead by example at all times.

3. Listen before you lead.

When you have a strong understanding of how businesses work and a firm belief in your own abilities, it's hard not to jump right in and fix it all. But it's important to remember that every business is different. Being a good leader means listening to others to understand the issues at hand before diving in to take charge.

When Anne Mulcahy took over as CEO of the then-failing Xerox, the U.S. News and World Report notes, she knew more about the company than most people did. She'd spent her entire career with the company. But even so, she took the time to listen and analyze before making the decision to pare down the company's assets and embark on an agile and aggressive correction course. By listening to employees, executives, and customers, she was able to transform and revitalize the company.

4. Always be curious.

Great leaders know that knowledge is important, but that the passion to learn is key to success. Curious leaders love to see their employees grow, and they're always training their replacements and doing whatever they can to create more leaders within the organization. 

Much in the way that curiosity breeds invention, the Harvard Business Review notes, curiosity is the key to successful leadership and business transformation. When their curiosity is triggered, it continues, the best leaders devise more creative solutions, which inspires their employees to develop deeper, more collaborative relationships with their colleagues.

Following your curiosity is the sign of a good leader. Perhaps you'll discover a new business direction, or maybe you'll find new assets that will move your company toward success. The more you know—and the more you want to know—the stronger a leader you'll be.

Learning to lead.

Truly exceptional leaders have enough confidence to commit to a point of view, decision, or course of action, but they have enough respect for others to listen to and consider different points of view. This balance is the sign of a great leader, but these skills needed to strike it aren't innate—they are learned.

A degree in management and leadership can give you the tools and knowledge you need to lead a company out of failure or into continued success. It can help you build the characteristics required to cultivate a culture where people support everyone's strengths and solve challenges together, and it can help you build the confidence to take the next step on your business journey.

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