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10 Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills
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Talent Development

10 Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills

One-Minute Takeaway

  • Leaders are the #1 driver of employee engagement.
  • Companies with a high level of employee engagement are 21% more profitable.
  • 56% of managers say they haven’t received training since they began their careers.

Leadership is a skill. Not everyone has this natural talent, but most anyone can learn. Unfortunately, 56% of managers say they haven’t received any training since they began their careers (ZipDo). That’s a concern, because good managers—people who know how to listen, who jump in to remove roadblocks and then just as quickly jump out again to avoid micromanaging—are critical to the success of your business.

Think about it… nothing engages employees more than a great boss. We’ve all had at least one leader who we’d run through a brick wall for. The one who inspired us, who made us excited to come to work. And if you have inspired employees who are excited to show up and do their best every day, you’re going to see results. Companies with a high level of employee engagement are 21% more profitable (TechJury).

If you’re wondering how to improve leadership skills, these strategies can help you get started.


Assess Your Leadership Style

Before you can improve, it’s important to understand where you’re starting from. Take some time to think about what leadership means to you. For example:

  • Come up with your personal definition of “a successful leader.”
  • What are your strengths as a leader?
  • What specific skills would you like to improve?
  • List some questions you have about leadership and reflect on what you find confusing.
  • Think about times you’ve succeeded and failed as a leader in the past. What went right? What went wrong?

Everyone has strengths and areas for growth. What’s more, every leader has their own style. Do you like to take a hands-on approach, attending meetings and giving direct feedback? Or do you prefer to step back and give your team creative freedom? There’s no right or wrong answer here – just the answer that works best for you and your organization.


Set Clear Goals

Once you know where you are, you can map out where you’d like to go. Which specific skills do you need to develop next? You could focus on:

  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Project management
  • Recruiting strategies
  • DE&I issues
  • Fundraising
  • Strategic planning

…and so much more. When it comes to leadership skills development, the options are limitless. With your goals laid out, it’s time to plan the next steps in your learning process. This could include formal education, reading books, listening to podcasts, watching TED talks, or something else entirely.

Need a framework for leadership success? Discover our guide, The 3 Leadership Behaviors that Drive Fierce Loyalty & Extreme Engagement

Grow Your Network

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “your network is your net worth.” While your network may or may not affect your finances, it’s certainly a valuable resource for professional development.

In this digital age, it can be hard to meet people. Networking means making a concerted effort to get out there and have new experiences.

  • Consider joining an Employee Resource Group (ERG) to connect with other people at your company. This is also a great way to watch other leaders in action and learn from their examples.
  • Reach out to peers in other industries. Different fields have more in common than you might think. Comparing notes with other leaders can inspire you to think creatively.
  • Attend conferences and industry events. You’ll meet colleagues, any of whom could be a future team member. You’ll also learn about the latest industry trends, which can influence your near-term goals as a leader.

Connect with a Mentor

Mentorship is surprisingly rare. 76% of people agree that mentors are important – and just 37% have one (Forbes). Experts are still trying to understand why there’s such a disconnect. It might be because the nature of work is changing so rapidly. As a result, people of various generations tend to have different skills. This points to another important point: your mentor doesn’t have to be older than you.

There’s no need to follow in a mentor’s footsteps or do exactly what they suggest. But having regular conversations with someone you trust can help you grow. Tell your mentor about your goals and what you’re doing to achieve them. They can celebrate your progress and hold you accountable when you get off track. Perhaps most important, they can be a valuable sounding board when you’re deciding what to focus on next.

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a game-changer. This set of soft skills can improve your relationships, your mental health and even your company’s ROI. Leaders with better empathy, self-regulation, and social skills see higher retention rates and huge financial gains (Psychology Today).

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to improve your emotional intelligence. Depending on your specific goals, you could practice any of these skills:

  • Mindfulness
  • Self-awareness, especially of your own emotions
  • Emotional regulation
  • Active listening
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Empathy
  • Describing your feelings to other people

People with high emotional intelligence have different motivations (verywellmind). Instead of working toward external goals like money or career success, they focus on finding a sense of purpose. Internal motivation – also called intrinsic motivation – can make your personal growth more sustainable.

Engage in Ongoing Self-Assessment

Regular self-evaluation helps you make long-term, incremental improvements to your leadership skills. You could do this by keeping a journal, recording videos just for yourself, or even using an app to track daily habits. It’s important to choose the right tools for your specific goals. For example, if you’re trying to boost your emotional intelligence, a mood tracker would be very helpful. That same tool would be much less helpful if your primary goal is to improve time management skills.

Record your notes in a place you can easily access them. Then, schedule regular times to go back and review your progress. This could be a monthly or quarterly practice. You can also share some of your notes with a trusted friend or mentor.

Make Time for Self-Care

Burnout isn’t an effective leadership style. Instead, try to balance your career goals with your other needs and values. This strategy sets you up for long-term success in several different ways:

  • It promotes empathy. Your work is a high priority. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this article. But it’s not your only priority. You may have family commitments, hobbies, health needs, or countless other responsibilities. That’s also true for your team. As a leader, it’s important that you set fair and achievable goals for everyone on your team – including yourself.
  • It stimulates creativity. Mental downtime gives your brain and body a chance to recharge. In the same way that good sleep leaves you feeling alert, taking breaks can make you more creative (Scientific American).
  • It boosts productivity. Caring for your health takes time, but ignoring it can make you sick. Take the time you need for doctor’s appointments, therapy, fitness, healthy eating, and yes, even spa days. In the long term you’ll miss fewer days at work, and you’ll become a more reliable leader.

Identify Your Company’s Challenges

Every business faces unique challenges. These could be due to your industry, your company’s size, your location, and so on. You might even face personnel issues, with mismatched personalities or team members who aren’t the right fit. 

When you know what those challenges are, you can go about improving them. They can also help you set goals for your own professional development.

Imagine you work at a private company that faces serious compliance issues. In your current role, you probably can’t make sweeping changes to the local laws. But you can become an expert on what they are and how to follow them. You could even implement a training program at work, to make sure that everyone on your team is up to date on recent regulations.

Get to Know Your Team

Every team has its own culture. Some teams do their best work with a collaborative leader, and other people need room to work alone. This can look very different across industries, locations, and even departments within a single company.

Above all, remember that you’re leading people. Your product is important, but it’s not going home at the end of the day and thinking about what you said in the 10 am meeting. Your employees and customers are the ones doing that. Great leadership includes strong, healthy, balanced professional relationships.

When you get to know your people, you’ll gain powerful insight into their unique needs. Use that knowledge to create a leadership strategy that helps them shine.

Lead by Example

Leaders have tremendous impact on company culture. Whether you mean to or not, you set the tone for how your team treats each other.

Leading by example can also have a measurable effect on employee engagement. When leaders feel empowered and aligned with their company’s values, employees feel a greater sense of belonging (Frontiers Psychology). Think of it this way: a rising tide lifts all ships. By doing your best at work, you encourage your team to do the same.

How Paycor Helps

Leadership development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To be successful, you’ll need to structure your learning process and find ways to put your new skills into practice. Paycor’s COR Leadership Framework helps you do just that.

Our suite of HR technology is purpose-built to streamline the daily tasks of any HR leader, from scheduling to compliance. Robust learning tools like Paycor Paths directly support your career development. Connect with our sales team to learn more about how Paycor can empower you to grow as a leader.

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