“Takes a natural approach to leadership”, “Always looks to help others” and “Likes to find solutions to challenges”. Three statements that were ever-present on my school report card.
I come from a big family and am the third of four children. Growing up in my house, if you wanted something doing, you did it yourself. My parents worked hard, and often long hours which meant we were regularly left to our own devices. We looked after each other, entertained one another and used influence and negotiation skills when we wanted stuff, or when things didn’t go our way. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds though, in fact, I look back with fondness and appreciation, as it helped me build on and develop the skills that today, I’m ever so grateful for in my leadership role.
Three years ago a leadership opportunity became available in my organisation, and I wasn’t sure I was qualified or experienced enough for the role, but I really wanted it and knew I could be successful at it. I’d just have to work hard, maybe really hard … for a little bit! I’d spent the previous two years showing commitment, willingness, and dedication in everything I did, as well as building relationships within the company, so when I put myself forward, I hoped that I’d have support from some of the already established managers. To my relief, I did. My hard work had paid off and my professional leadership journey began.
But how did I get there?
What leadership means to some
Some people want to be a leader to assert power over individuals. Others because they think it pays well. Maybe you want to be a leader so you can drive your own agenda, forwards. Me? I wanted to be a leader because I have a love of people and communication, and being a good leader requires you to do both, everyday!
When I think about situations or opportunities that have helped in my leadership journey, external of actually having to manage a team, meet objectives, hit targets and prioritise effectively, day-to-day, there are things I have done, and am still doing that have helped me develop my skills as a leader. So, if you are thinking about taking the leap into leadership, here are a few things you could consider that might help you develop your leadership skills outside of your organisation.
5 ways to develop leadership skills
Join a sports group
Whether you love team sports or not, joining a team can be a great way of developing your leadership skills. Each team is made up of different positions, and to be a successful team, all positions and people are required to do the very best they can to make the team perform. Being part of a team also requires commitment, dedication, and practice. All the things that help you to develop good leadership traits.
TIP: If running around a football pitch isn’t for you, you could try umpiring or joining a group where you’re part of a team, but only competing against yourself.
Become a volunteer
Offering your services to worthy causes and charities is a great way to get a better insight into organisational structure and process. A lot of charities and not-for-profits have boards made up of volunteers and are always looking for hard-working, passionate and committed people to volunteer for them. It also gives you experience in working with a team as well as helping you to develop your own self-managing skills. Which is a must-have for any successful leader.
TIP: Keep it local. Volunteering locally will help you develop a sense of community and really make you feel like you’re giving back.
Find your passion
Do you have a love of film? Or are current affairs more your vibe? Finding something you are passionate about makes it easy to commit your time to something. When we enjoy an activity, we want to do it more and more. We want to become experts and we set ourselves goals and objectives. As a leader, setting team goals and objectives, and then working towards achieving them is a constant requirement. So, developing these skills when you are passionate about something is not only enjoyable and rewarding, but will help further down the line.
TIP: Make a list of all the things you enjoy doing, big or small. Think about what makes you happy, or what you would like to change and then look at the different ways you could have an impact.
Attend networking events
Does the thought of talking to strangers terrify you? For a lot of people, introducing themselves to strangers is more of an ordeal, than something they would do, willingly. But, it will help to build your confidence. Maybe the first time you go, you just listen to the speakers and leave. Stepping out of your comfort zone is something that good leaders have to do every day.
TIP: Going along to a friendly local meet up, like one of Brighton Digital Women’s events would be a great start. Don’t want to go alone? Why not take a friend.
Get yourself a mentor
Thinking about someone you look up to or respect is a great place to start. Whether that someone works in your industry, or you’ve met through friends. Understanding why they inspire you is a good way of realising your own values. Even the most senior leaders have people they admire and look up to.
TIP: Spending some time researching inspiring mentors or reaching out on social. If they inspire you, tell them and see if there are opportunities to talk to them more about how they got to their position.
Whether you’re already on the leadership path and want some extra-curricular activities to drive your experience, or you think you have the traits that make a great leader and you’re unsure where to begin, I hope this blog gave you some ideas of where to look, aside from your office, to help develop your own leadership skills.
Fast forward to today, and I realise that without having done all the things I have listed above, I wouldn’t be as confident, resilient and reflective in my own leadership as I am today. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m a perfect leader. But I’m a leader who is always learning, developing and looking for opportunities to grow. And I think they are some of the traits of a good leader that I admire and value the most.
Head of Market Development at IRIS Connect and organiser of Brighton Digital Women events. Passionate about people, learning tech, communications, good coffee, travel & exercise.