When you take on a managerial or executive position, one of the first things you'll likely want to do is work on honing your leadership skills. But there's more to becoming a great leader than attending a manager training session, or sending team emails to make sure everyone is doing their job. You can build leadership skills with small but effective actions every day. Here are seven simple habits and practices to help you guide your team better.
Stay up-to-date on industry trends. When you're passionate about your job, you want to do everything you can to get better at it, and bring your company up with you. Keeping on top of ever-evolving industry trends is one way to show your dedication — and lead your employees toward that same passion.
"It's important to make it a daily task to stay educated in [your industry]," said Corey Baggett, co-founder of ad technology firm AdBoom Group. "Ultimately, you can strategize different ways to transform it, and the additional research you do may encourage other employees to show initiative in the workplace."
Beau Hale, AdBoom president and co-founder, added, "As a leader, you always need ambition and passion for your work because your employees feed off that kind of energy. If you want to build leadership skills, be fully invested in your company and be willing to work to your fullest potential and beyond." [30 Ways to Define Leadership]
Spend some quality time with your staff. You know the names and job functions of your team members, but do you really know who they are as people? Getting to know your staff on a personal level will not only help them feel more valued, but help you manage them better, too.
"Discover what makes each individual tick," said Eric Nordyke, AdBoom CEO and co-founder. "The better you know the person, the more you can do to inspire creativity and innovation, utilizing his or her talents for the good of the team."
Anthony Sukow, co-founder of eBay research company Terapeak, noted that this approach worked particularly well as he built and expanded his business.
"At the end of each week we would have a team meeting to share our ... accomplishments and goals for the future," Sukow said. "Everyone participated and everyone knew the progress and goals. [Co-founder] Andrew and I worked to tighten the connection between team members, showing how their respective contributions were important and how we would collectively reach our goals and change the world."
Try something new. The best leaders are those who can think outside the box. William Vanderbloemen, CEO and president of Vanderbloemen Search Group, advised taking on a task you don't normally do, preferably one you've never tried before, to help out your company and your team.
"People who show an ability to anticipate a company's needs and find an answer even before being asked a question are people who get promoted," Vanderbloemen said."Leaders should ask themselves, 'What can I do to further our company that isn't in my job description?' The skills learned in figuring out a project and carrying it through to completion will go a long way toward leadership development and career advancement."
Learn from your team. As every good leader knows, being in charge doesn't mean having all the answers. One way to find those answers is taking direction from the people you manage.
"Drawing [leadership] insights ... means getting in the trenches and learning from the experts on my team," said Joe Freitag, global brand director of eyewear retailer Arnette. "[I see] how they achieve top-level results and ask them to teach me what they know. Their approach to a topic that is foreign to me helps me open my view and see my own challenges in a different light."
Analyze your mistakes. At some point, every leader is going to make a mistake or two. Rather than try to ignore it or cover it up, it's better to sit down with your team members and talk through the situation so you — and everyone else — can learn and grow from it.
"[Ask yourself,]What was my thought process in making that decision? Why didn't it result with the outcome I thought it would? What can I do in the future to adjust and end with a different result?" said Brian Ruben, co-founder of Solé Bicycles. "Discussing this openly with your team shows [that] you are not above or better than anyone and breeds a positive attitude and environment that encourages personal and professional growth."
Mentor someone. Regardless of whether you hold a leadership position, you likely have been — or will be — asked for professional advice from a younger, less-experienced friend or colleague. You may not develop a formal mentorship, but pay close attention to the conversations you have with these individuals: They might help you become a better leader.
"Prior to leading teams and eventually starting a company, I had the opportunity to mentor younger family friends," said Doug Baldasare, founder and CEO of phone-charging kiosk provider ChargeItSpot. "Those individuals may have been considering a career switch, applying to grad school or looking for their first job. Coaching them through it helped me to understand the interpersonal nuances of leadership and gave me the confidence to help guide others as I grew in my career."
An extension of this idea is taking the time to teach someone a skill, whether in a formal or informal capacity, said Jay Bacrania, CEO of academic coaching company Signet Education.
"When you teach ... anything, by default you're a leader," Bacrania told Business News Daily. "Teaching involves connecting, communicating, planning ahead — it's right out of the leadership playbook."
Get out of the office. Becoming a better leader doesn't only happen in the confines of day-to-day business. Sometimes what you do "off the clock" can translate pretty well into your professional leadership role.
"Show leadership in as many other parts of your life as possible," said Chris Toy, founder of group chat app Bindle. "Volunteer to cook dinner for friends, organize parties [or] take control of your flag football team. Like anything, practice makes perfect."
"It's important to stay informed, grounded and connected to others who offer unique perspectives ... outside office walls," said Mark Parsells, CEO of enterprise debt solutions provider Global Debt Registry. "The strongest leaders demonstrate an ability to 'pay it forward.' It could be as simple as participating in a nonprofit [organization], advising young talent at local school or leading a team of fellow professionals with a shared interest. Consider your collection of life opportunities as a bank. If you keep 'cashing in' on opportunities and never invest or create opportunities for others, those breaks in your life won't be as bountiful."