Three Ways to Practice Your Leadership Skills

(This post contains affiliate hyperlinks. Please read my full disclosure.
Mike ClaytonThis guest post is by Mike Clayton, author Brilliant Project Leader.
True leadership is not something that you do only when it suits. True leadership is not something you do when it’s convenient. It happens in difficult times and under extreme pressure. These are the situations that distinguish the “merely competent” project managers from the “truly great”, and these are the situations that make the difference between the’merely competent’ and the ‘good’ project managers.
These are three things that we can all do daily to improve our leadership skills.
1. Listening
This is the mastery of a great communicator, and we could all do it better by not judging our tendency to rush to judgment and instead paying attention to what we hear.
2. Decision Making
The best time to demonstrate leadership skills is when you are making decisions. How will you communicate the decision? Will you involve your team members? If so, how much? Leadership is the act of making decisions on a project.
3. Step Away from the Project
While it is a common phrase in my project management seminars and workshops, “there’s not such thing as an absentee manager: it’s contradiction in terms,” this doesn’t mean that you have to be there at all times. Take a break for at least an hour once a week. While this can allow others to take the lead, it is not the best way to think about the future. If you don’t take the initiative and do this, no one else will.
People love to be led. If they don’t have good leadership, they will follow the first fool to make the move to avoid making their own decisions. If you are willing to lead, it is a good thing. You will also be pushing for an open door.
However, this does not mean that leadership is easy. Project managers have so many responsibilities that it can seem as if they don’t have enough time or energy to manage them all. But you must lead.
Brilliant Project Leader, my book, identifies four essentials to team leadership. Each of these are easy to address: Focus on individuals, create and share a clear strategy, foster a sense of team spirit, communicate consistently – and well. You will see the results when you invest in each of these areas.
Although each is easy, it is not simple. It will take effort every day. It will pay off big if you do. You will get the team you deserve, and the team you want. This team will work hard for you, your project, and themselves to achieve the best results.
There are many models that describe leadership and how to develop it. These include situational leadership models, which encourage us to adapt our approach to the context and the person before us, role-based leadership models, which suggest that we should only perform the most important functions, and traits models, which recommend that we cultivate the character and personality traits that our followers value most. All of these models have a lot to offer.
Since I started Brilliant Project Leader, I have been reflecting upon all of them and how to combine them, productively. Smart to Wise, the book that followed it, is about how to grow wisdom to take your career and life to the next level. When I think about wisdom and leadership, one thing stands out to me. Mindfulness is the key to both leadership and wisdom, I believe.
There are instinctual leaders who don’t need thinking. Some gifted sages may have deep instincts and be able to offer wise insights. For most people, leadership is difficult. You must be aware of this challenge at all times. You can be set up by a careless word, a hasty choice, or a superficial assessment about one of your team members’ deliverables.