Making a commitment to continuous self-improvement is one of the biggest keys to becoming a great leader. Great leaders treat leadership as a discipline to be studied and reflected upon throughout their careers and lives. In the past we’ve discussed some of the more personal aspects of your leadership philosophy and style such as vision, core values and key leadership traits, but skills are little more straightforward and we can focus on some practical ways to grow your skills to become a stronger leader.
The approach you take to developing skills is as unique as you are and should be based on your goals as well as the resources you have available. Also, factor in your level of dedication and how important acquiring or improving this skill is to you. If you are just looking for an introduction to the skill or to just get the big basic concepts, enrolling in an executive MBA program or hiring a coach for a year may not be the right choice for you, but finding a free online course or even buying a video program or e-book might get you exactly what you need. If your financial outlay outweighs your level of commitment to improving your skills, you’re just going to end up with less cash and extremely frustrated.
Going back to school for more formal education can be a great way to improve your knowledge and skills, provided you’re doing it for the right reasons. School can be an expensive option for developing skills but many schools have scholarship and grant opportunities as well as those from the government, so there’s almost always a way to get a least a portion of your tuition paid for. I chose to go back to school to get an MBA because I felt I had a lot of practical leadership experience that was applicable to military and government environments, but wanted to get a stronger foundation about leadership and management in the corporate world as well as getting a better handle on the financial aspects of running a business.
Developing Skills though Online Sources
No matter what skill you’re looking to develop, chances are someone, somewhere has put together some online content that can get you started on the path to building that skill. As a tech-savvy reader you probably already know that there are all kinds of YouTube videos that give step by step instructions on how to do any given project. These can be a great place to start developing skills, especially if you have a task you need to get done now and need to learn a new skill as you go. Podcasts are also a great way to learn a new skill, especially for “soft skills” that require changing a mindset as well as learning new techniques. A big advantage of podcasts is that you can listen and still absorb the content while doing something else. I’m not great at multitasking most things, but listening to podcasts while I work out or while I’m driving has been a very effective way for me to build my own skills while making effective use of my time. Another great advantage of all of this online content is that it is 100% free in most cases. Many volunteer groups, professional associations, schools and universities are even offering some of their courses for free if you are looking for a little more structure in your training.
Workshops and Coaching
Just like with online courses, regardless of what you want to learn, there is someone who offers some kind of workshop or individual coaching to help you get there. These can get pricey, getting into the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars, so I would recommend that you try some of the online approaches to developing skills described above first. Once you reach the point where you feel like you’ve learned all you can learn on your own from those methods, then look into some paid workshops or coaching. The advantage will be that you will have a pretty solid foundation in the skill to begin with and you can work with your coach or workshop facilitator to spend time on the really advanced topics that will help you level up in that skill.
Many employers set aside money from their budget to provide training to their employees. If you’re looking to grow some of your skills and have this option available to you, take advantage of it. There may be conditions that your employer places on this training, so be sure to be clear on what those conditions are before you sign on the dotted line for it, but letting your employer pay for your training is a great option, especially because your employer will directly reap the benefits of your newly upgraded skills.
If you’re a small business owner and don’t have money in the budget for developing skills, fear not, you can get some amazing training from other sources such as the Small Business Administration and the local Small Business Development Center in your community. Much of this training is free or low-cost to small business owners and is just as good, if not better, than training that you might pay someone else for.
Volunteering and Community Involvement
Finally, if you’re working on a skill where you feel like you need to get some guidance and feedback from others around you, getting involved in a group in your community can accelerate your leadership skills development. There are groups that are dedicated to helping people improve a certain skill, like Toastmasters, which is a great way to improve your public speaking in a welcoming environment with people who will give you honest and effective feedback. If you want to build some of your organizational, management or people skills, joining a volunteer group in your community can give you some opportunities to work with people on projects that you might not get on your own, plus you’ll feel pretty good about yourself for giving something back to your community.
As you can see there are a lot of options to developing skills you feel like you need to grow as a leader. The method you choose can be based on a lot of factors such as the resources you have available, the time commitment you’re willing to put in and how quickly you feel like you need to develop the skill.