How did you develop your leadership skills? When did you focus on becoming a leader? These are some of the questions I get from managers and would-be entrepreneurs who want to transform their careers to become successful leaders of enterprising teams. Let’s face it, for most people rising in their careers there is never a good time to focus solely on self-improvement. When leadership skills are put on the backburner or built in as part of a ten-year plan, they rarely get the attention they deserve. Yet, the difference between success and failure for individuals and corporations often lies with the ability of the management team to lead skillfully. Leadership skills are developed much the same ways as any other habit or skill - through daily practice.
During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of industries and management roles culminating with founding RiseSmart and working as its CEO. Throughout my career, I’ve had periods of time when I focused solely on running a business and other times when I focused almost exclusively on self-improvement. It was when I began integrating five simple practices into my life that I began my journey to successful leadership.
Make these five behaviors part of your mindset to improve your leadership skills and realize the difference between just managing people and being a catalyst of change within organizations or in your own endeavors.
Be a networker
My father, who was in the army, always told me that the only way to get things done is to create relationships by getting to know other people. As soon as I started following his advice, I discovered that building stronger relationships with people accelerated my own success. When I took the time to seek out diverse relationships, I began to understand the value every person can bring to a situation. I started to really listen to understand the unique perspectives of my co-workers and I learned how to work with people from diverse backgrounds. The first step to becoming a leader is to learn how to build teams. In your day to day dealings with colleagues, vendors, and customers take the time to get to know the person you’re doing business with. Taking an extra minute out of your day won’t detract from the task at hand. In fact, the experience will enrich your life and help you to develop your personal skills.
Be an intrapreneur
In one of my stints, most of my colleagues had been working for 20 or more years. I focused on befriending engineers, learning the product inside and out, and delivering on what I’d promised. I became an intrapreneur within the company and completely changed the way my team interacted with me. I transformed their perception of me and created a new level of trust. I wasn’t just creating advancement opportunities for myself within the company, I was laying the groundwork for my future as a leader of our team. Being an intraprenuer means looking for opportunities to solve problems in a unique way. Intraprenuers have the ability to look outside their own job descriptions to find ways to improve the business.
Be a risk taker
I was once given an opportunity to move to Germany from India at a moment’s notice. I embraced the risk and it ended up being a game-changer for my entire career. I had the opportunity to expand a rewards program globally and to innovate for the company. Every successful leader I know doesn’t shy away from taking risks. The ability to take risks is often the difference between the intrapreuer/entrepreneur and the employee who just gets the job done and never assumes a leadership role. Don’t shy away from risk because your biggest risk might become your biggest opportunity.
Be a salesperson
No matter your position within a company, you’re a salesperson for that brand. Every time you talk to someone about your job or the company you work for, you’re either convincing them that the organization is worthwhile, or not. In your interactions within your company, embrace your role as salesperson for your own ideas and expertise. I was once able to sell a business idea back to my team and help the company generate $50 million revenue with huge margins. I wasn’t a leader because I came up with a better idea, I was a leader because I took the idea and ran with it. I became a leader when I built a strong team to support the idea and deliver on my vision. Keep in mind that selling yourself and your ideas doesn’t mean bragging or taking the credit for ideas. The best ideas are often a function of a team effort. Show your leadership skills by giving credit to your team and taking the initiative to sell the idea to the right person within the organization.
Be a failure
Being a failure isn’t as counterintuitive as it seems. Failures are just the lessons we use to improve our own practice and to grow into successful business leaders. If you look at each failure as a step back, you’ll never move forward. Instead, use your failures as opportunities to learn and grow. Balance pessimism and optimism by finding gratitude for the opportunities to experience failure, because they ultimately teach you how to succeed.
You must create your own path to success. As our career coaches here at RiseSmart will tell you, it’s often those career events that seem devastating at the time that ultimately lead us to our greatest opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy. No matter how well you prepare, you’ll still encounter unexpected changes and challenges. The key to successful leadership is to establish positive habits of mind and practice those habits daily. Be strong enough to withstand set-backs and learn from them and be flexible enough to respond to opportunities as they present themselves.