leadership skills

Cultivate the Characteristics of Leaders: 3 Steps to Transform How You Show Up in the World

Who do you need to be, in order to accomplish the things you want to do?

Last week, I talked about the importance of stepping into a leadership mindset and taking charge of your professional experience.

Learning to lead — even if you don’t have any formal authority — is a vital element of your success. But it’s not as simple as deciding to be a leader.

To empower yourself to lead, you need to transform how you are showing up.

Fortunately, this kind of transformation is extremely possible, so long as you’re willing to put the time and effort into accomplishing it.

Step 1: Take Stock of How You’re Showing Up Today

Transformation begins with an honest assessment of your current strengths and weaknesses. Perform a self-evaluation — but also request feedback from your team, your supervisors, and those who know you well.  Sometimes it’s hard to see your own weak spots (and your own strengths) without an outside perspective.

Use the following questions to guide your self-evaluation. What strengths can you lean into?  What weakness do you wish to shore up?

Confidence

Do you feel unsure of yourself? Are you waiting for permission to act? Do you struggle to make decisions and avoid pushing back with your supervisors? Do you avoid taking risks?

Or do you trust your own judgement, project confidence, embrace uncomfortable situations, take sensible risks, and influence upwards?

Self-Management

Do you often feel stressed or overwhelmed? Do you feel stuck and unable to make real changes?

Or are you self-aware, empathetic, and able to manage your own emotions? Do you hold yourself accountable, manage your time and resources, prioritize the most important things, and create momentum?

Relationships

Do you avoid conflict and confrontation? Are you overly controlling? Do you act subservient to others? Do you struggle to hold others accountable?

Or do you build strong relationships and influence both your peers and seniors? Do you trust others and delegate effectively? Do you lean into dissent and conflict to understand where it is coming from?

Once you have a baseline understanding of your current behavior patterns, it’s time to focus on how you’ll grow.

Step 2: Decide How You Want to Show Up in the Future

Now that you have a better feel for how you currently show up, consider what skills and traits you may wish to develop. 

The best leaders are:

  • Authentic (they are who they say they are)
  • Courageous (they don’t shy away from making tough decisions)
  • Humble (they’re able to admit when they get it it wrong)
  • Curious (they’re not afraid to ask questions)
  • Positive (they believe there’s a solution for everything and are confident they can find it)
  • Dependable (they show up consistently and do what they say they’ll do)
  • Honest (they act with integrity and tell the truth)

And these characteristics are the foundations of the skill sets that great leaders bring to the table.

Great leaders…

  • Build strong relationships, so they can create a network of allies who can help them get things done.
  • Act decisively, even when faced with incomplete information.
  • Work collaboratively, drawing on the strengths and insights of everyone on their team.
  • Listen well, which helps them make better decisions and form stronger relationships. 
  • Display empathy to others, which helps them create buy-in and loyalty.
  • Are always innovating. They refuse to settle for the status quo and are always seeking better solutions.
  • Are skilled diplomats, who can manage conflict, create alignment, and rally diverse groups to support their cause.

Any professional in any organization can benefit from nurturing these skills and characteristics. Which ones resonate with you? Where are you weak? Where do you want to put your focus?

Step 3: Fake It ‘Til You Become It

It’s easy to say that successful leaders should be more confident or authentic, or that they ought to feel less overwhelmed.

But you might be wondering how you can actually create those changes for yourself. How do you transform how you think or feel or react?

Fortunately, the answer is surprisingly simple: You just act AS IF you have already transformed.

When I teach students in my business project management class, my “call to action” is to have them walk out of class and take control of their own career destiny.

To set their course and take action… they just do it.

If you want to feel more confident, you just act more confident.  If you want to be more decisive, start making decisions. If you want to be more positive, remind yourself to look for the upside of each situation.

In surprisingly short order, you’ll find that you’ve internalized these behaviors and ways of being.  So much so that you might not even notice how much you’ve changed.

* * *

So as we approach the end of the year, take time to evaluate how you have shown up this past year. What has challenged you? What has surprised you?

And then look to the future:

What traits do you need to focus on developing? 

What skills will you focus on building? 

Who will you lean on for support and guidance?

 

Photo by Chris Lawton

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