By Kevin Young
In a survey carried out during last year’s Campaign for Learning Adult Learning Week, 90% of respondents said they weren’t being offered enough leadership skills training in the area of managing people. Unlike the ‘hard’ skills, such as IT certification or financial management, which are often given greater priority and budgets, the ‘soft’ skills, which include people management, team building and leadership, are often treated as an afterthought and way down the priorities list.
This is puzzling, considering most business experts say that building a strong and motivated team is a key success factor. Some 88% of respondents to the same survey felt so strongly about this shortfall that they said they would be prepared to develop people management skills outside their working hours.
They say it’s tough at the top – so it’s hard to fathom why the topic of leadership is not given more priority; of all the people management issues, it is the one that newly-promoted managers often find the most difficult.
Mindful of the time pressures on those called to lead, I’ve assembled these top ten tips from SkillSoft’s e-learning courseware – including the Leadership Development Channel, the SkillSoft Leadership Knowledge Center and our extensive Books24x7 online library of digital books.
Understand the difference between management and leadership. Leadership is about having a vision and steering your team on course towards it; management is having the organisational skills and control to carry it out. Good leaders can transform fear of the future into enthusiasm for what is ahead.
Know what your employer expects from its leaders – don’t operate in the dark. UK creativity expert, Nigel Barlow, says: “One month into a job and you grow blind,” meaning you stop looking for different ways to do things. Know the parameters, but don’t be afraid to venture outside them.
Leadership isn’t about power – it’s about giving power away; about being open to influence from your staff and helping them achieve professional growth. To paraphrase Harry Truman, it’s amazing to see what can be accomplished when you don’t care who gets the credit.
Value every member of the team that contributes to the outcome. Remember that when leaders begin to attribute successful outcomes to their orders rather than to their team’s abilities, employees lose intrinsic motivation and begin to do only what they are told.
Recognise that the 21st century business environment brings new challenges (think mobile working, 24×7 access to information, globalisation, e-business and so on). This demands a revision of the traditional leadership roles. Be flexible and open-minded to change.
Improve your listening skills. Learn how to stay focused on what people are saying and work to interpret the real meaning behind their words. Innovation comes more from listening than from telling.
Never undervalue integrity and trust. Leaders who demonstrate that they trust and respect their team will always be rewarded with higher quality work and loyalty.
Forget the adage that leaders are born and not made. You can learn leadership skills; it may take time and a commitment to personal development to do so, but it can be done.
Make time to lead. Use time management skills to free up regular periods for thinking, planning and keeping up with new ideas. Ideas come from anywhere – a walk down the street, on the college campus, in the kitchen, at home, in the choir at church – take time to harvest them.
Have courage! Be prepared to take calculated risks – and occasionally to fail, seeing it as a learning process.
We’ll leave the last word to oft-quoted management guru, Peter Drucker: “Where you see success, someone once made a courageous decision.”