There are many opportunities for us to develop or enhance our leadership skills if we just take advantage of them. During these economic conditions, it may be an excellent time to do so. We can develop our leadership skills by taking college classes, leadership training and seminars; assessments and reflections; and accepting challenging experiences. At Illinois Central College, we believe that by changing minds we are changing the world. The college offers a wide variety of classes and training programs that can be sources of knowledge on the topic of leadership.
Reading on your own is also a means to gain knowledge of leadership— there are many excellent books on the topic. The Leadership Challenge, 4th Edition by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Leading Change by John Kotter, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goldman and Getting to MOREYes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury are books that I found very insightful. But having knowledge of leadership is only one part of what is needed. An individual must know how to apply that information and understand how they personally react in the context of the environment in which they are seeking to lead. That involves assessment, reflection and practice.
One way to think of leadership skills is to compare it to riding a bicycle. Where do we get the practice necessary to become not just okay leaders, but ones who truly inspire people to willingly join in our struggle to reach achievements and goals they would have otherwise not reached? Seeking a promotion or taking on assignments and cross-training are ways to obtain necessary experience, but leadership opportunities through a promotion may not always be available when we are ready for a challenge to enhance our leadership skills.
We can significantly enhance our opportunities to gain leadership experience by volunteering. The Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, neighborhood associations, boards and commissions for local governments and not-for profits, and professional organizations are just a handful of examples of where an individual may gain valuable experience and serve the community at the same time. Volunteer organizations can provide the opportunity for leadership experience in a relatively safe environment with relatively little risk. Frequently, an individual can get started by helping another leader and serving as an assistant until he or she has gained enough experience to be fully responsible for a leadership role.
Professional organizations, in addition to providing the opportunity for gaining leadership experience, can also provide the opportunity for networking and mentoring. Professional contacts can be extremely important in providing insight to solve difficult problems or providing an experienced perspective on an unfamiliar area. Just as athletes can perform at higher levels by listening to their coaches, leaders can learn and enhance their performance by listening to coaches or mentors.
Knowledge and experience become much more beneficial in the development of leadership skills when they are combined with assessment and reflection. If we want to affect the behaviors of others, one of the best places to start is with our own selves. We should ask the question, “What are we doing that affects that individual’s behavior?” Assessments such as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, the Risk Taking Inventory and Guide by Dr. Herbert S. Kindler, and 360 degree evaluations can serve to bring about significant increases in self awareness.
If we are going to effectively deal with others, we need to know ourselves. For example, understanding how we deal with conflict can help us address difficult situations and learn how we can persuade others. Why wait? Now is an excellent time to enhance our leadership skills and, at the same time, serve our community and others. iBi