How do I go about building business leadership skills? 🤔
If you've reached this article, that's probably what you've been wondering.
It's a fantastic question, as for many people, they haven't had prior leadership training. This goes for individual contributors and managers alike.
Here's the good news... leadership can be learned.
My own career path is a prime example of not having had any formal leadership training prior to becoming a manager.
This can certainly make it tougher to build business leadership skills.
That isn't to say that I wasn't exposed to leadership, examples of being a leader, or the skills a leader should have.
My parents were great examples for me every day of my life. Teachers demonstrated leadership qualities in front of the classroom. And, coaches displayed leadership traits in sports.
My classmates were leaders in the classroom and on the courts and fields. And, even being the oldest, I learned leadership from my sister and brother.
All this is to say that a lot of what shapes our understanding and examples of leadership occurs long before we reach the early stages of our professional careers.
I'd had a number of jobs, beginning in high school, before I earned my first role as a manager after college.
While I was fortunate to become a manager, at 22 years old, I will say that having the title of manager doesn't make one a leader. There are distinctions.
And, it's important to keep in mind that:
In that first role as a fitness manager, I was supporting a team of about 20 personal trainers.
At that point, I hadn't studied management or leadership in school, as my undergrad was in Physical Education. Even with that being the case, I think I did alright.
There were lots of reasons for this, but two stick out in my mind.
My early career years were so impactful, and I was fortunate to have incredible guides.
I mention some of them on the Thank You For Your Leadership page.
As a bonus, some were at the club level in personal trainers, fitness managers, and general managers. Others were at the regional and executive levels.
And, long before the advent of social media, I was able to build professional relationships with many whose guidance was critical.
Modeling the way is one of the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership as outlined by Kouzes and Posner. I experienced this daily in seeing the expected behaviors, recognizing the standards, and hearing the types of communication that made for exceptional experiences for staff, clients, and customers.
When corporate executives would visit, there was another opportunity to observe, engage, and learn. These were the things that hadn't been in the textbooks of my undergraduate degree program. Though I will say that my heightened confidence in applying those skills allowed me the time and energy to invest in learning the skills of management and leadership.
With 20 personal trainers of different ages, races, genders, some part-time employees, others full-time, and with various coaching styles, certifications, programming philosophies, and experience, each team member needed something different to reach their best.
Given this diversity, there was a range of topics covered, including:
In each case, I was a guide rather than a dictator.
A second element of the Kouzes and Posner leadership model is enabling others to act.
For this to occur, there has to be an aspect of trust and an environment where employees understand that they are supported to contribute ideas, try new approaches, and learn as they go.
This isn't the same as throwing important company policies to the wind. These have been well-established and are in place, most often for good reason.
Enabling others to act speaks more to the removal of consequence for employees' genuine and well-intentioned efforts to better the experience for coworkers, clients, prospects, or others, when aligned with a vision that is shared by the team or organization.
Great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. So, creating an environent that encourages each person to contribute individually can lead to great opportunities for collective success.
This teacher first mentality served me well through the years in building business leadership skills, in different roles, and with several different companies. I hope those I was fortunate to support enjoyed the experience as much as I did.
This section of the site is an excellent foundation for developing leadership skills, understanding different types of leadership, and exploring leadership styles.
To continue your learning:
David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
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