The best way to learn is by doing and one can develop effective leadership qualities by taking on certain activities. Activities that need you to step out of your comfort zone, work with people, put a plan together and then executive systematically are ones that help develop effective leadership qualities. These activities must call for setting a clear task or objective, establish clarity of roles, recruit/manage/direct team members, have some element of ambiguity or unknown associated with it among other challenging attributes.
The following are six activities that help develop leadership skills:
Setting up a small business
Entrepreneurship is a great form of leadership. Entrepreneurs exhibit most qualities of leaders. Entrepreneurs possess the unique ability to take on huge risks in the face of monumental rates of failures. If you add the opportunity cost of a high-paying job at a major corporation, the math just doesn’t explain why smart people take entrepreneurial risks. But it doesn’t and they do. Thankfully so, otherwise we would not have all the breakthrough innovations that we are almost accustomed to having today.
Entrepreneurship requires huge confidence in your own self and managing your team (employees) and customers and helps develop effective leadership skills.
Fund-raising requires one to step out of his or her comfort zone and is not for the timid. If you carefully observe the good fund-raisers who do it with a passion, you will notice a bunch of qualities that are the hallmark of leaders.
Primarily the activity calls for a willingness to approach strangers and present a case. In business you approach your target market; in fund-raising you do not know whether the person opening the door is interesting in what you have to offer. Specifically for smaller children this represents a huge step away from their zone of comfort.
Putting in the effort, setting a goal and then systematically working towards achieving that goal, collaborating with team members sometime are all qualities that get developed as one participates in fund-raising activities.
I recommend youngsters to take on fund-raising activities in school and society as early and as often as possible. As they grow up they will develop a selling mindset and a willingness to work with people that will enable them to take on challenging initiatives.
Taking on challenging projects at work
Next time there is a project that is truly challenging and which requires you to step out of your comfort zone, think of it as a leadership development exercise. You will know this when you hear others shying away from I or saying that it is set up to be a failure (or a career-breaker).
Some tasks are just laborious, others are time-consuming. Don’t mistake these for leadership challenges.
Real leadership challenges could be a large number of stakeholders, multiple decision-making requirements, sheer ambiguity of the exercise, unpredictable consequences, large number of risks, highly abstract goals (unclear requirements) and dependencies on other initiatives.
Such tasks or projects require clear thinking, a lot of homework or reading, ability to assess a situation quickly, identifying key players required to form the best team for the task and getting good guidance and help for strong decision-making.
A sure way to know that a task is really challenging is to attempt an important task that others have failed before.
Standing for elections (in a community, in school or elsewhere)
Standing for an election is a real test of leadership. The whole thing becomes a project and after successful election, executing the election manifesto becomes another project. Team building, marketing, understanding stakeholders (voters), presenting your credentials/capabilities, analyzing and defeating the competition are all activities that require confident leadership skills.
Organizing an expedition or an event
When you organize an expedition or an event, you are faced with a number of challenges such as setting up a schedule, working with conflicts, recruiting team members, anticipating and solving problems, identifying and managing risks and not the least, selling the expedition to potential members. There could be fund-raising and financial management involved. While there may not be any evident competition to be managed, the leader would still have to consider weather and other elements which could present some obstacles to be overcome.
Wharton Business School teaches leadership using a trekking program in Antarctica (http://www.thedp.com/article/2009/11/wharton_teaches_leadership_skills_in_antarctica)
When a team is up against the elements, somehow great leadership skills can be learnt.
Leading a sports or an arts club
Especially in an amateur set up where the main source of income is through membership fees, managing and growing a team is a highly challenging task. On the one hand you need to get enough members of a certain skill level and on the other hand you want someone to lead the on-field or on-stage activities and win accolades. The on-field victories help the recruitment. To gain more victories you need better teachers and coaches, better practice facilities and spend more time on practice. Attracting and retaining good talent needs good marketing skills.
Most leadership (and business) skills can be honed by taking up leadership or even management positions in such clubs or institutes.
What are some of the other activities that one can take up to develop leadership skills?
Image: (c) Kay Leadership Academy