Just recently someone asked me how learning about leadership or adopting leadership skills would help them, as they were not in a leadership position. First of all, this is a great line of thinking because it really shows that an individual is considering themselves and their development in the bigger picture. Secondly, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask a question like this, just as it would be to ask why you should build skills in French, accounting, or graphic design. The bottom line for refining any skill is, “How will this help me in my life?”
Let’s discuss four big reasons, which are certainly not exhaustive, on why being a leader is not about your position, but about your relationship to yourself and others.
Being a Guide for Others
At some point you will be asked for your opinion on something. We can all certainly think of a time or two that we’ve asked for someone else’s view on how to handle a situation. It’s perspective and guidance. It’s the infamous “second opinion” that we seek for consensus. When you build a leadership skill like active listening, you are able to understand what others are saying at a deeper level. With this heightened ability, you can better help advice-seekers reframe their situation, connect to new ideas, and see contrasting viewpoints that might otherwise be polluted with your inclinations more than theirs.
When we get good advice, we make an attachment of trust between the advice-giver and the positive result. When we get bad advice from someone, whether we assess it as such upfront or not, we usually don’t go back to that well for more water. Leadership skills make you a valuable resource for others, regardless of your position, and valuable resources are hard to replace. The more people that know they can rely on you to listen and provide insight, the greater your network becomes, which inevitably will help you when you need advice from others.
Increasing Effectiveness for Teamwork
If you aren’t in a leadership position, it’s much more likely you will have to work as part of a team on occasion, perhaps all the time. Knowing how to deal with a group of people, eclectic or otherwise, is not an innate talent, no matter what Adam from sales says about himself. Your group could be made up of individuals who self-identify in 100 different ways between only five people; the key is recognizing they are individuals, offering unique perspectives and operating on different wavelengths. Knowing different leadership styles helps you interact with people. Sometimes teammates need a role model to mimic, and sometimes they need someone to listen to and value their opinion. Having different styles of leadership at your disposal gives you a significant advantage because you can work with a wider range of people.
It isn’t just your interactions that can improve. We know that the more cooks in the kitchen, the more likely it is that conflict will arise. Leaders are not only aware of their default conflict resolution style, but they are aware of the various ways that conflict can be handled. When disagreements arise on your team, you are better able to see where you fit in, and even whether you should intervene. Effective conflict resolution is not just about helping others sort things out; it includes recognizing when situations should be left for the disagreeing parties to work it out on their own. A team’s leader won’t always be around, nor will they always be effective. Having a teammate with sharp leadership skills keeps that team from dissolving due to any absences of official leadership.
Improving Your Work Flow
Effective leaders reached their position (most of the time) because they have shown the ability to handle not just their work, but that of progressing a team of followers to achievement. If you think about the leaders in your life, you know they have their own set of tasks to take care of that are altogether separate from the team-related tasks. Compiling all of that into a workweek requires productivity, which requires self-awareness. Leaders look inward as much as outward, perhaps even more, because they recognize that how well they do their job directly affects others. For those not in a leadership position, you are capitalizing on this skill and can incorporate self-awareness realizations into their work processes.
More self-awareness doesn’t automatically or necessarily lead to more productivity, but it definitely allows for it. Increasing self-awareness entails, in part, knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are. The better you understand this, the better you are at playing to the strengths and developing the weaknesses. Some will argue that focusing any time on your weaknesses is a waste. That is a perfectly acceptable mindset, but it means you must utilize others to help you where those weaknesses exist. Either way, you get more done by increasing what you’re good at doing and decreasing what you’re bad at doing.
Being Comfortable with Ambiguity
If you’ve always received explicit instructions on how to complete a project with zero room for interpretation, then you are in the vast minority. For the rest of us, we deal with a certain level of ambiguity that can range anywhere from using a bit of creative license to receiving single-sentence directions from your boss. With ambiguity comes extra decisions; with extra decisions comes results. When we are left to make decisions without specific structures or definitive answers, we are subject to a certain percentage of errors. Leaders look at errors, which are essentially failures, as learning lessons. It’s important for their position because they must decipher the feedback to adapt their strategy. When framed this way, it’s not really limited to leaders anymore, just as failures aren’t limited to those in leadership positions.
Resilient leaders push themselves through their failures by acknowledging what is going on, accepting it, committing to not personalizing it, and seeking the feedback in it. From there, they can make more informed decisions. Ambiguity can lead directly to the opportunity to use this virtuous cycle of building resiliency. Thus, being in a leadership position really has no bearing on whether you decide to melt in the face of adversity, or persevere forward by flexing your durability muscle.
As stated earlier, these reasons don’t cover every way in which being a leader can benefit you despite not holding an official leadership title. It will, however, help you recognize where you need to put in work. Even if you are positive you never want to take on a leadership role, you owe it to yourself and those around you to be the best version of you. After all, no one else is going to be you as well as you can be.