Student editors frequently ask me how they can become great leaders, probably because I teach on editorial leadership. I’m sure they’re disappointed when I tell them that I don’t know.
I have a couple of philosophies on leadership. First, I don’t believe anyone can appoint themselves as a leader. Being a leader is a title assigned to you by those who choose to follow you. Second, I don’t think you can ever be done becoming a “great leader.” Leadership is something you have to work on every day, forever. If you stop aspiring to be a great leader, you’re likely to lose any progress you’ve made.
Given these philosophies, I focus on helping students understand traits of great leaders and things they can do to help themselves grow as leaders.
Here are my suggestions for seven proven ways to become a better leader.
1. Model others
Identify people in your life who you consider great leaders. What do they think and do differently?
I consider Ed Kelley, dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, a great leader and a friend. Ed and I were having coffee together one day. I noted that he immediately told me that the coffee was “his treat” so there was no uncomfortable moment at the counter when we both tried to pay. He then looked at the barista’s nametag and used his name when he ordered and when he thanked him for our order. The barista was all smiles. I remember thinking “That is great leadership.” I’ve made an effort to call people by their names whenever possible since this experience. These little things are actually big things that matter.
2. Attend conferences
There are a lot of amazing leadership conferences out there where you can learn from some really well-known leaders who you admire. If you can attend a leadership conference, even locally, you’re likely to take away some helpful information.
3. Educate yourself
My best advice about becoming a better leader is to study leadership. I enjoy studying leadership so much that I’m sure I’ve read hundreds of books and listened to even more podcasts on the topic. For me, I never feel like I can learn enough about better serving others and being an example for them.
Check out my list of Podcasts Worth Hearing for a list of my favorite podcasts, including those on leadership.
My Ph.D. adviser and mentor, Dr. Peter Gade, used to tell me “You have to give yourself time to think.” I thought he was a little crazy for saying this because, at the time, I didn’t really feel like I had time to think. I needed to do. But activity without vision and understanding is wasted. Don’t just desire to become a better leader. Aspire to grow, learn and understand what you know and how it fits into your life’s greater purpose.
5. Push yourself
You’ll never become a strong leader if you aren’t willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Commit to things that scare you, perform your best and learn from your mistakes.
6. Add skills
When you learn something about leadership, put it into practice immediately. Try to really focus on adding at least one leadership skill a month. Doing at least 12 things that will make you a better leader each year will add up over time to make a real difference in the way you perceive yourself.
7. Teach others
Improve your own leadership abilities by helping teach others what you know. Don’t be afraid to give others advice or teach them what you know about leadership, even if you don’t feel like you know enough. You don’t need to guard your leadership knowledge. There’s plenty out there for everyone. The world can’t have too many great leaders.
These are a some of the practical things you can do to become a better leader. What did I forget that you recommend?