How to Personally Improve Your Leadership Skills

employees smiling

Effective leadership separates the likes of Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey from the rest of the entrepreneurs around the world. Many studies also show that an effective and efficient leader is likely to create actively engaged and happy employees.

But the best leaders do not happen overnight. Alexander the Great needed to undergo the tutelage of Aristotle before building his vast empire in less than 15 years. How can one then build and foster leadership skills?

Here are three essential tips:

1. Be Humble

In 2017, Seah Moon Ming, the SMRT chairman, stepped down on his role as the CEO of Pavilion Energy. On any given day, some may see this as a sign of weakness.

In reality, many experts applaud such a decision because it meant that the chairman understood the pressing problems hounding SMRT at the time could have disastrous consequences if he didn’t focus all his energy on it.

Second, it showed that powerful leaders could also experience missteps, but only the greatest ones know how to take accountability and be humble.

Indeed, the value of humility in leadership can never be understated. The University of Buffalo researchers once asked over 15 CEOs and 20 mid-level leaders the difference between a humble and non-humble leader.

To be more specific, how do they act in the workplace?

They learned that humble leadership was associated with more engaged employees, lower turnover, and more learning-oriented groups. Overall, organizations with these leaders are likely to achieve growth.

Humble leaders are also often more well-liked by employees. It could be because workers don’t want to see perfect people but individuals who can make mistakes but know how to overcome them, learn from the lessons, and eventually grow.

2. Avoid Boxing Yourself in a Specific Leadership Style


In 1939, a psychologist named Kurt Lewin introduced three leadership behaviors in the workplace: authoritarian, participative, and delegative.

Meanwhile, James Downton Jr., a sociologist, introduced the theory of transformational leadership, which James MacGregor Burns eventually enhanced.

In 2019, a San Diego State University research showed that ethical leadership could help prevent a toxic workplace.

Simply put, the number of leadership styles expands over the years for a good reason: leadership changes with time.

The theories of long ago may no longer be effective today, depending on the organization’s culture and the employees that become part of the team.

Leadership also changes according to the circumstances. An authoritarian leadership may be necessary in times of crisis where people need specific instructions and the clearest directions.

On the other hand, a leadership style different from the company culture may improve performance, contrary to what most people think.

In the 2016 study, the Georgia State University researchers shared that matching one’s leadership style with organizational culture might do more harm than good. It creates a myopic approach to handling things.

They may focus more on what worked in the past while preventing employees from accessing other resources that might help them succeed further.

Here’s a caveat, however. The study stressed that while leadership can be different, it might need to be complementary to work and still align with the organizational culture. An opposite one will only breed resentment and resistance from the employees.

In other words, the best leaders determine what the organizational culture lacks and then fill in the gaps, said the researchers.

3. Develop the Right Mindset

How powerful is a person’s mindset? It determines their beliefs, norms, and values. When it comes to effective leadership, it can lead to long-lasting development and growth.

But what type of mindset works? The Virginia Commonwealth University researchers tried to answer this question.

In the 2020 study in the Leadership Quarterly, the author determined four types of mindsets leaders could have:

  • Fixed versus growth
  • Performance versus learning
  • Implemental versus deliberative
  • Prevention versus promotion

They then revealed that an effective leader might need to cultivate a mindset focused on growth and learning. Otherwise, a fixed mindset believes that people cannot change, while a performance mindset strongly focuses on avoiding negative judgment instead of mastering one’s skills.

A leader’s mindset also needs to be more deliberative instead of implemental since the latter makes one closed off to new information and ideas. Lastly, a promotion mindset is better than prevention as it emphasizes gains and wins rather than losses.

Ineffective leadership happens when a person is not receptive to change. While it’s always comforting to stick to what one feels works, times are a-changing. Leaders also need to evolve if they want to manage well.