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Main Content

Strengthening Your Leadership Ability

When you possess leadership ability, you're comfortable taking a leadership role. This ability centers purely on your comfort with being a leader – not your leadership style or your degree of effectiveness as a leader.

Comfort with taking a leadership role is important in any arena of your life. For example, you volunteer to head up a fundraising campaign for a new community center proposed for your town. You take responsibility for researching health-care options for a parent who has fallen ill. You agree to manage a new mentoring program that your company has designed to help bring new employees on board more quickly.

When you feel comfortable taking on a leadership role, you catalyze important changes and generate valuable results for the people and organizations around you. To strengthen this ability, consider these suggestions:

  • Read a book on the subject. Potential useful titles include Developing the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert K. Greenleaf et al., and The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development in the Jossey-Bass Business and Management Series.

  • Take a self-paced online course on the subject. Many online learning opportunities focused on leadership development explore barriers to taking on a leadership role comfortably – such as inaccurate assumptions about what leadership is and or how leaders should behave. Online courses often introduce key concepts related to the topic, provide hands-on practice in related skills, and offer helpful tips and tools. Your employer may have a site license to such courses that you can access through your company's intranet. You may also be able to purchase individual CDs containing modules of interest to you, or download them from the Web for free or for a small fee.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone at school or at work who you view as particularly comfortable with taking on leadership roles. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability.

  • Attend a workshop, training session, or course on the subject. Your employer may offer some of these, or may be willing to fund your tuition if you take such a course. Your local continuing education programs may also offer such courses and workshops.

  • Understand common sources of discomfort with leadership. Many people avoid taking on leadership roles because they don't want to be accountable for problems that may arise during their tenure as leaders. Others feel uncomfortable being in the spotlight – perhaps they've been taught by parents or others that you shouldn't draw attention to yourself. Still others dislike the competition that often arises for leadership positions. Each of these sources of discomfort is understandable and doesn't pose a problem if it occasionally prevents you from stepping up to the plate as a leader. But if such attitudes create a lifelong reluctance to accept leadership roles, you'll be missing out on important opportunities. The first step to combating these attitudes is to acknowledge that you have them.

  • Practice systematic desensitization. Try your hand at leading a relatively minor effort that will unfold over a limited amount of time. For example, take charge of planning a holiday lunch for your team at work. Or agree to be responsible for a special edition of the newsletter published by a local civic group to which you belong. As you gain experience and begin feeling more comfortable with being a leader, gradually take on more complex and challenging leadership roles.

  • Challenge assumptions about how leaders act and what motivates them. Many people assume that all leaders possess the same personality characteristics, leadership styles, and motivations. For example, leaders "give orders," are "loud and bossy," are "glamorous," "have big egos," or "lust after power." Such assumptions can make you uncomfortable with taking on a leadership role if you don't feel you possess some of these characteristics or if you don't admire these traits. To challenge such assumptions, list 10 people you consider effective leaders, then compare their leadership styles and personalities. Notice the differences. For instance, Socrates asked questions rather than directly leading his students to the answers. And Mother Teresa saw herself as a servant of those she led – not as their boss. Based on your analysis, decide what kind of leader you want to be.

  • Appreciate the need for good leaders. Think of times when you participated in projects or efforts that were headed up by others who didn't lead effectively. Recognizing the widespread shortage of good leadership may motivate you to overcome any discomfort that you have with taking on a leadership role.

By growing more comfortable with taking on leadership roles, you enhance your ability to initiate valuable change for the organizations and individuals most important to you. The strategies described above can help you strengthen this important ability.