One of the most striking differences in human beings is the capacity for leadership. In any field of endeavor, there are people who are willing to take command, start and stand up for ideals, make decisions and guide others. Simple research will show that their challenging and varied experiences are probably the most important factors that separate them out from the rest of society.
The greatest leaders did not start out being who they became. They slowly toughened up to criticism, grew in strength and resolve in the face of opposition, and learned to rise above or stand their ground in the most difficult situations.
For those who are just starting out and want to be leaders or those who have children and wish to nurture leadership qualities in them, these are ways to encourage, nurture, strengthen the skill:
Start early in life to take responsibility to get things done
“If you start something, finish it.” “Don’t try something, do your best at it.” With these wise words in mind, even young children will make preparations more carefully, and gain the incredible satisfaction of getting things done and done right. One of the worst elements of leadership is all talk and no action. The second worst thing is having a job done but only “half fast.”
Run for a council or executive position in clubs and organizations
In schools, many young people join clubs and are voted to student councils. Adults can join existing church or community clubs, business networking groups, special interest groups such as for inventors. Get into a low power position first and gain experience to move up to the other more responsible positions. This is a good entry level for wannabe leaders.
Join political organizations
In schools and universities there are often political wings for young people interested in supporting national parties. National parties always look for community helpers especially around election time. Being part of a candidate’s campaign will show many aspects of leadership, especially the strength it takes to be a leader.
Community volunteer work
Whether providing care to people in need, performing specific services, fundraising, etc. there is much to learn about leadership. As a volunteer, there is less pressure than in a paid position.
Initiate to take on new challenges in the workplace
In a small-team leadership position, there is opportunity to stretch to new levels of ability. Offer to present projects and studies to others. Organize committees to study problems, offer to organize the staff party or take charge of part of a conference.
Run for election
There is a very good chance that you won’t get elected the first time, but people will notice you and your willingness to reach out to them. You will find out what a leader goes through – firsthand. There is opportunity to hone speaking skills, presentation style and speech writing which are all valuable skills when taking on even greater leadership responsibilities. This also provides a fully realistic evaluation of your personal leadership style. Great practice for bigger and better opportunities.
Form and slowly build your own group
Forming a group of friends into a networking team, starting a special interest group can help develop leadership skills because they are started at the grass roots level. One grows into leadership. Even if it is just to share a common interest, organize meetings and keep detailed agendas and minutes. Keep meetings professional.
Become an activist for a worthy cause
If leadership skills are fairly well developed, consider joining a more active organization that has a higher profile and gets serious media coverage. Some might be World Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, NAACP, SPCA, or the Sierra Club.
Read extensively about people who are leaders
The lives of politicians, business leaders and world-famous people can provide guidance and inspiration. Add to the leadership experiences that you may be undertaking on your own. A few good biographies to consider: Gandhi, Churchill, Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, Aristotle Onassis.
Whether it is a visit to a constituency office to discuss a local ratepayers matter or hearing important leaders at conferences and meetings, there is much to learn about leadership. Local politicians especially can teach much about being in a leadership position and trying to meet needs of many different kinds of individual people and groups in the area. Try and actually talk with people in the highest levels of leadership when possible. This helps to desensitize you in speaking to them, adds confidence and valuable experience for future use.
Observe, study and emulate leaders
Watch them and take notes on different leaders. The notes will be available for future study and consideration. Notice what they say, how they say it, and how they handle reactions and feedback from others.
Take courses and learn about related topics
There are many self-help books to teach people the various elements of leadership. Some valuable ones are: mental toughness, elements of success, entrepreneurial skills, self-awareness, how to influence people, storytelling, handling criticism, asking questions, bridge building, negotiating, inspiring others, emotional intelligence, thinking like a champion, how to say no, motivating others, developing enthusiasm.
Leadership doesn’t just happen – in most cases, anyway. It is usually a slow, uphill struggle and climb to power and potentially greatness. Think about this. Out of the billions of people who have ever been and are on our earth, how few have been blessed with the skills, talents, abilities and inner strength to be leaders.