What makes a great leader? Not everyone has the qualities to take on a tough job that’s non-stop yet immensely rewarding. You need to begin developing strong leadership skills in high school and college so you can take them into the workforce and beyond.
Many students have already created a simple mind map to chart which skills they want to work on and how, but here are eight characteristics students need to focus on to become tomorrow’s great leaders.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is that it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You need to position yourself as someone others can depend on. You need to be the person who can complete tasks when given them.
Take the initiative to change things around, and speak up if things aren’t working as they should. If you want to be a leader in life and at work, you need to demonstrate that you can not only do the job but handle the pressure of being in charge.
Show your superiors you can remain positive even when the chips are down, and if things go wrong—as they inevitably will—you can learn and adapt.
2. Hard work
People around you need to see that you’re ready to put in the hard work it takes to be a leader. This doesn’t mean working longer hours or giving up on having a life. Working hard means working smart—you see a problem and work on it. You don’t shy away from the tough tasks just because they’re challenging. You are ready to push yourself.
Hard work doesn’t mean saying yes to everything; that isn’t the best use of your time. If you don’t know how to do something or can’t take on another task, don’t be afraid to say no.
3. People skills
Leaders communicate with people regularly, so your interpersonal skills need to be top notch. You need to make people around you feel like they’re appreciated and they can speak to you when they need to.
Make people feel comfortable and inspired. You have to lead by example, and that’s important in how you handle people. Understand that everyone has different personalities; you can’t treat everyone the same and expect the same results.
Give people the space they need to shine, but be close enough to realize when somebody needs you. You have to strike a delicate balance in the ways you engage with people. It will take some practice, but this is an important part of being a leader.
A leader needs to be confident in everything they do, especially the decisions they make. You can’t second-guess yourself. You won’t instill a sense of trust in your team if you do.
Of course, confidence comes with practice and experience. But there are a few ways you can build your confidence throughout your student life. Learn to make a good first impression with the people you study and work with by sharing ice-breakers at a meeting seminar. These could be jokes or personal anecdotes that put people at ease and help them engage with you.
Building your confidence and exuding that confidence when you’re around your classmates and teammates will lift everyone up and make you a better leader.
Being a leader means not giving up at the first hurdle. This is particularly difficult considering how much students are expected to accomplish. There are more hurdles in the paths of students than ever before, but you have to persevere in the face of adversity if you want to be a leader.
This doesn’t mean persevering when a task is futile—that is another waste of time (and not a good quality to have as a leader). Instead, perseverance is more about facing the odds and striving to come out on top no matter what. The “never say die” attitude is infectious and will prop up everyone around you.
As a leader, you’ll find yourself in unexpected situations. In such circumstances, your resourcefulness will come in handy. You need to show how resourceful you are throughout your college career and beyond if you’re going to be a good leader.
Use your imagination to problem-solve in different situations, and always look for solutions instead of what has gone wrong. Your creativity can make you stand out from the crowd of students who also want to be tomorrow’s leaders. When people see how resourceful you can be even in the most difficult situations, you can start making strides toward becoming a leader.
Leaders also need to be highly analytical. Don’t settle for approximate results when you’re trying to make a decision. You need to know the facts and understand their context so you can make a decision that may potentially affect everyone who works with you.
Though it’s important to be analytical, you should also be open-minded. Listen to what others have to say about the facts—they may color your impression of the matter.
If you’re working on a project, conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, which will help you look at the positives and negatives of your plan and how you can improve. As often as possible, get the hard statistics so you always have something to back up your decision-making process.
8. Positive attitude
Nobody likes a negative person—not in college, not at work, and definitely not in their life. As a leader, it’s your duty to be positive. You’re in charge of other people who are following you and being inspired by you.
If you’re negative about something, that feeling is going to spread. You need to be a ray of sunshine among the dark clouds—in your class, on your team, and in your friend group.
Show people that things aren’t as bad as they think. Look for the good in the world and share it with everyone. Be the one who initiates team-building activities to bring people together and make your working environment more convivial.
When things do go bad, look at the lessons you can learn from it—don’t dwell on the mistakes. Keeping a positive attitude will raise your mood and the working environment around you, making you an effective leader.
Related: Becoming an Exemplary Student Leader
These eight skills will help you become the leader you need to be. Though you can’t acquire these skills overnight, with time and practice, you can become the leader you want to be and make a difference to the people and places you encounter in school and beyond.
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