How do you become a great leader? Let’s look at some of the best ways to develop your leadership skills: finding a mentor, learning from experience, working under pressure, and going to the hardest schools.
I recently published an article in which we discussed whether great leaders are born great leaders or whether they develop into great leaders.
I’ll leave a hyperlink to that article in the description for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.
But in my experience and life, with deliberate study and practice, any skill, including leadership, is able to be trained and developed.
Developing Leadership Abilities
Let’s jump into four ways to develop your leadership abilities, starting with finding a mentor.
I always advise ambitious people to find a mentor, and this mentorship can be formal or informal.
Some junior leaders like to approach senior leaders and ask them to be mentors, to give them advice, and to coach them along throughout their lives and careers. But most mentoring relationships are informal or even passive.
Personally, I’ve never once approached another man and asked him to be my mentor. But I have observed leadership traits that I liked and tried to mimic them. And of course, I asked questions to successful men who were qualified to give good advice.
Importance of Mentorship
I’ve seen several leaders during my army career who were successful because they walked all over their subordinates.
But I think the best leaders are those who care and those who care to develop and mentor their team members.
The leaders I liked and looked up to were the ones who helped me, taught me, and allowed me to go to school or attend training.
They provided a good example, and they allowed me opportunities to train, learn, and develop.
Learning from Experience
A brand new army officer has a lot of book learning when they graduate from the officer basic course and start their first platoon leader job.
But after 18 months of being a platoon leader, he is five times more competent and confident as a leader.
- And if he gets a second platoon, for example, a scout platoon, or if he goes to Ranger Battalion and gets another year of platoon leadership time, he is going to be even more competent and capable.
- The good thing about experience is that you can learn from your successes and failures. And as time goes by, if you are deliberate about your training and development, you will learn and grow from what you’ve experienced.
This is one reason that the military likes to rotate its leaders every year or two. It gives them a greater breadth of experience and knowledge.
Seek Leadership Positions
So if you want to develop your leadership skills, seek a leadership position. Start with a small leadership position.
Learn, grow, develop, make mistakes, and learn from them. Have success and enjoy
And then, work yourself into a larger leadership position so that you can continue to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and grow as a person and a leader.
Time Under Pressure
When exercising, time under pressure or weight is an important consideration for getting stronger.
A woman who lifts small weights will never get used to lifting heavy ones.
A man joins a Marine Raider team, where he is required to carry a heavy rucksack for miles.
The first time he does it, it almost kills him. He is exhausted, but after doing it once a week for a year, he has grown stronger and more capable.
The rucksack no longer bothers him.
Leadership and Responsibility
The burden of leadership is like that rucksack for those who care about their subordinates and want to do right by them.
They will feel that heavy burden when they assume the mantle of leadership, but after a year on the job, it will just be normal.
This is why the best leaders are the ones who have years, even decades, of leadership experience.
They have been trained and strengthened under the relentless weight of responsibility to the point that their shoulders no longer notice the load.
Importance of Rigorous Education
Another great way to become a stronger and more capable leader is to go to harder schools. Not all schools and not all instructors are the same.
A math major from Harvard is going to be more capable than a math major at Central Wisconsin College in underwater basket weaving.
A sunny boy from ROTC in Hawaii will not be as rock solid as a Virginia Military Institute graduate or a West Point graduate.
Personal Experience with Tough Instructors
It seems like during all of my military career, I was assigned to the class or cadre that no one wanted at the infantry captain’s career course.
My company phase instructor was such a jerk, and my battalion phase instructor was renowned for having impossibly high standards.
My small Army Units instructor at the Q course was infamous, and my least favorite Ranger instructor, or RI, was a borderline psychopath.
And yet, because of this adversity and because of their dominant and intrusive leadership styles, I learned significantly more than many of my colleagues who had kinder and more professional instructors.
Show me the one who has been to harder schools and has more time under the yoke of leadership, and I will show you the person I would rather follow.
Conclusion: Four Ways to Develop Leadership Abilities
Okay, so there you have it—my top four ways to develop your leadership abilities:
- Seek out a formal or informal mentor
- Learn from your bad experiences and enjoy your successes
- Spend as much time as you can under the yoke of leadership
- Go to the hardest schools
I hope you learned something new and are now on your way to becoming a better and more competent leader of character.
What do you think is the best way to develop leadership abilities? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.