Take the Lead: Five easy ways to advance your leadership skills
As we prepare for our first dedicated training session under the banner of Tolko’s Women Strategy, I’ve been reflecting on the development opportunities I’ve had throughout my career. Of course, my formal education was a great experience and certainly laid the foundation for my understanding of business operations, but I’ve also learned extensively through less formal channels.
What I’ve found throughout my leadership journey is that I need to keep learning in order to move forward. In order to keep improving, you need to keep moving the bar and setting new challenges. That means always learning and growing. But with our busy lives and competing priorities, it can be hard to sneak in continuous learning. Here are five ways I’ve found to keep improving my leadership skills.
I love to read fiction; it’s one of my favorite hobbies. But in addition to the latest mystery novel, I always have a non-fiction book on leadership or business on my nightstand. It’s an easy way to pick up a few new skills and open your mind to a different way of doing things.
A few good books I’ve read recently are “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, “Rules for Renegades,” by Christine Comaford, and “Daring Greatly,” by Brene Brown. Some I read straight through and can’t put down. Others I pick up here and there, reading just the passages that catch my attention. My current nightstand book is “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek.
Inspiration can come from many sources, and books are an easy way to expose yourself to new ideas.
We’ve all heard the adage that most people are hired because of their networks. It’s true. One of the best things you can do is actively expand your network. Find both sponsors, who serve as an advocate for you, and mentors, who provide guidance and support from a different perspective.
If you don’t already have a sponsor, start to build relationships with people in leadership roles around you. Don’t be limited to those inside your own department or profession. Sometimes the best sponsors come from unexpected places. They may be able to shine a light on surprising opportunities they see as a fit for you, and they are likely to recognize different skills and talents that you have to offer.
I’d also encourage you not to focus on gender. My sponsors have been both men and women. What’s important is to find someone in a position of influence who believes in you and is interested in your success.
If you know a leader who has been encouraging of your work, reach out and ask to meet to discuss your career. Don’t hesitate to ask for support. Most leaders are pleased to offer advice and share what they have learned along the way.
I take a broad approach to mentorship. I see it as any opportunity to talk about your work in an open and trusting environment. Think of sponsors as being inside your company, and mentors being outside or inside. You should have multiple mentors, representing different perspectives and experiences. Seek out feedback from a variety of sources, be sure you choose trustworthy mentors.
Even a conversation with a good friend over a glass of wine is a mentorship opportunity. We all spend a good portion of our lives working, so of course, we talk about work with our friends. Rather than sharing the latest updates or complaining about that annoying colleague, shift your mindset to mentorship. Ask questions like, “What do you think I could do differently?” and “How would you handle that situation?” Mentorship comes in many forms when you’re open to it.
Take advantage of training opportunities. Of course, there may be training programs that are required for your role, but check out what else is available and register if you are able. Don’t be intimidated to take a course that may seem outside your job description. If it appeals to you, go for it.
When you are at training, be present and get all you can from it. Even training that’s required can have something new to teach you. If you have to be there anyway, you might as well learn something!
This week Tolko is piloting a training program aimed at women who want to enhance their leadership skills. “Taking the Stage” is a workshop that focuses on communication skills, developing a leaders’ presence and increasing confidence to share ideas. Participants will learn how to script themselves as leaders, unlock the power of their voice and speak with a confident presence.
We have a number of activities planned as part of Tolko’s Women Strategy, but the underlying principle is simple: we want to help our female employees reach their goals. That’s what this week’s training is all about. I am so proud to say that our senior management team, by supporting this workshop, is demonstrating that they support women and want to see them thrive at Tolko.
Set out to intentionally improve your leadership skills. It’s not enough to read the books and talk about improving, you also need to do the work. You need to raise your consciousness to a level where you remain open to trying different approaches and accepting advice from others.
That means not being perfect the first – or second! – time around. You need to self-reflect, adjust and try again. The only thing that matters is that you keep working at it.
These are a few tricks I use to ensure I’m always working toward my next goal. I’d love to know what works for you! Let me know in the comments and let’s keep moving forward together.