Have you seen the price of higher education lately?
The management gold standard, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree costs anywhere between £35,000 and £58,000 in course fees (depending on the school), not including books or any extra workshops or seminars one might want to attend.
If you enrol at the prestigious London School of Business – the best of the best as far as business education is concerned, you can add an extra £20,000 to the high estimate quoted above.
If you are like most people who believe such a degree is necessary to land a highly-paid position as a CEO of a major, multi-national corporation, you may be in for a bit of sticker shock: why does it cost that much?
Conversely, if you are among the more realistic thinkers contemplating a future as a leader, you know that earning your MBA doesn’t guarantee you will become the master of the boardroom anytime soon, if ever.
According to Top MBA, a website dedicated to tracking all aspects of MBA performance, only six of the top ten CEOs in the world have those credentials... but, more intriguingly, of the 100 top CEOs surveyed, just 29 of them have such a degree.
Those statistics beg the question: how did the other 71 – including the four CEOs on the top ten list who don’t have an MBA arrive at their leadership position?
It would be hard to say for sure but one thing is clear: they are good leaders who have cultivated their leadership skills to such a degree that they do not need that particular diploma to prove their skills and abilities or to prove they know how to lead.
And you? Are you standing at the threshold of your future, wondering which path you should take? Do you have aspirations toward management and leadership?
Or would you simply like to cultivate leadership skills so you can manage your life, relationships and practical affairs better?
Superprof, being nothing if not helpful, now outlines the steps to take to cultivate leadership skills on your own.
Understand What it Means to Be a Leader
Leaders are born, not made. Bruce Fairchild Barton
A long time ago, that American politician and entrepreneur uttered that statement that, today, some consider utter bunk.
To underscore that point, there is a fierce debate raging around the idea that leaders are born, not made, with the other side of the table averring, just as convincingly, that leaders are made – nobody could be born a leader.
We contend that there is validity to both positions.
There are certain innate qualities that all great leaders possess, such as honesty, integrity, creativity and passion.
These qualities cannot be taught in any leadership training classes or in managerial education courses. However, those leadership traits can be cultivated, if you have them.
Take creativity, for instance: are you in fact quite imaginative? If so, you can put your imagination to use by engaging in creative thinking exercises:
- brainstorming: either on your own or with friends, posit a situation that you must extricate yourself from
- role-playing: here, you can pretty much act out any scenario from wildly implausible to pragmatic
- charades: this classic game can truly help you develop your mind’s eye!
- A similar activity involves weaving a story that revolves around idioms
- take ‘the paper clip test’: imagine as many uses as possible for everyday objects within a specific time frame
- conversely, you may give yourself unlimited time to come up with a set number of uses – say, 50 or 100 for whichever item you’ve settled on
- debating: if any exercise can advance your critical thinking skills, this would be it!
Of course, some of these activities require a partner or a whole team of participants but nothing says you can’t outline a debate, arguing both sides of the issue at hand, on your own.
Now, let’s look at other ways you can develop the soft skills that good leadership demands.
Your turn to chime in: why is it important to develop leadership skills?
Develop Your Leadership Qualities
Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. William Shakespeare; Twelfth Night
Whether you were born great or anticipate having greatness thrust upon you, it could never hurt to develop the qualities of a leader.
The money was right there and nobody was watching it... Rona B.
People had been pounding money into a jar meant for a deathly ill child’s medical care. The jar was not theft-proof; anyone could have stuck their hand in and scooped out a tenner.
After months of unemployment, Rona was tempted. There was such a pile! Who would know? She would have.
In spite of the nearly overwhelming temptation, Rona knew she would not be able to live with herself for having taken something that was not hers... even though it had recently come to light that such donation jars proved to be a scam.
If you, like Rona, shudder at the thought of committing an unethical deed – no matter how seemingly insignificant, you already have the seeds of integrity and honesty firmly planted and growing nicely.
You can take them a step further by insisting on honesty in all of your dealings and encouraging ethical behaviour in others. A real-world example of such are the current climate activists; those advocating for change are not only operating from an ethical perspective but they are passionate about their issue.
Passion is another trademark of a good leader, as is taking responsibility and setting strategic goals. Assertiveness, too, fall along the spectrum of leadership competencies.
These are all qualities that, if you possess them in any measure, you can develop them in your everyday actions and dealings.
Read about the hotly debated issue: what are leadership skills?
Study Leadership Techniques
Leaders are made, not born. Vince Lombardi
Strategic thinking and self-awareness; an empathetic bent and all of the other traits mentioned above balance against the skills taught in leadership development courses around the globe.
In fact, there is such a market for leadership skills training that many such organisations have developed online resources packed with effective leadership skills you can develop on your own.
You don’t necessarily have to subscribe to such an outfit; there’s plenty of free information you could access, from problem-solving exercises to critical thinking skills studies.
And then, it is simply a matter of choosing likely topics to work on from the astounding variety available. You can even take an emotional intelligence quiz online! Did you know that your EQ is a strong indicator of your capacity for being a leader?
While some aspects of leadership and management can be practised on your own, others, such as communication skills, call for at least one person to help you along.
For instance, to practise active listening, the skill used in conflict management, you have to have someone to listen to.
Likewise for team-building exercises: you cannot iron out the dysfunctions of a team if you have no team to work with.
Finally, you should become familiar with different styles of leadership: would you want to be a laissez-faire leader, letting happen whatever will happen? Or would you lean more toward transformational leadership, motivating and inspiring your subordinates?
An effective leader alternates between leadership styles as needed: s/he may be transactional (lots of instruction and clear expectations) or autocratic (taking complete control and making all of the decisions alone); you might even employ a situational management style, fluctuating between leadership styles as needed.
Learning the different leadership styles and studying leadership theories would be a good way for you to understand leadership skill and develop your personal leadership style, especially when that knowledge is filtered through your inherent leadership qualities.
Perhaps the best advice for anyone developing leadership skills: at all times, comport yourself as a great leader would.
Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because somebody might be watching.
Be assertive: you have just as much right to... everything as everyone else does, even if you have to stand firm to get it.
Practise effective communication: at all times, say what you mean, mean what you say and accept that others are equally earnest. Also, put your thoughts aside and truly listen to your counterparts.
Be creative – in conflict resolution, in finding solutions to the challenges you face and in inspiring yourself and others.
Be accountable for yourself and your actions; not just if you’ve made a mistake but in ensuring you’re prepared for anything – from an unforeseen expense to an emergency situation. That includes being ready for any leadership training course you might sign up for.
And don’t forget to care - remember that the best leaders are empathetic.
In the quotes heading each segment of this article, we read words spoken with conviction: that great leaders are born or great leaders are made, and that some become great because their circumstances made them so.
It doesn’t take an MBA to decide which side of the argument you fall on.
Now discover our complete guide to developing strong leadership skills.