5 Tips for Building Your Leadership Skills

Leadership skills aren't necessarily what you might think. A charismatic personality, for example, is not a prerequisite for successful leadership, but strategic thinking abilities are a must. And workplace leadership is not just telling people what to do — but making sure they do it. That's more complicated.

Leaders don't have to be long-standing team members or even be at the top of the pecking order. No matter what your role is, there are ways to hone your soft skills with personal development.  

In honor of Presidents Day, let's check out five pieces of presidential advice on building your leadership skills.

1. Know when to lead and when to sit down

“The president must know when to lead the Congress, when to consult it and when he should act alone.” — John F. Kennedy

A critical component of leadership is to develop your sense of what's important for you to do and what others could do better. Consider how a project fits with your employer's business objectives. One of your coworkers might be a better fit for the lead role or it could be time for you to step up and lead.

2. See other people's perspectives

"By leadership, we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it."  Dwight D. Eisenhower

It's no use yelling at people that you want those reports yesterday. But if you explain to your direct reports or coworkers how they will benefit by getting the reports finalized today, they'll find their motivation in self-interest

3. Establish your credibility

“A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of his friends, and that the most liberal professions of good-will are very far from being the surest marks of it.” — George Washington

People don't follow a leader because they make nice speeches. We only follow leaders willingly when their actions lead us to trust and believe in them. Act with integrity at all times to build a reputation for being honest and transparent.

4. Get feedback from the people you lead

"The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people." — Woodrow Wilson

As a leader, you need to know not only if you're hitting targets, but also whether your team is content under your leadership. There's only one way to find out — ask them to tell you how you're doing and if there's anything they wish they could change.

5. Lead from within

"In the long run, we all of us tend to go up or go down together."  Theodore Roosevelt

It's difficult to lead well if you don't consider yourself part of the team. What makes your team members look good also makes you look good, so be a team player first and a leader second.

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Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.