Chief Executive Insights

5 ways to help you sharpen your leadership skills

Lisa Stephenson

Very few people get through their career unscathed. Most of us at some point experience a redundancy that’s a total surprise, or a performance review that literally makes you feel sick. Leaders across their career are often sabotaged by someone who doesn’t like them, or scapegoated for a group decision that went horribly wrong. And let’s face it, leadership is tough. Expectations are high. Integrity, great communication, ability to negotiate through conflict, sell the vision, be trusted – these are just some of the hallmarks of a great leader, and it only takes the absence of one for the pitchforks to come out.

Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about managers here. Management is about process and following procedures and policies to get results. Management is often dependent on IQ and industry knowledge.

Leadership, on the other hand, is more convoluted, encompassing the complexity of what it is to be human. There’s no rule book to follow. The goalposts are constantly shifting in response to our changing world. Every day we’re developing and learning new strategies to make leaders more effective. We know, for example, how important inclusive leadership is (and increasingly will be) to help organisations thrive. Deloitte research suggests that leaders of the future will need to have six signature traits – cognisance, commitment, cultural intelligence, curiosity, collaboration and courage – if they’re to operate effectively within diverse markets, connect with diverse customers, access a diverse spectrum of ideas and enable diverse individuals in the workforce to reach their full potential.

With all these changing strategies and personal characteristics to keep up with, it’s little wonder that when you think about how many truly amazing leaders you know and have worked for, you can probably count them on one hand. Leading is no easy task!

So, what do we do when we’re told our own leadership capabilities aren’t up to scratch? Try these five strategies to help you regroup, refocus and sharpen your skills.

  1. Perform a full audit. You need quality information. Utilise HR resources and any profiling tools you’ve completed. Gather as much information as you can in different ways to build a holistic view on the impact you are having.
  2. Ask for help. Go and find the best leaders you know and ask them for time. Be clear about what skills, behaviours and attitudes you need to learn. Give peers you trust full permission to provide in the moment feedback and advice.
  3. Review your career path. Do not just go along to get along. Is this a challenge you want to step into? Be robust in your thinking and take this opportunity to design what you want your next career chapter to be. If leadership is part of your success going forward, be prepared to do the work, just like many who have gone before you.
  4. Write a development plan like it’s the most important thing you’ve ever written. Identify your learning opportunities, map out mentoring possibilities and list the ways you are going to build skills. Map at least 12 months forward and allocate five hours per week to your growth. Seek regular feedback on your progress and commit to professional development by reading extensively and attending conferences as well as other learning events.
  5. Build your support crew. Surround yourself with the right people: someone who will tell you the truth, someone who can give you quality feedback, someone who will stretch you and hold you to account, and someone who will help you celebrate when you get it right.

Remember, you’ve got this. Leadership can absolutely be learnt and there’s no better time than now to get started. If you’re looking for some inspirational ideas about what modern leadership should look like, check out this TED Salon interview with entrepreneur and former Icelandic presidential candidate Halla Tómasdóttir, who believes there’s a leader inside all of us.


Written by Lisa Stephenson.

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Lisa Stephenson
Lisa Stephenson, founder of The Coach Place Global, is a globally recognised high-impact coach, consultant, keynote speaker and author. You will find her behind the scenes with C-Suite executives, entrepreneurs and high profile individuals in fast-paced environments, where absolute trust is non-negotiable and the stakes are high. Become a Coach Place Member to gain instant access to insightful articles, thought provoking masterclasses, inspiring interviews and more to accelerate your personal growth.


Lisa Stephenson is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow Lisa on LinkedIn.