While there is such a thing as a natural leader, most of us have to work at it. While experience can help a lot, especially experience in lower-level positions as this allows you to gain insight into the day-to-day job requirements of the people you manage, it isn’t essential. There are many skills a leader can develop both in preparation for taking the helm – or even once they’re in charge – that can make a big difference.

Be An Active Listener

Listening, and most importantly, retaining the information you’re exposed to, is one of the most valuable skills of a great leader. The more you listen to others, including industry experts, peers and employees, the better placed you’ll be to understand your business and the things that make it successful. This is the foundation not only for building a successful business, but also for becoming a successful leader.

Never Stop Learning

Knowledge is power, and it can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure. Good leaders know that they don’t know everything and they take every opportunity they can to learn as much as possible. This is important in all aspects of life, not just business, because even things that seem unrelated to your career may assist you in your professional pursuits as well. For example, learning to meditate may help you to react in a calmer manner during stressful times, which can be beneficial in both personal and professional settings. Or taking the time to learn how to be a better public speaker can have a positive impact on your business, and also drastically improve other areas of your life.

Take Time to Think

Leaders should set aside time every day to simply think. Whether it’s during your commute, on the treadmill or at the end of the day before you leave the office, dedicate time to think about how you can improve your business, assess outcomes and brainstorm opportunities for growth. Consider what personal and business processes you can put in place to improve performance. The goal is to be constantly evolving, constantly improving every day.

Set Clear Goals

Effective leaders always have clearly laid out goals, but even more importantly, they set objectives that are challenging but achievable – and they also include timeframes. It’s all well and good to have business goals, but if you don’t set clear expectations around meeting them, then you’re not likely to reach them. The other key attribute of successful leaders is to continue setting new goals. As soon as you hit one target, line up another one. If you’re continually striving for more, growth will occur naturally.

Be Decisive

Successful leaders are decisive. They know how to make decisions and what information they require to make the right decision. The one thing they don’t do, however, is make rash decisions, nor do they shy away from the hard ones. The latter can be especially hard when it comes to changing course. It can be difficult to start again or change your path if the direction you’re going in isn’t working out, but good leaders know that sometimes you have to hit the reset button in order to progress.

Create a Positive Work Environment

The best leaders surrounded themselves with talented people, and the best way to attract and retain talent is to create a positive work environment. There are too many to list here, but some of the key things you can do to foster a great company that people want to come and work for include:

  • Help employees maximize their strengths and look for opportunities to help develop weak areas.
  • Create a supportive environment by building trust, communicating expectations and providing training or mentorship when it’s needed.
  • Provide challenging, simulating work – but don’t overwork your people. Knowing when employees are overwhelmed is just as important as recognizing when they need more of a challenge.
  • Listen to your employees and let them know that you care about their opinion.
  • Provide regular feedback and reward performance.

Foster Accountability

The best leaders lead by example. Embody the ideals and work ethic you want to foster in your company. When you practice what you preach, you not only build trust, you build a culture of accountability.

In addition to working on these skills, it also helps to understand your leadership style so you can identify specific areas where you might need to focus some extra effort. Not sure what kind of leader you are? Try one or both of these quizzes by TestQ and Skills You Need.