To date, there are approximately 2.1 billion articles found by Google search regarding leadership. Of those, 1.2 billion attempt to define what makes a good leader. National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has likewise identified leadership as a Career Readiness Competency. NACE defines leadership as the ability to:

Leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals, and use interpersonal skills to coach and develop others. The individual is able to assess and manage his/her emotions and those of others; use empathetic skills to guide and motivate; and organize, prioritize, and delegate work.

The biggest investment any organization makes is who they hire to represent them. This is even truer regarding the managers of an organization. Research has continually illustrated that the most common reason people quit their jobs is a management issue. Perhaps this also explains the 69.2 million articles on employee retention, most of which encourage managers to build their leadership skills.

It is no mystery, then, why leadership is a top skill organizations seek in their employees to be competitive in any economy. So what makes a good leader? If words like inspiring, visionary, innovative, accountable, passion, or results-oriented come to mind, then know these are just a few recognized characteristics. Be Leaderly identifies 100 qualities of effective leadership and such brainstorming brings to mind notable individuals like, Oprah WinfreySteve Jobs, and Mahatma Gandhi, who seem larger than life. You could even feel a little intimidated as if great leadership is a genetic trait. The truth is all great leaders have faults and failures. As the famous coach, Vince Lombardi, said, "Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile."

Organizations are as unique as the individuals within their businesses. It stands to reason, then, that their leaders would be different as well. Much has been written about the different types and styles of leaders. Approximately 50 years of research and nearly a dozen theories and frameworks outline the strengths and weaknesses of different leadership styles.  For example, Autocratic leaders make quick decisions but are not likely to consult others and Laissez-faire leaders depend more on their followers but may lack structure for their employees. The most recognized leadership styles are Transformational, Transactional, Servant, Autocratic, Laissez-faire, Democratic, Bureaucratic, Charismatic, and Situational. Be sure to check out this free quiz on Mindtools.com if you want to learn your style.

The point is the leadership competency can be learned and there is not one "right" type of leader. It takes a personal commitment to continual learning and professional development to become a great leader. While you may have a preference, the more you know about leadership styles and techniques, the better you can appropriately adapt your skills to the situation as needed. Reading, however, is not enough. The best way to develop your leadership skills is through experience.

Sometimes getting experience in anything is easier said than done. So, to avoid the Catch 22 (I need the experience to get experience), let's review some top skills essential to all leaders:

  • Communication – all forms of communication including public speaking, teamwork, listening, feedback, and interpersonal skills.
  • Commitment – being able to communicate a clear vision and follow through with ethics, motivation, passion, and authenticity builds trust.
  • Decision Making – taking the responsibility to make difficult choices and being accountable for the outcomes.
  • Delegating – the ability to recognize personal limitations; assess and appreciate others' abilities, strengths and priorities to coordinate tasks.
  • Creativity – not only imaginative and innovative but be curious and brainstorm to utilize analytical and critical thinking skills to solve difficult, sometimes abstract problems.
  • Flexibility – learn quickly and practice adaptability and agility to change strategies as needed toward goals and task completion

These skills are your foundation.  Developing excellent leadership, then, is practicing these abilities as well as sharing your unique qualities within your community. Check out these top strategies for gaining leadership experience on and around WSU's campus:

While it is true that you are statistically likely to have a bad manager or two in your career, developing your leadership skills will increase the probability of professional advancement and more importantly, your success as a great leader.  For more help building your leadership skills, visit or contact Career Services at www.careerservices.wayne.edu or (313) 577-3390 to schedule an appointment with a Career Planning Counselor

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