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People with followers are leaders. People with the skills that make others want to follow them are good leaders. One can develop this skill-set the way any other skill is developed — through guidance and through experience. Common leadership development methods for both directed and experiential learning include developmental relationships, planned instruction, action-learning, group-dynamic games and, of course, practice.
A great leader follows great examples. When learning any new role, an experienced guide can be helpful. In leadership development, a developmental relationship is a popular strategy. This can be defined as an association in which one person receives guidance from another. Life or career coaches are available to provide this service at cost.
There also are mentors — people in more senior positions that support the progress of a less senior colleague. A mentorship is often free and informal, but it also can be offered in more structured ways within training programs. In terms of leadership development, a mentorship can benefit both parties involved. The mentor exercises his or her ability to lead and inspire, and the learner, or apprentice, gains new insight.
This kind of directed learning is offered not only one-to-one. People also can be taught about leadership in groups. Lectures given by motivational speakers, set curriculums and seminars tailored to specific organizational concerns also are common methods in leadership development. All types of instruction, however, tend to work best when theory is connected to practice through some form of experiential learning.
"Action-learning" is a term for leadership development when it occurs through completing a work-related task that achieves a real objective. Organizations will often test or train employees by giving them particularly challenging assignments, often the sort that is found on the other side of a promotion. In such a goal-oriented atmosphere, however, some workers might not reflect productively on the process or on their own learning and behavior.
As an alternative, group dynamic games have become increasingly popular. They are meant to be a fun way to reflect on one's practices as both a member and a leader of a team. These games can be as simple as fitting together a puzzle or as complex as an advanced ropes course. The latter is a kind of obstacle course that involves complex structures, climbing harnesses and ropes.
These methods of leadership development can be initiated externally, such as by a boss or a parent. Good leadership development, however, must be self-motivated to some degree. In order to lead well, one should constantly seek out practice projects to lead in a variety of contexts and learn to stick with them. Perhaps the most vital skill for a leader, the one that can foster the entire set, is self-discipline. If one can effectively lead himself or herself, then he or she probably can lead others.
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