Female business leader conducting a meeting

Some people are born leaders, instinctively stepping in to take charge during moments of crisis, making tough decisions under pressure, and providing guidance to those with less knowledge or experience. But leadership isn’t solely an inherited trait–it can also be learned and refined with practice. If you find yourself starting the discovery process about how to be a leader in the workplace, you’ve found the right place. Being a leader in the workplace can serve you well in your career. When you have a reputation for being able to lead, it opens the door to new opportunities, which bring more responsibility, great autonomy, and higher pay. 

Being a leader can also be incredibly rewarding, giving you a chance to do work that’s meaningful to you and make a lasting impact. As a leader, you’ll play a big role in inspiring the next generation, helping others to be the best they can be, and maybe even changing a few lives along the way.

The importance of leadership in the workplace

Every workplace needs leaders. Organizations have a mission, and someone needs to ensure that the teams are heading in the correct direction. Strong leadership improves efficiency and productivity. Leaders guide the team members and help keep everyone on track to accomplish their goals. 

Strong leaders will improve team communication and create systems and processes that help everyone stay in the loop. Employees will feel more motivated and encouraged. Leaders set a great example for other employees. Leaders provide inspiration for other employees and bring teams together and foster relationships.

Leadership is so essential for any business to run properly and accomplish its goals. 

Consequences of bad leadership in the workplace

If an organization is suffering from poor leadership, there are many consequences. There will be a loss of employee morale. This will snowball and lead to worse retention rates and poor engagement. When employees don’t have a good, strong leader, there will be an increase in mistakes and decreased productivity overall.

In addition to the negative effect on daily tasks and productivity, poor leadership can have a huge impact on the creativity and innovation of the team. It’s harder to organize thoughts and ideas as a group without someone to help prioritize and delegate. The environment will feel less safe and inviting for people to share ideas and ask good questions. 

How to improve your leadership skills

So how to be a leader in the workplace even if it doesn’t come naturally? Like anything, it takes consistent effort, but with some practice, leadership skills will become second nature, and you’ll find yourself more and more comfortable in the role. Strengthen your leadership abilities by utilizing these strategies.

Becoming a mentor

The best leaders aren’t merely concerned with advancing their own interests. They lift others up with them. They don’t just give instructions but model the behavior they want others to follow. 

If you’ve got a few years at your job under your belt, mentor your newer colleagues. There are many benefits of having a career mentor and many benefits of being a mentor. 

Look for opportunities to give constructive feedback that will help them succeed, not just in the role they were hired for but in their career as a whole. For those who seem interested in establishing a closer relationship, you might add structure by having regularly scheduled check-ins or coffee meetings. Being able to guide and help others is a trademark skill of a leader and one that can be honed through mentoring. 

Taking online courses

If you’ve never taken a leadership training course, it’s well worth looking into. A formal training program can teach you the essential skills you’ll need to navigate challenges from the vantage point of a leader and allow you to put new leadership strategies into action. 

If you’re new to leading, taking a course can give you more confidence in your abilities and improve your decision-making. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who can share valuable experiences and lessons learned to help you grow. 

Online virtual courses provide lots of flexibility and the ability to go at your own pace. Choose general leadership courses, like the Practical Leadership Skills class from Udemy or Leading People and Teams from Coursera. If you want something more specialized, you can select options like Ethical Leadership Through Giving Voice to Values from Coursera or How to Influence, Inspire, or Impact as a Leader from Udemy. 

Asking for feedback

Even natural-born leaders can learn something from those with more experience. Moreover, smart leaders recognize the limits of their knowledge and know when to ask for help. To become your best leader, zero in on a few trusted individuals whose leadership style you admire and ask for their feedback. 

Asking for this kind of coaching works best if you give people time to think about it and gather their responses rather than springing the question on them now. Explain why you’re asking–that you’re looking to become a better leader at work–and mention any other factors that might help them narrow their feedback, like if you’re aiming to be promoted or are about to take the reins on an important project. 

If you can, meet in person to receive their feedback, and be sure to receive it graciously. Remember–you can’t improve your leadership skills if you don’t know where they’re lacking. 

Doing the right thing

Your reputation is something you build throughout your career, but it only takes an instant to tear it down. Protect it by always doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

As one old saying goes, “A manager does things right. A leader does the right thing.” Can you differentiate between the two? Sometimes, doing the right thing brings no tangible benefit to you or your company. In some cases, it may even do some damage. But in the long run, the action that aligns with your principles and ethics is always the better move. 

People are inclined to trust you when you have a reputation for integrity. When you’re trusted, people have faith in your decisions, and it’s easier to lead them. By doing the right thing repeatedly, you’ll establish the kind of integrity that separates those who merely hold the title of manager and those who others truly want to follow. 

Empowering others

Leaders inspire others to act. Ironically, though, when they attempt to force others to act, that’s when leaders fail. Leading isn’t about forcing those beneath you to bend to your will. Instead, it’s about giving them the resources and encouragement they need to see your vision and become so invested in it themselves that they take action. 

Great leaders understand people–what makes them tick, why they do what they do, and what will inspire them. Sometimes these things are different for every person, which means it’s not an easy skill to acquire. If you can master it, you’ll have the power to motivate and mobilize others to work toward a common goal, even if the work is difficult and the road to get there is long. At work, this might mean inspiring your team to complete a stretch goal, pushing to meet a tight deadline, or even acting as the catalyst for a major organizational change. 

Stop being afraid of failure

Along the path to Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines, Richard Branson stumbled upon the dud that was Virgin Cola. Oprah Winfrey landed a coveted co-anchor spot on her first primetime news show, only to be given the boot shortly after. All great leaders experience failure, and the bigger the leader, the bigger the blunder can be. 

There isn’t a leader in the workplace who makes the right call on every single decision or accomplishes every goal they set out to achieve. What sets lasting leaders apart is embracing failure as part of the process and not letting it stop them from making big moves. 

In the workplace, this might mean taking charge of a complex project that others are shying away from or suggesting an offbeat idea that would be risky to try but could pay off in a major way. 

Final advice on how to be a leader in the workplace

Always keep working on education and improving your skills. It’s important to show your team members that you are willing to shift and adjust to change. Connect with other leaders and share best practices. Ask for feedback from your team members, peers, and higher-level managers. Utilize the tools we’ve shared in this article, and keep growing.


How can I develop my leadership skills for the workplace?

If you want to advance your career, it’s important to hone your leadership skills. Sign up for online courses, empower others in your workplace, and encourage creativity and innovation. Be a champion for others and help them reach their goals.

What are the best ways to develop a strong team?

To develop a strong team, it’s important that you know how to be a leader in the workplace. Build trust in your team members and encourage engagement and participation. That will help boost confidence and productivity.

How does someone lead and inspire a team of employees?

To be a strong leader in the workplace, it’s important to give your employees a voice and check in with them in one-on-ones and team meetings. Encourage them to share ideas and give them the ability to turn their ideas into realities.

What qualities make a good leader in the workplace?

To be a leader in the workplace, you’ll need strong communication skills, emotional intelligence, integrity, confidence, and good decision-making and problem-solving abilities. Humility is essential as well.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn