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5 Tips to Improve Your Leadership Skills

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When it comes to leadership development, Merryn Rutledge, a former instructor in UVM’s Leadership and Management courses, has seen her share of leaders striving to motivate employees and make the best strategic decisions.

The best leaders, Rutledge says, find a way to remain true to their core values and their organizations even in the face of the personal and professional stressors inherent in the workplace.

But how do the most successful leaders remain true to their values and make the best decisions? The key lies in ongoing self-assessment, says Rutledge, Ed.D., an organizational development consultant and executive coach for more than 20 years.

“Ongoing assessment begins with the reflective powers of the leader,” she says. “The exceptional leader has to be constantly aware of: ‘Who am I? What am I doing? What are my priorities? Do they square with my values? What effect do I have on other people? How do I know that? Am I acting in accordance with who I want to be? How do I know that?’ That’s what I mean by highly defined reflective powers.”

If you want to improve your leadership; start by looking inward. “Leadership assessment starts from one’s self,” Rutledge notes.

Here are 5 tips to help you improve your leadership skills:

  1. Practice meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness practices “create space for practicing non-judgment and detachment from one’s ego, so whatever specific meditative practice one has, it can make a huge impact,” Rutledge says.
  2. Keep a daily journal. Daily journals can help you sort out what’s important – and how to achieve your goals. “It’s a conscious reflection on ‘What did I do today? What did I mean to do today? Who did I encounter? What was my experience with those people? ” she explains. “When you journal, you are standing back and looking at what you’ve done.”
  3. Begin the process of formal goal-setting. “Goal-setting is an ongoing process. It’s strategic and it’s tactical,” Rutledge notes. The world’s best leaders – think the late Nelson Mandela, for instance focus on a few, carefully chosen priorities. Great leaders can hold complexity in their heads while not cluttering their agenda with too many priorities.
  4. Take time – and schedule it without any interruptions. “Make sure you have dedicated time every week to think,” Rutledge says. To do that, schedule time in your calendar for yourself. “I had a client who initially said, ‘I’m too busy. I don’t have the time.’ And then he started devoting time for himself every week. At the time, he was leading a small Vermont organization and raising three young children. And now he’s head of a national organization. He goes to Washington; he talks to people at the White House. Taking the time to think about his own practice, his own values and his work-life balance with his family has made a huge difference in his constantly emerging leadership.”
  5. Keep learning. Whether it’s reading a new book or taking a course, like the Compassionate Leadership course, “the more knowledge one has, the more frameworks, the more tools, the more what you think you already know will be challenged and broadened,” she says, “and that is going to help you be a better leader.”

Professional development seminars are appropriate for rising leaders, supervisors, and managers of all levels, including professionals currently experiencing challenges or looking for advancement, and executives who want to reassess their ability to influence others. A program like the one at the University of Vermont features instructors from its award-winning Grossman School of Business as well as leading expert practitioners. Rutledge recommends finding continuing education that is designed for working professionals to minimize time away from work and family. The information you will learn can be applied immediately in your workplace, help you more effectively manage your organization, and determine ways to develop a better work-life balance.

Learn about UVM’s Leadership and Management courses.

An earlier version of this story was originally posted in 2014.