Ways we gain leadership skills – outside the office!


With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing so many changes to our work, it’s worthwhile being aware of all the leadership skills we develop outside the office.



Where do you learn to be a leader?


Last week, I wrote about how the pandemic had made me reflect on leadership being more than a job title. Now, I’m following up by looking at how we develop leadership qualities in different aspects of our lives, not just work. These include looking after others and how we deal with change.


Soft skills are the go

Whenever we finish one of our training courses, we ask people to tell us what they’ve learnt. The same words come up again and again; compassion, empathy, understanding.

These traits are what is often called ‘soft skills’ or Emotional Intelligence (EQ). EQ consists of a range of factors, including self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy.

In the last few years, there has been increasing emphasis on their importance. They are now recognised as a vital part of team dynamics and leadership. In fact, if you’ve been for a job interview in the last few years you’ve probably been asked questions designed to gauge EQ.

These so-called soft skills are often learnt outside work. For example, looking after our families teaches us understanding. Volunteering and participation in community events teaches us compassion and empathy.

Parental leave and caring

I think anyone with offspring could talk all day about this one! Parenting teaches you to be less selfish, to juggle time, to manage lots of different tasks.

As well as this, kids are like a mirror for your own behaviour; if you’re irritable, it is likely they will be too. This is similar to what I always say about working with horses during our leadership courses – they too are a source of immediate feedback.

There was a time when we were encouraged to try to cover so-called gaps on our CVs due to parental leave. Now, I’ve been heartened to hear people are starting to write the skills they’ve learnt from being on maternity leave. There’s even an organisation in the US which invites women to update their job title as  ‘Mum at the Pregnancy Pause’.

And, having my husband home more than usual during the COVID-19 lockdown has had me thinking about what a learning experience it is for him too. Pre the pandemic, his job involved a great amount of travelling meaning he’s not had the benefit of as much time with the children as I have.

He’s not alone. This survey on Australian family life during COVID-19 shows that for parents of children under three years old, the percentage of couples who had equal sharing of parenting increased from 28% to 37%, and care ‘always or usually’ by the mother decreased from 63% to 56%.

Caring outside a parental role, such as looking after ageing parents or animals, also presents many great learning moments. (I have first-hand experience with my many four legged family members!).

We can all learn from each other’s different roles in life.

Dealing with change

Change is always a great learning experience. As I’ve mentioned before, in addition to working with the horses, one of my favourite ways of teaching leaders to deal with and embrace change is using a proprietary card game called, ‘The Future is Coming’. You draw cards to give a random mix of settings, challenges and timeframes and have to make them into opportunities on the spot.

Many Australians have had to deal with being made redundant, taking pay cuts and having to change their style of work dramatically.

It’s understandable to feel downhearted or like your career has taken a hit, but remember the resilience from dealing with these changes – such as looking for a new job or embracing unfamiliar technologies – are skills that will last long after the pandemic is over.

And do you know what? Failure is an invaluable learning experience.

Have you learnt any leadership skills over the past few months? When and where? For more information about our leadership training visit www.leadingedgelifeskills.com.au