One common characteristic of good leaders is that they are always working on being better. Sometimes that involves indulging in a formal, off-site leadership program at a big-name school. Other times, it can be more reflective: taking the time to read and learn from a compelling book.

Yet sometimes the demands of the business afford us less time to focus on our own growth. For those busy phases, here are three easy ways to continue to upgrade your leadership skills.


In addition to being short on time, we tend to face a lot more challenges when we are busy. One way to flex those leadership muscles is to indulge in a little workplace alchemy: try to turn challenges into lessons.

Every issue can present an opportunity for growth. Whether it is reflecting on a crisis after it has been handled or scheduling a brainstorming session to find creative ways to tackle a problem head-on, coupling learning with problem-solving can be beneficial.

Incorporating and encouraging takeaways opens us up to learning and growing not just from the situation but also from the people around us. By doing so, we are also encouraging contributions while reinforcing our presence as a leader. Further, such actions underscore our willingness to learn and be open to new ideas.

Turn into the torpedo

Dust off the VHS (or just click below) and check out the scene from "Hunt for Red October" (before Alec Baldwin was president, he was in the CIA). Sean Connery’s character calmly does something bold and counterintuitive. After the fact, it seems like common sense — combat tactics but in the moment it required the confident application of a basic principle in a high-stakes situation.

Such scenarios present frequently during new product rollouts, crisis management or busy seasons. As leaders, we can be ready to take advantage of those opportunities. Though they may be spontaneous, our anticipated responses can be planned. For example, decide that the next time you are moving fast, building momentum or on a roll you will take a minute to breathe and ask what else can we do?

Taking these kind of common-sense steps in not-so-common situations strengthens our ability to maintain awareness and control regardless of the pace. It also reinforces our place as a leader by providing a visible, positive example of confidence.

Check the tires

The final — and probably the easiest step is engaging in small talk with different employees. The key to this exercise is to understand the impact it has. Were the employee and those around her shocked that you stopped by and bewildered at why you made small talk? Did she joke with you and provide an unsolicited idea?

The effects of your interaction may provide some guidance to new areas of development. Perhaps it has been too long since you interacted with the staff or talked to anyone outside of your department. Use the interaction as a learning moment to inform your future interactions.

The bottom line is formal professional development can be amazing. However, it is possible to learn something every day that strengthens our leadership skills. Just like exercise, if we take a minute to look around or do a little bit of planning, we can find ways to easily fit it into our everyday routine.