Here are seven ways to learn leadership skills, either for free or at a bargain cheap rate.

The cost of education is spiralling out of control, making formal courses of study further and further out of reach for many people. So what can you do if you want to grow your leadership skills, but can’t afford to do an MBA from your university of choice? Try some of these seven ways to self-learn leadership.

Buy a Notebook: Here’s a very simple place to begin. Always carry a notebook and pen around with you. And whenever you read, hear, learn or discern something about leadership, write it down. This helps because 1) what you write you are far more likely to remember, and 2) you will start to build up your own personal database of leadership truths you can then go back over to revise each month.

Create a Reading List: A few years ago my wife started an MA in theology. Naturally she was given a huge reading list of books to go through as part of the course. And I found myself feeling a little jealous that she was able to study whilst I couldn’t afford to. But then I realised, even if I couldn’t afford to do an MA in leadership, I could at least create my own reading list of all the classics in the field. So I compiled a list, and worked my way through them over the next six months. I bought all the titles second hand from Amazon so they were cheap (I still source my growing library either from Amazon or from charity shops). For a list of the leadership books I recommend, see the previous post Top Seven Books on Leadership. And as well as reading leadership theory, I also recommend constantly studying biographies of great men and women from history, and discerning your own leadership lessons from them. Politicians, business people, sports team managers, military officials and even film directors can all teach you a huge amount about communicating vision, building teams, creating strategy and coaching others.

Meet with a Mentor: Think about the top three leaders whom you personally know (or have access to), and would like to learn from. Contact them and ask if you can take them out to lunch or for coffee, so you can interview them about leadership. Before each meeting think of the three most important questions you will ask to learn most from their experience. Remember to take your notebook so you can record the pearls of wisdom they share with you.

Learn from your Experiences: Make a list of all the previous leadership roles you’ve been in; all the teams you’ve led, all the projects you’ve worked on, even all the jobs you’ve had. Then for each one distil one leadership lesson you learned during your time there. You can also do a similar exercise by listing all of your previous bosses, team leaders or people you’ve followed in some capacity. Again, for each write down one leadership lesson you’ve picked up from them.

Take the Old Mentor Test: This is great for when either you’re facing a difficulty or you’re struggling to make an important decision. Think back to the person you have most looked up to in life. Or think of a famous person you would like to have available as a mentor. Now imagine they are facing this difficulty or this decision. What would they do? Plan it out as detailed as you can. So can you take that imagined course of action yourself?

Write Problems as Case Studies: This can be another great way of thinking through a difficulty or a decision; dispassionately turn it into a case study. Imagine it’s a scenario in an exam question. What would you recommend as the course of action? Again, I’ve written more on this in a previous post, How To Overcome Problem Situations.

Weekly Reflection: By now you should have a fair amount of material in your leadership journal. But you need to keep yourself fresh by adding to it. Choose a regular 15 minute time each week to think through 1) what you’ve experienced over the previous seven days, 2) what you’ve learned from those experiences, and 3) what changes or actions you will take as a result.

That’s seven simple, low cost things you can do to learn leadership. Keep doing them regularly, and you’ll become an expert on the subject over time.

Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.

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