The more you learn and develop leadership skills at the earlier stages, the better are your chances of succeeding as a leader. What differentiates great leaders from poor ones is not the technical abilities and educational qualifications, but the leadership skills to create the type of culture that people want to work in, and to be a boss who people want to work with and follow. If you are considering a career move into a leadership position, here are some helpful guidelines:
Start gaining leadership skills in your current role:
Even if you are not yet in a supervisory or management role, seek out opportunities to assume informal leadership roles, such as leading a team through a major project, participating in a work assignment or project that will give you visibility and exposure to senior leadership, representing your organization at a major event, or serving as a speaker where your clients will be. Ask your boss for work assignments that include some supervisory responsibilities, even if temporary, so that you can begin demonstrating and practicing your leadership capabilities.
Participate in a supervisory or management course that teaches fundamental leadership skills. These workshops can be one-day sessions or several-day workshops, and they are worth every dollar because they are designed to be interactive, hands-on, and allow you to practice supervisory and management skills.
Seek out a mentor or leadership coach:
Find a mentor who you consider a role model as a leader. This may be someone within or outside of your own organization. Ask them if they would help mentor you in the areas of leadership. In an informal mentoring relationship, you need to take the initiative to reach out to the mentor in order to keep the relationship moving. Mentors love to help others, teaching their wisdom and sharing their experiences. But they won’t always know what you need from them, so be specific. Ask them out for coffee or lunch and give your mentor an idea of the current challenge or issue you are dealing with, and where you need their guidance.
Consider investing in a leadership coach who will work with you on career and leadership development together. The coach will help you clarify your career goals and provide you with tools that can help assess your leadership style and behaviors. The coach will work with you for six months or longer, and will hold you accountable for creating actions around your leadership development and career path into leadership responsibilities.
Act like a leader:
Behave and perform as if you are already in a leadership role. A large consulting firm in which I worked, told the consultants that to get promoted into management roles, they needed to perform at the next level. This was one of the biggest tips I received and practiced that helped me achieve my promotions. Include leadership skill development as part of your performance objectives, and ask your boss for his or her support and guidance. The training mentioned above can be part of that performance plan.
Consciously develop leadership competencies:
Leadership behaviors, which organizations often also call “competencies”, are far more important than technical skills in a field. Several leadership competencies have been recognized to differentiate great performance from average performance among leaders. These include personal and interpersonal skills such as listening, personal awareness, learning, relationships, comfort around higher management, courage, drive for results, action orientation, and decision making capabilities. [Reference: Lominger International, A Korn/Ferry Company].
Initiate your career path:
Begin by scheduling meetings with your boss and human resources leader to discuss and map out your career. You may need to initiate this meeting, but by doing so, you’re demonstrating the drive to advance into positions with more responsibility. Prepare your agenda with three topics: discuss your career to date; discuss where you’d like your career to go; and outline a development plan that will help you get there in the next one to three years, including how your boss and human resources leader can help you. If you have a mentor, have a similar meeting with them as well.
Get regular feedback:
To keep growing as a leader, you need to be very open to feedback and become aware of both your strengths and development needs. Develop your leadership in multiple ways over time (training, mentoring, coaching, 360-degree feedback, experiential roles). Never stall your growth by resisting feedback and being in “denial” of others’ perceptions and feedback. Always place value on further enhancing your skills with training and development.
The time to grow your leadership skills is NOW
Most organizations make promotion decisions based on the “potential” that an individual has, to be a leader. And a major way that they can determine someone’s potential is by observing the person’s style, behaviors, and demonstration of leadership competencies before they promote them. It doesn’t matter at which position you are, start working like a leader today and grow your competencies.