You may be wondering why all the promotions are passing you by. Are you preparing yourself well for a step upwards?
Here are 10 things you can do to set yourself up to progress in your career and prepare yourself for a leadership position.
1) Know that leadership is everybody’s business
Leadership is not automatically bestowed upon you with a new job title. Leadership is a mindset and behaviour, exhibited at any organizational level, whether you are a “boss” or not. So it’s important to already express your leadership potential today.
I’ve heard some of my students mistaking leadership with having an over-assertive style and pushing others to do things. Understandably, this is not a very attractive way to be. But I reassure them that pushiness and coercion are closer to dictatorship than leadership! and they don’t have to turn into a dragon to be a good leader. Quite the contrary. Kets de Vries, Professor of Leadership at INSEAD, tells us that most executives want to be effective and at the same time preserve their humaneness. And they can! These qualities are not mutually exclusive.
Leaders then do not force, they inspire, guide, model and take responsibility. They obtain people’s buy-in spontaneously, because they inspire trust, show integrity and consistently deliver on their word. Everyone is called upon to express their leadership at one point or another. So at whatever organisational level you may be, look for opportunities to start flexing your leadership skills right now. Volunteer to take charge of a project, create a new initiative, take responsibility for improving your team’s working methods, organize a social event or a fundraiser. Federate your colleagues around a common cause.
2) Create trusting relations
Trustworthiness is essential for effective leadership. If people don’t trust you, they will not put energy into implementing any of your initiatives. At best, they might pay lip service to you to not make waves. According to a Hope-Hailey (2014) report on trustworthiness, published by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), you gain in trustworthiness through four factors:
- your ability to do the job
- your concern for others
- your integrity
- your reliability
So use every opportunity to demonstrate these behaviours, make people feel safe around you and create relations of trust with your colleagues, clients and bosses.
3) Consistently exceed expectations
Doing your job well is normal, but walking the extra mile is extraordinary. It’s what makes your customers happy and wanting more. It makes you feel that you are useful, that you have a unique contribution to make, that you have a purpose. It is this willingness to add value that creates your reputation for being an overachiever who is always striving to do the best for her clients, team, co-workers, boss and ultimately the company. Be ready to always endeavour, to create, to be proactive and productive.
4) Don’t wait to get noticed
Be your own ambassador, make sure everyone knows what you projects you are working on and what you have achieved. Stay real and honest, and above all don’t play yourself down. If you are excessively modest about your accomplishments, they will not be noticed and you will not get credit for them. Careful though not to overstep it and get a reputation for being a show-off, and make sure you give due credit to others too. If you can manage being your own ambassador gracefully, without boasting, you will build a solid and reliable brand.
5) Get a mentor
Experienced colleagues can give you invaluable tips about how to navigate through your organisation’s cultural paradigm. They will tell you what is accepted and what is not, they will guide you through the politics and help you select your best career development strategy. They will share their leadership experiences with you, what worked and what didn’t. They might also share their network with you and help you progress. By definition Mentors act out of selflessness and because they believe in you and your talents. Always be honest, reliable and grateful for their support.
6) Develop yourself
Don’t ever, ever think that you have nothing to learn. Improve on yourself constantly, take courses, read specialized work-related articles and books and also broaden your general knowledge. Leadership scholar Warren Bennis lamented the pervasive cultural illiteracy of many leaders and managers in today’s workplace, despite their technical adeptness. This ignorance of the world diminishes their capability to understand and positively influence others in today’s global complex settings. Instead, being world-wise and cultivated greatly increase a leader’s self-confidence.
So, make use of the tons of learning opportunities on the web, from free MOOCs to online degrees, great education is only a click away. Consider making a commitment to a certifying course or a new degree, if that will help your personal and professional development. Especially, don’t wait for your employer to provide you with training. Priority and budget for learning and development differs from company to company, so you cannot count on that. Your personal development is your responsibility.
7) Stay authentic
A lot of people put on a mask when they walk into the office. They have consciously or unconsciously chosen a professional personae and that’s who they wear all day long. Apart from the fact that constantly keep up a front is exhausting, it is also highly ineffective in terms of establishing trusting relations with others. Everybody senses a fake. It’s intuitive, we all have this inborn skill of sensing when people are not being their true self. We instinctively notice discrepancies between what a person says and their micro body language, between the values they proclaim and their deeds.
Your only Unique Value Proposition is YOU. So don’t try to be anyone else. There is nothing more wonderful and precious than YOU. And besides, YOU is all you’ve got, so be aware of your strengths and leverage them, work on your weaknesses with serenity, it’s perfectly normal to have some. Your ability to accept your own imperfection while still holding a strong self-concept is the key to emotional maturity, and it makes you a reliable and honest leader. Your authenticity is your charisma.
If you think you may be having issues with authenticity, you might want to work on your self-confidence, it is the fastest path to letting your true self shine.
8) Say thank you
Say thank you to anyone that helps you on the way. We never, ever do it alone. Being grateful and giving credit is your way of giving back and consolidating a reputation of being the kind of person people want to have around them, the kind of leader that people are willing to follow towards a common goal.
9) Have a plan, but more importantly, have a purpose
Having a career plan is great, wanting to get to a decision-making position is fine but you must discover what your life purpose is. Knowing your life purpose is what fuels your motivation. Why do you want to progress? Is it for the money, the title or the power? Of course, these are important factors but if you don’t have a deeper anchorage, alas your happiness will be short-lived. Understand what you want to contribute and who this will benefit. Focus on moving towards your purpose. Avoid complaining, unless you just want to let a bit of steam off on rare occasions. Otherwise, complaining is just an energy drainer, it does nothing for your leadership capabilities, and it won’t get you anywhere. When you have a deeper sense of purpose, you are energized. And when you have a plan of how you intend to realize it, taking action will be easy and you will find that surprisingly your career unfolds before you, with very little effort on your part and lots of joy in the process.
10) Know thyself
Self-awareness is the hallmark of effective leadership. It means knowing how you work inside, what makes you tick, what you are good at, what you are afraid of. As a self-aware leader you are fully conscious of what you are doing, why you are doing it, how you are doing it and what impact your action has on others and yourself.
The ancient Greek precept “know thyself” is still extremely pertinent today, given that the workplace is so stressful, people are overworked and there is no space for thinking time. Many leaders I work with are so overwhelmed by impossible deadlines and ridiculous targets to meet that they function on automatic pilot, just charging through the day doing what needs to get done. It seems that time for self-reflection is a luxury they just cannot afford. So in coaching, we just go ahead and take the time, together, until the leader gets into the habit of creating a brief, daily, special time for herself.
It’s really very simple, reserve a moment for yourself, commuting to work or taking a walk at lunchtime. It’s a time when, you can reflect on yourself, on your leadership style by asking questions… How can I think more strategically? What makes me react like that with that colleague? What help do I need to solve this difficult problem? What other solutions haven’t I thought of? What qualities did I exhibit in that crisis? What do I really enjoy about my work and how can I do more of that?
You will be surprised at all the good answers that you find!
In conclusion, leadership is not something anybody can give you by putting you into a higher level post. Leadership starts within and it is exhibited in your behaviour on a daily basis.
Start practicing it now, you will naturally make yourself more visible, you will be more aligned with your values and you will greatly boost your chances for career progression.
Try doing at least one of these points and let me know how it went in the comment box.
©2018 Saba Imru-Mathieu, Executive Leadership Coach, Founding Partner, Leaders Today