You don’t need a title to be a leader. But, it helps.
And for many aspiring leaders, getting noticed and seen as a potential new leader in an organization can be difficult. There are ways to demonstrate leadership skills outside of a formal leadership role, but those skills won’t necessarily bring the position unless noticed. Some organizations have “high potential” programs to identify and develop new leaders, but others don’t—and instead rely on individuals to prove themselves by creating their own development program.
To help with your personal development program, in this article we’ll review four questions you need to ask yourself if you want to become a leader. The answers to these questions will put you in a position to get a leadership position.
Why do want to be a leader?
The first question to prepare for a leadership position is “why do you want to be a leader?” A lot of organizations default to leadership roles as the only form of career growth. It starts early. In many job interviews, candidates are asked “where do you want to be in five years?” with the only reasonable answer being some form of management. Everyone wants career growth, but not everyone wants to be a leader. So, it’s worth examining yourself to see if you really want to be a leader. Or, if you just want career growth and happen to work for a company that defines growth solely as climbing up the organizational chart. If you’re the former, then move on to the next question. If you’re the latter, you might need to move on to a new job.
What leadership skills to you lack?
The second question to prepare for a leadership position is “what leadership skills do you lack?” Team leadership involves a variety of skillsets that you may or may not have developed while an individual contributor. Setting objectives, coaching performance, designing projects, running meetings, and many more. You’ll need to take an inventory of the skills you have and the ones you lack. And pay attention to what skills you may have, but that you developed and demonstrated outside of work—such a leading volunteer projects or running a recreational sports team. More importantly, don’t dismiss skills you lack. Instead, make a plan to start growing and developing those skills—and documenting that growth.
What can I add to the team?
The third question to ask to prepare for a leadership position is “what can I add to the team?” As you’re growing and developing those skills, you’ll need to get experience putting them into practice and you’ll need to demonstrate you’ve developed them. And the best way to do that is to think about how you can add value to your existing team. “Add” is the key word. It’s not about lobbying to take a task from someone else, but rather what new tasks you can suggest and volunteer for that will help you hone that skill. It could be keeping the team synced up by running regular huddle meetings or volunteering to be the go-to person for help using company technology. It might even be volunteering to give feedback to anyone on anything they’re working on. The key is that it’s easy to see how it connects to the skill you need to develop and easy to see how it adds additional value to your existing team.
How can I stay top of mind?
The final question to ask to prepare for a leadership position is “how can I stay top of mind?” You don’t have to wait to start developing your leadership skills. And it may be fairly quickly after you’ve started that you’re seen as a potential leader. But it’s going to take a while before that position becomes available. Outside of fast-growing organizations, most leadership positions don’t open up unless someone already in that position moves on—either via promotion or resignation. In the meantime, you need to stay top of mind with the people who can put you in that position when it does open up. This means knowing who the decision makers for certain roles are, building a relationship with them early, and keeping that relationship going by checking in often so you’re not overlooked.
Preparing for a leadership role is a continuous process. It involves not only continuing to grow and develop but also continuing to document that growth. Documentation is especially important since your first chance at a leadership position is likely outside of your current organization. And if that happens, know that it’s not a betrayal to the place that helped you develop. Smart leaders know not everyone can stay forever. Instead, they’re excited about your new chance to grow into a leadership role and lead a team toward doing their best work ever.
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