So you want to take on a leadership position as your next step. As a top-contributor, it’s something you’ve long eyed as a goal but aren’t quite sure the best way to make sure you’re equipped when the time comes. More than a quarter of managers said they weren’t ready to lead others when they stepped into their role, according to CareerBuilder. Here are some ways to get yourself ready to lead.
1. Get clear on the type of leader you'd like to be.
What do you value in the leaders around you? What change do you want to make?
In order to know if you’re successful in the growth you’re seeking, you need to first know what success looks like. Write down your values and how they play out in actual behaviors day-to-day. Be honest with yourself about where you are in and out of integrity with them today — where your actions don’t quite match what you’ve written down vs. where you’re doing well. Ask yourself if you’re committed to growing into the person who lives them more consistently. What will you have to give up in order to do it?
Mastering the inner game of leadership — setting a vision, enrolling ourselves into it, and taking responsibility for committed action in that direction — is the way to become a leader others will follow.
2. Ask your manager how you can grow as a leader.
If you've created a trusting relationship with your manager, you'll get extremely valuable feedback there. They know you better than most people, see the work you produce, and know what it’s like to lead in your organization.
If your manager is experienced with coaching employees, they’ll likely ask you questions to get deeper into what you’re hoping to achieve. They might ask you what you think your current strengths and weaknesses are, offer resources to help you grow, or give you more opportunities to take on leadership roles within your current position.
And if you struggle to get feedback that you find helpful, practice taking a step back and look at your relationship. How can you practice leadership there? How can you take responsibility for the relationship and for getting what you need to grow as leader, no matter how effectively your manager coaches you?
This exercise will also help you see if your values align with the values of your company — if the leader you desire to be matches what your manager is asking of you. If they don’t, it’s an opportunity for you to reflect on what’s most important to you, so that you can decide if you want to continue to pursue growth within the same company or seek out an opportunity that more closely aligns with your values.
3. Find a mentor who shares your values.
Seek out others — both within and outside of your organization — who’ve gone down similar paths and found success. Be honest with them about why you’re reaching out and share with them your values and aspirations as leader. Ask them the dumbest (and smartest) questions you can think of and learn from their mistakes and successes.
Admittedly, this is an area in which I’ve struggled over the years so I’ll point out an easy way to sabotage this step. As a high-achiever, I often expected myself to know every answer, even in areas I didn’t have experience in. And instead of asking for help, I’d do research on my own to get an answer so that no one ever saw me struggle. I’d often have a single meeting with someone and never follow up because I was sure they had no interest in helping me.
The right mentors get the struggle. They’ve been there and expect you to go through it, too. Once again, this is an opportunity to practice the inner game of leadership, of acting as the leader you want to be.
4. Get a coach.
For my money, this is the fastest way to grow, period. Advice, lessons, and books from others are useful but your path as leader is yours alone. The right leadership coach will help you to uncover the barriers you put in the way of your own growth so that you can grow beyond them. Seek out coaches who will challenge you to get clear on what you want in your life and as a leader, and lovingly stand for you to step into that.
A coaching relationship is arguably your biggest opportunity to take responsibility for being a leader in your life. It’s different from a mentorship relationship, in that your coach won’t have to have a similar experience in order to serve your growth. In fact, it can be helpful to work with someone who’s experience is far from your industry so that they enter with a fresh perspective. The investment is also quite different, as coaches often require financial commitments beyond what we’ve invested in the past. That creates fertile ground for you to grow as leader, on days you’re full of confidence and days you’re full of doubt, with someone alongside you the whole way.
5 - Remember that every position is a leadership position.
You might have noticed the theme above. At every stage, there is an opportunity to practice leadership. We often confuse management for leadership, when they’re two very different things. It’s possible (and beneficial) for anyone to practice being a leader, at any time, no matter their position or title. That’s what we teach in the Mindful Leader Program and it’s a requirement as the world continues to change.
What that means is that you don’t have to wait until you’re nearing a promotion to begin your growth as a leader, to invest in yourself, or to get clear on what leadership means to you. Start today, with the first step above, and start walking the path as only you can.