The potential we bring to our work is reflected in both our talents and energy. The bridge between this potential and our performance are the behavioural choices we make. The choices we make in each moment of every day to apply the full strength of our potential ultimately determine the reality we create. If your dream is to be a leader of people the most important thing you can do is take ownership for developing your potential and behaving successfully.
Be aware of the influence your behaviour and results have on the perceptions of you created in the minds of other people. Those in a position to influence your career are likely to be observing the way you go about your work. How you interact with other people, the approach you take to getting your work done and the extent to which you are engaged in your own development, all influence whether others see you as a future leader.
Here are seven essential steps to navigating your way into a leadership role:
1. Learn and grow
Understand the capabilities and approaches you need to develop in order to have a positive influence on the engagement and performance of other people. Seek and ask for opportunities to learn and expand your capabilities. Sign up for training or projects, ask to be mentored and listen to learn.
2. Speak up
Voice your aspirations and proactively engage with senior leaders to develop your career plan. Make sure decision makers understand your ambitions and make yourself available for future opportunities. Say something when you see an opportunity to learn or advance. As the age-old saying goes: 'you don't get if you don't ask'.
3. Step forward
Take any opportunities to develop your capabilities or advance your career. Be prepared to give things a go and work hard to achieve the results you need to. Interact with people who can teach you what you need to know or guide you to make the right decisions along the way. Choose wisely each step you take in building your career. Carefully consider the benefit each opportunity brings to develop, grow and advance as a leader.
4. Step up
Assume a leadership role from within your current position. Demonstrate your ability to lead others in the way you take initiative, make suggestions, support your colleagues and volunteer your ideas, time or energy. Self-starters are typically highly valued, as are people who demonstrate the desire and ability to take on greater responsibility. Treat people with respect and decency and you'll have more people wanting you to be the boss.
5. Learn about people
The truth is there is a lot about being a leader that is difficult and at times frustrating. Being selected to take on that role will mean demonstrating that you are able to bring an effective approach to dealing with difficult people issues. A calm, considered and respectful approach, even when faced with the most disappointing or irritating behaviour imaginable, is essential to building confidence in your ability to take the reigns and lead the team.
6. Learn to be a leader
Develop the mindset and capabilities you need to be a great leader and they will help you to get there. Communication, relationship management and stakeholder engagement skills are among the most important you can develop and demonstrate. Armed with these capabilities, along with strong technical competence in your industry and/or profession, you are most likely to be identified as being capable of leading others.
7. Choose who you work for
Look for leaders and organisations that are willing and able to support you to develop your capabilities and career. Choose to work for those who are sincerely committed to helping you learn and grow. Be patient and committed but also know when it is time to move on to another team or organisation where your prospects for growth or advancement are likely to be stronger.
While sponsors and supporters are critical to your ability to be appointed to a leadership role, only you can really make it happen. Invest the time and energy it takes to learn what you need to and be prepared to do the hard yards. Show that you are motivated to make a positive difference to the performance of your team through influencing the success of the people around you. Don't simply wait for someone to deliver the opportunity you are waiting for, do your part to make it happen.
Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management expert and a founder of Ryan Gately. She is also the author of The People Manager's Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit www.karengately.com.au.