So you think you’re ready to take on a leadership role in the company, but you’re having trouble getting the right people to notice that you have what it takes. In this article I will share 8 strategies you can use to signal that you are a leader. This advice comes from a combination of study, personal experience in the corporate world over the last 10 years, and more importantly from top level executives who shared their candid responses on how to become a leader. Let’s jump right in.
1. Ability to understand trends and details
Recently I got to chat with Vince Molinaro, author of The Leadership Contract and a respected professional in the leadership space. One question I asked is how young professionals with leadership potential can make the jump to executive leadership? A key point is by demonstrating the ability to understand the business beyond the tasks and responsibilities directly assigned to you. Do you understand the market trends and forces that drive your line of business? Can you articulate these and connect where your company needs to respond? This is the job of leaders. Tasks and procedures will always need to get done, but when it’s time to sit at the board room table and discuss strategy, you need to show that you understand the macro just as much as the micro. Start asking questions and making contributions which demonstrate that you understand the business, beyond your desk.
2. Master Your Craft
The beauty of being a podcast host at Focus The Fire is that you have a legitimate excuse to chat with people who are much smarter than you, while giving them a platform to strut their stuff and teach others. This tip comes from Ernst & Young Partner Jamila Abston, CPA who mastered her craft so well that it landed her a spot as one of the youngest executives in top leadership. During the interview Jamila explained that you have to hands down do extraordinary work and show your team and managers that you can do the job better than the average person. This will earn respect from the colleagues you will one day lead, and attention from the existing leaders.
3. Tee-up Someone else
I should really save this one for last but who doesn’t like starting with desert sometimes. Jamila gave the example of being in a meeting and realising that someone else is being overlooked when they try to speak, or maybe they’re just intimidated by all the ‘strong personalities’ dominating the discussion. As a leader, you lend your power by carving a space for them to shine with a set up if you know they have something valuable to add. “Hey, I believe James/Judy had a useful idea that may help us tackle this problem. Judy, what was the point you were explaining to me just before the meeting again?” Your unselfish willingness to share the spotlight and ability to draw out the best in others is a crucial leadership skill. Be an ally.
4. Dress and Move Differently
If you want to be taken seriously, you need to be perceived differently. Now listen, we’re not going to sit here and argue about whether this is fair, and how you want to be judged on your work. Today at least, this discussion is about the way things are, rather than how you wish they were. A big part of this is attire, cleanliness and overall image, so get ready to invest a few leader level outfits that your follower friends might not think are hot and trendy. Follow the shepherd, not the sheep. I’ve been known to get a haircut more often than necessary because I refuse to surrender any careless points to the game.
We have a whole session on this with Devoreaux Walton from The Modern Lady for more details. Fear not, there’s advice for you gents there as well. Beyond the clothes and grooming, there’s the actual way you move. It’s time to be intentional. Whether you walk a bit faster to show urgency in the office, fidget less, or make your phone invisible during meetings, these cues matter.
5. Try new things
Curiosity is your friend. A good leader has a healthy appetite for learning, period. It may be learning about your team, a trending topic, history, or an interesting project outside your department. Seek opportunities to connect with projects outside your usual area and add value to those teams, even if it doesn’t mean an immediate bump in compensation. Remember, we’re playing the long game here. This is about earning $50,000 in stock options or an invitation to a million dollar conversation, rather than $50 for working a little overtime.
6. Study people
You want to be a leader? Study leaders. Good ones, bad ones, all of them, and understand what makes them fail or succeed. Connect with the leaders in your reach and show that you can be a major asset to their goals. Power tip: Prime time for this is when a superior is out of the office for business travel or vacation. Can you keep the machine running smoothly and put out fires quickly so they only hear about the solution?
7. What’s your fast ball?
This is a question I recall from my early days at Ernst & Young working with Jamila (rock star executive mentioned above). To fast track your path to leadership you need to become the undisputed heavyweight champion on a topic. Become an expert and it may earn you a spot in leadership. Just like in medicine, people pay specialists more than general practitioners, so pick something that matters then go one inch wide and go one mile deep.
8. Put your face on something
Yes, leadership involves a great deal of humility, but leaders also have to be able to perform when it’s showtime. This is risky business, but so it is with most things that yield bigger returns. Become the face and champion of a high visibility project or process in the organisation. Are there changes taking place? Something new you can introduce? Take ownership and guide that thing to success. Remember to involve the same existing leaders so they’re in it with you win or lose.
Bonus tip: SPEAK UP!
People are terrified of public speaking. Even if you think you’re terrible chances are you are miles ahead of all the silently smart people afraid to articulate their ideas in front of an audience. So whether it’s a small meeting or bigger stage, make your voice heard and people will quickly start to recognise your authority as a leader. Trust me, there are people less intelligent that you somewhere speaking confidently right now. I’ll leave the examples of such to your imagination.
Question: What other suggestions do you have for becoming a leader?
Comment below or on twitter.
Dalan is a private banker and host of Focus The Fire podcast sharing essential career advice for ambitious young professionals.