How to step into a leadership role

The debate over whether leaders are born or made is a perennial topic in management and leadership circles. While there are undoubtedly individuals who are earmarked as having leadership potential from the outset of their careers, being a leader in today’s challenging business environment is about far more than a set of postive personality traits and having the right skillset.

Both of these are important factors but middle- and senior managers wishing to step up to executive level and ultimately lead organisations need to have a strategy and plan in place for doing so. They need to be building their reputations and a solid track record of achievement and, crucially, understanding what the current as well as the likely future challenges of both the organisation and the market(s) in which it operates.

A strong personal brand and high self-awareness is all important for today’s would-be leaders and they need to understand how they are perceived across all levels of the company. A manager may be popular with subordinates and seen as a great team leader on a day-to-day basis but are they demonstrating to those above that they have the vision and stature to lead at a more senior level? Are they aligning the team’s objectives and goals with the over-arching mission of the organisation?  Moreover, how clearly have they communicated the overall vision to their team?

Promising leaders not only manage their teams adeptly but are also able to exert influence upwards whether towards an immediate director or wider senior team. They understand their priorities and pressures and show themselves to be willing and able to step in and assist. They look for and take any opportunity to increase their areas of responsibility and volunteer for positions and projects that they know will stretch them and upgrade their capabilities.

Identifying areas where the organisation has weaknesses is another good way of demonstrating leadership potential. Providing your director with an analysis of the situation and how it could be turned around shows not only initiative but a grasp of the wider picture and concern for the organisation’s overall health.

Really forward thinking managers take this one stage further by anticipating where vulnerabilities may lie within the organisation in the future and bringing them to the attention of the senior tier. So exceed expectations by not just suggesting a solution but demonstrating how it could be turned into a business opportunity to gain competitive edge. The era of digital disruption means that there is likely to be increased scope for doing this over the next few years.

Senior leadership potential is demonstrated by actions but also activity. Being seen as a thought leader by blogging and contributing articles to business magazines, LinkedIn groups and other media all help to build an authoritative profile. With the world of business becoming more fluid and collaborative, leaders must be arch networkers and relationship-builders. Those who remain with a silo-based mindset and approach will quickly be left behind.

All of the above must be achieved while maintaining peak performance and delivering consistent results in the day job. Demonstrating your own step-up potential is all about balancing and managing both your personal and organisational short-, medium- and long-term aims, aspirations and goals, but it won’t just fall into place. The most successful future executive leaders and CEOs have always had a plan and strategy for getting there and arrive at the end goal suitably primed and ready to make a difference.

For more on this subject see our executive report: What are you worth to UK plc? Executive career transition for the VUCA world. 

Read more by Richard Chiumento, here

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