Most organizations are hungering for and searching for excellent future leaders. Is a leadership role where you’d like to see yourself? If you are having a hard time moving up within your organization, or you’d simply like to fast-track the process, there are plenty of things you can start doing right now to position yourself as an up-and-comer with leadership potential. Then you’ll be top of mind the next time promotions are being considered.
Some strategies to start incorporating into your work life right now:
Go above and beyond. Don’t just meet expectations. Exceed them. If you have a project deadline of four weeks, see if you can finish it in three. If you’re asked to turn in a basic numbers report, include some attractive charts and graphs that analyze the trends. If you’re asked to research three of your biggest competitors, do five. When you’re called to a meeting, come prepared with a report of what you’ve been working on, and some ideas you’d like to present if given the time.
Be the problem-solver. Look around your organization for recurring issues. Rather than just dealing with them as they come, see if you can discover the root cause of complaints, glitches and problems that need to be fixed. If you can be the one who always seems to come up with creative solutions that increase customer satisfaction and reduce staff headaches, you will prove yourself to be a valuable asset indeed. The kind of forward-thinker who should be in an oversight role.
Cultivate the personal qualities that make a great leader. People will naturally want to follow someone with fantastic leadership qualities like projecting positivity and loving what you do, working harder than everyone else on the team, setting high expectations and if you are in the position to do so, rewarding employees for excellent work. On the flip side, be sure to hold staff accountable when they are not pulling their weight because nothing bursts morale like feeling as if some of your fellow workmates are being allowed to slack off and pass the work burden onto others.
Offer to take on more responsibility. Volunteer to head up a project no one else wants to do. Offer to lead a meeting or conference call if it’s a topic in which you have some expertise. Take a look at some of the work that your superiors are doing that you could do for them. Offer to assist them with it or take some of it off their plate completely. You will forge a closer working relationship with them and earn their gratitude.
[Related: Quick Tips for a Successful Conference Call]
Create a new position for yourself by filling a need. Especially if you work for a smaller, growing organization, there may be work that is getting outsourced or simply going undone due to lack of staffing, resources or in-house expertise. Your organization might benefit from someone to head up Marketing/PR, Human Resources, Purchasing, Office Management, Development, Membership or some other expanding area. That could become a new position or even a whole new department headed by you! If you can determine where there is a need for leadership and you feel capable of taking it on, it may just be a matter of suggesting it to your superiors to make it happen.
Take risks. Think outside the box and be willing to crash and burn once in a while (as long as it doesn’t cost your organization an arm and a leg). Trying something a little risky can have a great payoff, and constantly playing it safe rarely makes a successful company. Be willing to look a little foolish once in a while for the potential to look like a genius when some new idea really pans out.
Own your mistakes. A great leader owns up to their mistakes, apologizes to other staff and/or clients and customers if need be, does whatever possible to make things right, and then uses it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Be open to criticism. Great leaders don’t take offense at having problems and shortcomings pointed out to them. They use feedback constructively as a chance to constantly grow and do better.
Invest in your own development. Seek out opportunities for professional development and the chance to hone and enhance your leadership abilities. Attend conferences, take continuing education classes and workshops, offer to do a speech or presentation at an event on a topic of personal expertise. Make sure your superiors know that you are participating in these kinds of activities. It makes you look more serious about your profession and the desire for advancement.
Join associations and professional networking groups. Not only will these relationships allow you to stay abreast of trends in your industry, but if your current company or organization is not recognizing your leadership potential, their competition (whom you will meet at these events) may.
Dress for success. I know you’ve heard this one a million times, but it bears repeating because if you aren’t presenting yourself in a professional way with your attire, it will be difficult for others to take you seriously. Take some time to consider your clothing, hair, tattoos and makeup. You may be able to get away with casual dress at some high-tech and youth-oriented companies, but if you want to get ahead and be seen as a leader, it’s always prudent to take a look at the way you dress for work. Take a cue from the way your bosses and other executives in your industry dress. Ask a few professionals you respect for their honest assessment of your style. When in doubt, erring a bit more on the conservative side is almost always a good rule of thumb.