Obviously, not everyone can be a leader nor would everyone want to be. I’ve commented before that leaders–by definition–need followers. However, if you want to be a leader or are in a leadership role right now and just want to be a better leader (more influential, more highly compensated, or whatever), this topic might be top-of-mind for you. If not, it probably should be.
Many people tend to think of leaders as holding the top management positions within an organization, and certainly those individuals could qualify for the term. However, “leader” and “senior manager or executive” aren’t necessarily synonymous designations. For the purposes of discussion, though, let’s assume you’d love to get to a higher altitude in your career, which means moving up the “leadership chain” (or management ladder, or whatever else you want to call it).
According to an article by Jennifer Miller, “When a leadership opportunity knocks, are you ready?,” demonstrating your leadership-readiness has a couple of key components:
Note: The others she refers to include not only your boss and his/her boss but also others within your organization that can help you move your career forward (or upward).
I highly recommend reading Miller’s entire article, which is a fairly quick read. It has some practical, down-to-earth suggestions for assessing your support throughout the organization and maximizing the extent of your visibility as a promising candidate for career advancement.
While it’s true that some leadership talents can be innate, I believe (and I’m certainly not alone) that much of what we think of as leadership can be learned. It does call for self-awareness and the ability to evaluate your capabilities–to reach out to possible mentors, for example, for help with areas where you realize you need to grow in order to be ready for advancement.
You need to have good connections both within your organization (and at as many levels up the chain as you realistically can) and outside of it–such as with your company’s customers, vendors and industry leaders in general. If you don’t yet have those connections or enough of them, that’s one good place to start working. The quality of your connections (and how you are perceived by them) plays a critical role in how much they are willing to serve as an advocate for you and support your career/leadership progress.
To sum it up, here’s part of the closing paragraph of Miller’s article: “It’s not enough for you to be ready to take on a bigger role at work; you also must be seen as being ready…By seeking out advocates, building your strategic thinking skills and creating connections throughout your organization, you will be seen as ready when opportunity knocks.”