Leadership, like our workplaces, is constantly evolving and right now leadership is experiencing a new wave of change. The emerging leaders of today are no longer waiting for change to happen, or to become a CEO or be in a position of power. They are demanding change and getting it done themselves. If they cannot do it within existing structures and organisations they are ditching the day job, going out on their own and leveraging traditional communication channels like the media to make the change they want to see happen.
As Sheryl Sandberg describes in her book Lean In, careers today it is not a traditional ladder, they are a jungle gym. So it’s up to each of us to navigate and create our own career and seize the opportunity to fast track leadership to make the change we want to see.
As we experience these different pathways in careers the principles of leadership are largely the same, but the tools we use to lead and how we get there have changed. So how do you fast track your way to leadership in today’s world? Here are the 5 essential tools.
Lead yourself first
Being a great leader may first appear like someone at the front of the room making a great speech, being on the front page of the paper or being known in your industry as a ‘go to’ person.
This is the end result of leadership.
To get here leadership must begin with you. It is very difficult to lead others if you have not done the work on leading yourself first. It is like an iceberg – people see the 10% of the ice on top and just a small fraction of leadership. The real work of leadership is the 90% below the surface – the work on yourself and leading you.
Fast tracking your leadership begins with the ‘below the surface’ work on you. Being self aware, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, your genius zone and excellence zone, your goals and vision must come before leading others.
When you lead yourself first, you are a powerful leader for others. This is because you have clarity which gives you a strong foundation within yourself and an inner confidence as a leader.
Demonstrate your leadership
Don’t wait until someone taps you on the shoulder for the leadership role of your dreams. While some might be fortunate to have this happen, it’s still pretty unlikely.
Demonstrate you are a leader before you have the leadership gig. To be a leader today, it isn’t about a title. Emulate the behaviours and attitudes and take the initiative and actions of a leader before you have the role.
This looks like being proactive, doing more than is expected of you, finding opportunities for improvement in your team, bringing people on board with an idea and showing genuine care for people in your team.
As you demonstrate this leadership build your own personal case study of the results you have achieved so you have evidence for your leadership capability when positioning yourself for a leadership role.
If a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to hear it, did it make a sound? It’s great you have the skills and capabilities of a leader, but if no one knows about it, then you will be invisible.
If you’re a human it’s likely you have a concern around self promotion. The best way to be visible is to actually tell people, but how often do we actually do it?
When you are visible you are front of mind and a magnet for leadership opportunities. People will naturally think of you to put you forward.
Increase your visibility by finding sponsors inside and outside your workplace, ask to write a blog on your company internet, offer to run a lunch and learn session, post your ideas regularly on LinkedIn or create a game like making sure you don’t leave a meeting or event without putting your hand up to ask a question, make a comment or have yourself be seen.
Build a community
While leadership can be lonely, leaders know that success is never done alone. Leaders are supported, mentored and sponsored by a community. Who is your community? Have you got people around you working on the same mission as you?
Your community doesn’t have to be direct reports, paid or part of your team officially. The key here is to have people who support and follow your ideas, are aligned to your mission and vision and will take action.
Three key groups of people to have in your community are
- Accountability buddies – people you can share your goals with and who you check in with on a regular basis to keep your goals on track
- Like-minded peers – have sounding boards for tough decisions, someone to practice difficult conversations with and fresh ideas
- Mentors and personal advisory board – find leaders to mentor you who have done what you want to do and learn from their experience. Make sure you are mentored by people who have the right experience in where you want to go, otherwise it’s like asking a pilot how to do heart surgery.
Get executive support
How do you get in the room full of executives? Fast track your way into the room by gaining the support of an executive and build a trusting relationship, opening up their network to you. The best news is you can be in the executive room without even being there by having an executive sponsor your ideas.
Why would an executive want to help an emerging leader? Find an executive who is on the same mission as you. You probably have a lot more capacity and time to deliver this shared mission than the executive. This is a great way to partner and work together. You can be the person on the ground making change and the executive can sponsor your ideas and open doors for you – it’s a win win!
Why now is the time to seize this opportunity
There has never been a better time to be an emerging leader. You no longer have to be in positions of power and influence to step into your leadership. Just look at what we have seen amazing people like Greta Thungberg, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins achieve when they have spoken up for something they believe in.
There is no need to wait around for leadership to be bestowed upon you or get that tap on the shoulder. It’s up to you to fast track your leadership today.