Maybe you’re not at the point in your career where you’re ready for a top-level leadership position, but that’s fine. Most exceptional leaders started out somewhere other than at the top.
The things you do now as a professional can have a profound bearing on whether you have opportunities to lead, and how well you do so when you seize those opportunities. Whatever your level on the corporate ladder, there are several things you can start doing right now that will help you prepare yourself for leadership. Here are some of the most powerful ones.
Know What Being a Good Follower Means
Thinking of yourself as a “leader in training” rather than a follower is a good start. Whatever your position, you can develop leadership skills, even if no one reports to you. You can do so by setting high standards and demonstrating ethical excellence. You can also do so by showing perseverance when faced with challenges. Take the initiative where you can, even if it’s something small, like showing your team leader a more efficient way of completing a process. Show through your actions that you are committed to the team’s mission.
Continually Work on Problem-Solving Skills
Important problem-solving skills include delegating effectively and appropriately, and handling conflicts in constructive ways. Your problem-solving “tool kit” will be invaluable to you as you grow into new leadership opportunities and challenges. When you’re offered personal development or continuing education training, you should take it if at all possible. And whether or not your profession requires re-certification or continuing education, you should take it upon yourself to work on your skill set regularly, because change is inevitable in any industry.
Listen to Others and Ask for Their Feedback
Put down the phone, turn away from the monitor screen, and really listen to people. If it’s important and you want to be certain you understand them, try paraphrasing back to them what they said. Look people in the eye and show that you are paying attention. Even if you are busy, taking those extra couple of seconds will help ensure you understand what they’re saying so there will be fewer misunderstandings. And don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback, and listen to what they say (rather than what you hope they’ll say).
Great listening skills are mandatory for excellence in leadership.
Be Accountable to Yourself and Others
Being accountable is a way of being and is made up of countless small actions done consistently over time. You start by being accountable to yourself, in doing things like getting up on time, making sure you understand work tasks, improving your skills, and asking for help when you need to. Being accountable to others means doing what you say you will. Your accountability is indispensable for building trust with others, and being an effective leader is impossible without trust.
Learn from Failure
Sometimes you’ll get things wrong. Even the most world-renowned leaders have made mistakes – sometimes huge, glaring blunders. But what makes these leaders great is that they learn from failure and keep moving forward. Learning from failure may require you to develop a thicker skin, so you can take constructive criticism effectively. Nobody likes admitting failure or cleaning up the mess and getting back on track, but if you are to have a future as a leader, that’s what you have to do.
Any good executive coach will tell you that the leaders who show the most promise are those who have worked consistently and long term on their skills, their accountability, and their resiliency. My executive coaching career has had me work with some of the top leaders on the planet, and from them I have learned that leadership starts long before the big promotion or being named CEO. Wherever you are in your career, you have the opportunity to build the skills you need to help you become the leader you want to become.