Early in my career, I found mentors everywhere I looked and loved to grow my leadership capabilities with their support and guidance. I was a sponge. I wanted to soak up every last bit of knowledge, experience, and tricks-of-the-trade that they had to share. I grew up fast in my career because of my tenacity, emotional intelligence, and resourcefulness, but also in large part because I was so willing to learn from these incredible people.
And then, somewhere around the 10-year mark in my career, I looked at the organizational ladder in front of me and realized I didn’t see many leaders I aspired to emulate. What I did notice, however, was the team of people who now reported to me. Me! I had become the leader that they looked up to.
I wasn’t a “fully formed leader” (I’m still not!), yet there was an expectation from my higher ups that I should know how to lead my team. Was I handed a playbook with all of the rules and instructions on how to lead well? Definitely not. Did my boss wave a magic wand over my head and instantly instill in me everything I needed to know to get it right? Nope. But it was still my responsibility to demonstrate every single day what effective leadership should look like to everyone around me.
Great Leaders Know What they Stand For
Over the years, I’ve learned that there are specific steps everyone can take to develop and hone their leadership skills so that they become the type of leader they would want to follow. Here are a few key strategies to consider:
- Make a conscious choice. Not everyone is born to lead, but if you feel called to take on the responsibilities of leadership, you must actively decide and start doing the work to grow yourself into an effective leader. If you’re already leading teams, ask yourself: do you love it, or does it feel like something you “have” to do? If you don’t love it, don’t do it. Instead, do what you brings you joy, and you will shine!
- Decide what you stand for. As I worked to develop my leadership style, specific core concerns began to emerge for me. For example, I felt an obligation to guide others as they acquired new skills and competencies. I also felt called to become a role model for other women facing the challenges of working in male-dominated industries and wanted to advocate for myself as a new parent. Ultimately, I took on projects to create workplaces that are inclusive, diverse, attractive to the best employees, AND have the best financial results. Ask yourself, “what is important to me?” Is it social responsibility? Do you want to disrupt your industry? Are you passionate about developing the most effective processes? Figure out what gets you excited, and find ways to bring that energy to your organization.
- Find a coach. Not just a mentor but a coach. A mentor will say, “follow me.” A coach will help you uncover where you are on the map and guide you to where YOU want to go next. Coaches aren’t just for CEOs anymore. There are coaches to help college students decide on their major, entrepreneurs to launch their start-ups, and mid-career professionals to figure out why they didn’t get that promotion. Find the right coach for you, and it will change your life. It did for me!
- Own it! No one will offer you growth and development on a silver platter. While the best companies support employees in their personal and professional development, it is up to you to figure out your path forward. Ask for feedback and ask for help. Don’t ever assume that you’re supposed to know everything. Be willing to make mistakes and do better next time.
- Give back. Express your appreciation and gratitude for the people who have helped you to grow. A heartfelt compliment or a thank you note goes a long way for both them and you. When called upon, be a coach or mentor to someone new to your team or organization. Show them the ropes. Help them navigate the unwritten rules of your company’s culture.
- KEEP on being that leader you would follow. Once you are in a leadership role, never assume that you are done developing. Our world needs passionate, engaged, purposeful leaders. Be that leader for yourself and others. You have no idea how expansive your impact will be.
I invite you to step up your leadership development wherever you are on your organization’s ladder. If you are ready for a higher level of learning, action, and accountability in your growth, I’d love to talk with you. You can schedule a leadership breakthrough session with me here.