Five Key Things Aspiring Leaders Need To Understand
The first move into a leadership or management position is possibly the biggest and most daunting step that you'll take. Many would-be new leaders or managers will ensure they put in the hours to ensure they're up to the minute with the technical skills or the know-how needed to be considered worthy of promotion.
But there's an extra layer of understanding that will be key to success. It's this understanding that will underpin how you're perceived. In a field of candidates sharing similar qualifications and experience, what will really underpin your application for your first promoted role?
Here are five pieces of understanding crucial to success in making that first move into a senior role.
- Your signature character strengths. Being able to articulate your skills at work is one thing, but understanding your character strengths and practicing these daily will help you to feel more confident. According to the website Action for Happiness, a 2011 UK study showed that people who knew their character strengths and used them daily experienced 'more positive emotion, greater vitality and self esteem'. This resulting energy and confidence can help to provide the spark that sets you apart from others. The field of positive psychology has identified 24 universal character strengths and the VIA Institute On Character provides a free online character strengths test to get you started.
- Your weaknesses. Understanding your weaknesses can help to build an immunity to unsolicited feedback. As you move up the career ladder, you'll be more visible - and with that visibility comes a vulnerability. You'll be more open to criticism from colleagues, both above and below you in the organisational hierarchy. Knowing your weaknesses allows you to judge criticism or 'feedback' objectively, allowing you to take action if there's something you need to change or dismiss the criticism if it's truly unfounded. Often, feedback can be ignored even when it contains nuggets of truth, or dwelt on too much when it's unhelpful to do so. Learning to tell the difference is crucial. Understanding both your strengths and weaknesses also allows you to begin to build a team around you that complements both. "I know that I can't be great at everything," Jo Cox-Brown, the CEO Of The Malt Cross trust told me in a recent interview. "I make sure that on my team I have a mix of people that complement my strengths and weaknesses. I'm a strategist and innovator and hate the detail so I have someone else who's real strength is the details. He'd be horrified if he was asked to come up with new ideas. We're a perfect team."
- How to build rapport. Mary Kay Ash once said "Imagine everyone you meet has a sign around their neck saying make me feel important." This encapsulates the need for building rapport when leading others, which in turn builds trust, cooperation and understanding. It also hints at one way of achieving rapport - what would you do in order to make someone feel like this? The chances are you'd give them your full attention, make appropriate eye contact, listen and smile: the basics. Being in rapport with another person makes everything easier - conversation, influence, persuasion and achieving results. Rapport happens naturally when people like each other; being able to consciously create it and be aware of its power is a useful tool.
- Your network. Think 'what', 'who' and 'how'. An engaged network is a valuable asset. Heather Townsend, author of the Financial Times Guide to Networking, says "...networking is the most effective way to build awareness, get found and generate opportunities." Have you got the connections you need in order to advance your career, remembering that a network is a two-way street? Survey your current one - who is included? What matters to them? How can you be of help to those in your current network, and keep in contact with them? Who's missing from the spread of people you know and how can you connect with them? Become known as someone who is generous with their time and connections. At its heart, a network is about developing a set of relationships - how good are yours?
- How to be visible. Without understanding how to be visible, you'll be your organisation or industry's best kept secret. Being good simply isn't good enough - you need to tell people. Ironically, this is something many women struggle with. The key is to find ways to do this that feels natural and comfortable. Watch colleagues closely - who has good visibility? What do they do? On a scale of 1 - 10, how far would their strategies suit you? Building a network and understanding rapport are great places to start. As Maya Angelou once said, "People may forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Consider your strengths and skills. If you're confident and good with words, consider giving presentations or talks. If the written word is your asset, white papers and industry articles will raise your profile.
Understanding these five key pieces of information will set you apart from the competition and get you off to a flying start in your new role.
With a 25-year career in education, training and coaching, Susan Ritchie now specialises in helping executives to develop their leadership presence, creating the impact and engagement they need to further their own careers, as well as fuelling the continued growth and results of their organisations.
She works with a range of private and public-sector clients, both here in the UK, and overseas, including the BBC, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the NHS, Tower Hamlets Homes and various charities and universities and SMEs.
Her first book Strategies for Being Brilliant:21 Ways to be Happy, Confident & Successful, was published in 2013 and her second book, Strategies for Being Visible: 14 Profile-Raising Ideas for Emerging Female Leaders, is due for publication on the 25th January 2019.