It’s a common phenomenon. We all reach a point in our career where we’ve become extremely good at our jobs and wonder how to take our skills to the next level — to lead others. Some of us are quickly promoted to leadership. And, some of us aren’t.
Of course, the reasons some people get promoted to leadership positions will vary to a certain extent. We hear stories of supposed conspiracies — where employees believe they’re being blocked from the leadership roles for one strange reason or another. And, some of those stories might be true. However, we’ve also learned through countless interviews, with both employees and bosses, that our own self-perceptions may be to blame. Employees often mistakenly believe they have what it takes to be great leaders, and bosses often believe they already are great leaders. If you think you’re ready to lead, here are a few things to consider before raising your hand, followed by a few strongly suggested leadership practices that will show your boss that you’re ready for the next step.
It’s Not What You Think That Counts
Fellow workplace researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman recently examined data collected from 3,761 leaders who were asked to assess their own coaching abilities. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that, “On average, those who underrated their skills were above average in their overall coaching effectiveness. Those who had overrated themselves, however, were significantly below average.”
We’re sure psychologists could have a hay-day with these findings — diving into the intricacies of the human mind. However, through our work and research, we’ve found a more simple explanation to these findings — why those who think they’re great at coaching others aren’t as good as they believe, and why those who think they aren’t good are much better coaches than they believe. We’ve found that it all comes down to a shift in mindset — transferring your focus away from your own performance and instead focusing on helping others become their best. What does that mean?
It’s Not About You, But About Them
Strong leadership, or coaching, is different than strength in other areas. If we said, “You are a strong soccer player,” it would mean you have mad skills on the field. If we said, “You are a strong mathematician,” it means you can wildly consume numbers. But, strength in other skill sets is less dependent on your actions and more dependent on the people you influence. You can’t be a strong sales person without making sales. You can’t be a good public speaker if people don’t understand, relate to, and engage in your message. And, no matter what you think of yourself, you can’t be a strong leader unless people choose to follow you.
So, what actions can you take today that will show your boss your ready to lead? Here are a few things we’ve found throughout the years that can get great workers recognized as potential great leaders.
1. Project positivity — both up and down.
It’s not always about what you say to other people — it’s how you say it. Your leader might love your positive ‘get-it-done’ attitude. In fact, maybe you’ve been the go-to source because they know you’ll approach every project with a smile and a desire to win. But, this is where a lot of new or aspiring leaders fail to understand something critical. If you’re Mr. or Ms. Positivity to your boss, you should show the same positivity to your teammates. Being a leader doesn’t mean you become less positive and more controlling. It means you must become more positive, more supportive and more encouraging to the people you lead. The strongest leaders are those who inspire the strongest followers.
2. You may not create results anymore, but you do own them.
Most likely you were considered for a leadership because you showed mastery in your previous role. But, being a leader doesn’t mean everyone on your team can or should be exactly like you. They may create their best results by doing things differently than you, and your job as their manager is not to mold them into you, but instead mold them into the best version of themselves. As a leader, you may not individually create the results for your team but, you do own the results of the team — so allow and inspire others to create the best results by becoming the best version of themselves.
3. Remove boundaries.
This tip doesn’t need much explanation, but we still see it happen all the time. Your job as leader is to remove boundaries instead of creating them. Often new leaders will assume that they need to create new oversights, policies and procedures to align their team on the right path. But, it’s important to realize that these often limit the potential of your team rather than set them free to create the fantastic results they were hired to create. Remove boundaries by streamlining meetings so people can get back to what they do best. When the going gets rough, help the team refocus on the big picture instead of lamenting on who is to blame. Leave your door open so people know you’re available for questions and concerns. And, visit your team often in their workspace to see if any boundaries exist that you could help remove.
If you really want to show your boss that you’re ready to be a leader, it’s time to start recognizing the great work of your team members — call out their successes, and the struggles they’ve overcome. Call out their effort and ideas that helped the team move forward. Showing your appreciation for a job well done shows your boss that you’re both paying attention to the great work of others, but you also understand how everyone else’s work contributes to the goals of the department, and the entire organization. Research proves that recognition is the number one thing employees say their bosses can give them to inspire them to create great work. You don’t have to be their boss yet to show them you’d make a great leader. And, your boss will think the same thing.
These are just a few things we’ve seen that prove people have leadership potential. But, we’d like to here from other leaders and bosses as well. What qualities or activities do you recognize in people that shows they have the potential to lead?