In an ideal world, leadership roles would fall into your lap without any heavy lifting.
But that rarely happens. If your goal in your career is to become a leader, you have to take proactive steps. Sure, you can tell your superiors that you’re set on climbing the ladder, but as we all know, actions speak louder than words.
Becoming a leader is hard work. It takes time and it takes skill. But it also takes patience.
If you want a leadership role, here’s what to do.
1. Pursue It for the Right Reasons
First things first: Don’t pursue a promotion because you can—pursue a promotion because you should.
At a police department where I used to work, if you had spent three years on the streets, you were eligible to compete for the promotion to sergeant. Personally, I wondered what a three-year employee would even know about being an officer let alone leading a group of other officers. It took me five years on the street before I was comfortable knowing the ins and outs of what I was doing. But by that point, I still wasn’t ready to lead anybody.
Don’t throw your name in for a promotion just because you might have passed a test or might check all the right boxes. If your ego and authority have driven you to pursue the brass ring at the expense of rounding out your portfolio, pump the brakes and gain more experience.
One of the best ways to reduce stress in the workplace is by picking the right people for advancement. Should you seek a promotion too soon, everyone will know you were picked before your time, and difficulties will follow.
2. Seek out Unattractive Assignments
How do you gain more experience? Say yes to whatever opportunity comes your way. Even better, seek out the unattractive assignments—the ones literally no one wants to do—and throw your hat into the ring.
When a vacancy opens up, put your hand up, and get ready to get out of your comfort zone. Volunteer for any assignment that will expose you to things that will make you a better candidate in the future.
People will notice. And when a new position opens up, they’ll remember.
3. Gain New Knowledge—and Implement It
If you’re serious about taking on a leadership role, you need to commit to lifelong learning. Develop the mindset of continuous improvement. You’ve never reached your pinnacle as a leader because there is always more to learn—and always new ways to make yourself better.
But knowledge without implementation is worthless. Leaders around the world go to conferences all the time, learn new things, and never act on any of it, rendering all of that energy moot. Don’t fall into that trap.
Not sure where to begin your professional development journey? We may be a bit biased, but these books should get you started in the right direction:
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
- Ego, Authority, Failure: Using Emotional Intelligence Like a Hostage Negotiator to Succeed as a Leader
4. Use Tactical Empathy
At the end of the day, everyone wants to be listened to and understood.
If you want a leadership role, start treating everyone you come into contact with differently. Use Black Swan techniques to demonstrate Tactical Empathy and gain trust-based influence among all of your peers—superiors, colleagues, and direct reports.
People never forget how you make them feel. If you cause them pain, they might return the favor down the road. Revenge is a powerful motivator. That’s why one of our favorite sayings around here is this: Never be mean to someone who could hurt you by doing nothing.
Promotion is all about setting yourself apart from your peers. By developing your emotional intelligence (EQ), you can connect with all of your co-workers on a deeper level. Then, when the time comes, people will put in a good word for you because—get this—they actually like you. People anywhere, at any time, would do anything for you, if they like you...based on no other criteria whatsoever.
And when you get to that point, you’ve earned the respect of your peers, and you’re primed for leadership.
You’ve taken this advice to heart, and you’re ready to become a leader. That’s great. Check out The Black Swan Group Leadership Guide to learn what else you need to do to excel in a leadership role.