You believe you have leadership potential, and people tell you that you can do anything you want. So why does it seem like you haven’t gotten the opportunity to prove your stuff? Surely it must be that the company is missing the boat on what you have to offer. Maybe that’s true, or maybe they are waiting for you to develop your leadership skills and show your initiative.
Years ago, I was sick and tired of doing the same thing year after year and not moving up. I finally realized that I needed to make things happen. Regularly we received notification of promotions and it dawned on me that the majority of people being promoted had an MBA or were working on one. Obviously this was something that my company valued in their managers. So I applied for acceptance to an evening MBA program. Once I got in and started taking classes it seemed like the senior leadership at my facility took my desire to move up more seriously. They started working on backfilling my position and gave me an opportunity to move into another functional area. My career took off from there. It just took me taking the first step.
A key characteristic of leaders is that they take initiative. Showing your willingness to go beyond what you are learning on the job and working on your personal development is a great first step. It doesn’t mean you have to go back to school for an advanced degree. It means paying attention to what your organization values in leaders and developing those skills and abilities. Find a mentor who can help you navigate the murky waters of management and leadership. Ask what can you do to improve your skills, what do you need to do to move up? You may get an answer that says “You need experience before you can become a manager.” Still ask what skills make good managers so that you will be prepared when the time comes.
As you move from individual contributor to manager you will be dealing with people issues as much, if not more than technical issues. These are often referred to as soft skills. These can be developed at any age and at any level in an organization. There is no real substitute for experience; dealing with people is not straight forward with simple, single answers. It takes skill and knowledge to understand how to handle different challenging situations which is often only gained by being in the middle of those situations. As you improve your ability to work well with others you will likely become an informal leader within your work group. That gets noticed.
If you step up and go the extra mile on developing yourself people will notice and your time may come sooner than you were told or sooner than you expected. It starts with you – take the time to find out what you can do to advance and get started. This is not a case where “good things come to those who wait”. If you wait you are letting others determine your career path instead of creating the career you desire. To follow your own path you need to get moving. Step up, get ready and then you will lead.