Developing Your Leadership Career Path
There are many practical steps you can take while developing your leadership career path, writes Catherine Tempany, Client Partner with Alternatives Elect.
Understanding and defining your professional brand.
Developing your leadership career path equates to developing a professional brand and is similar to product branding. The goal is to differentiate yourself in the market so you can achieve your career objectives. The goal requires a process of defining your brand and brand attributes, and of positioning your professional brand in a different way to your competitors.
In defining your brand, self-awareness and searing honesty is critical. You need to be highly aware of your core strengths and weaknesses, be willing to address the weaknesses and take on projects that will help to highlight your strengths.
One of the most important next steps in defining your brand is to seek insightful and actionable feedback. Identify one or, ideally, several trusted and credible sources. Ask for an honest assessment of your brand perception, what “Brand You” means? What do people say about you when you are not present?
Critical feedback is very valuable, as it can help you to build on those areas which are lacking – due to poor self-awareness – and/or to highlight areas you are not naturally good at but which require attention.
Identify your key brand deliverables – those areas where you can truly make a difference. Now, you can begin to craft your brand promise – ensuring it is both interesting and differentiated. Your brand promise is the statement that you make to those you interact with. It identifies what they should expect in dealing with you.
This is where your unique combination of experience comes to bear. The importance of “soft” skills, for those on a leadership journey, can’t be rated highly enough, and the presence (or lack) of soft skills impacts, not only the productivity of an organisation, but its ability to innovate and remain competitive. Recent research undertaken for McDonalds UK, revealed that the estimated worth of soft skills to the UK economy is some £88 billion; a value which is set to increase in the next five years to £109 billion. Having employees who can demonstrate communication skills, team-working, time-management and initiative, is vital. And leaders with an appreciation for these and with high Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are imperative in dynamic economies.
Seeking / discovering a mentor? The need to reflect on perception.
The concept of engaging a mentor is increasingly de rigueur. In our experience, many leaders cite having had a mentor a major factor in their career success. A mentor should function as a tool to keep you on your career trajectory, and if you are actively seeking one, consider some of the following factors.
Firstly, when you choose a mentor, ensure that they will be “in your corner” and have a genuine interest in seeing you advance in your career. Mentors who do not have a personal interest in you are unlikely to go the distance with you. It is a relationship doomed to failure if forced.
Secondly, does your mentor understand your unique brand values? Does he/she really understand what drives you? Are they fit for purpose? Will they challenge you? Are they capable of standing back and giving you an honest assessment of where they think you are succeeding, but most importantly, where you are struggling? Crucially, do they have the experience and capability to suggest strategies for improvement in those areas?
The best mentors will not necessarily be chosen based on their position or career standing, but rather on their ability to guide and question you in a way that helps you develop. Ultimately, a mentor needs to be willing to help develop “Brand You”; to reflect on and appraise your brand performance and to offer suggestions for your brand improvement. It’s important to choose one wisely.
Communicating your brand, implementing your vision.
In developing good leadership skills, the ability to both clearly articulate and follow through on a vision is essential. However, understanding or acting on a vision does not necessarily imply being ‘visionary’!
Rather, the ability to lead effectively requires excellent communication skills as well as the ability to respond to peoples’ concerns in an honest, open and flexible manner. Reflecting on great leaders, what often sets them apart is their ability to communicate their vision in such a way that people are enthused, motivated, and can clearly identify their role in achieving it. Vision is therefore one of the most impressive and sought-after leadership attributes, and an ability to articulate it well is imperative.
Building an openness to innovation will help to inform a vision. If a vision seems very easily realised or is similar to where the company focus already is, then it’s not a vision! Innovation will need to be part and parcel of the vision and the organisation will need to be able and willing to adapt or fail, where necessary and in order to move forward. Equally critical is for failure to be viewed as a necessary component of progression.
For those leaders who are a leading through a corporate wide funnel where there are multiple stakeholders, areas competing for resources and many different agendas, it is important to decipher what is rational in the midst of chaos.
Developing your leadership path.
Another practical step in moving forward on your leadership path is to consider executive/career/life coaching. Ongoing self-reliance can be difficult. Choose a coach who can help you to stand back and objectively assess what’s going on, as well as your responses to it. Unlike your mentor, this person is likely to be previously unknown to you.
It can be difficult to honestly audit yourself, so always be willing to take feedback, and learn to take critical feedback in the round. Where you tend to reject it or disagree with feedback, ask yourself why? Remain open to constant learning and growth no matter where the lessons are coming from; the best leaders are those who constantly integrate learning into their professional development.
Always be aware of your soft skills and the need to constantly hone and develop them. Research has proven sometimes hard to pin-point skills, can make the difference between someone progressing to the top of an organisation or not.
As your experience and knowledge base develops, your ability to “do the job” is a given, but it is the soft skills that over time become more and more conducive to career success.
Frequently with our experience of executive search, the more senior the candidate, the more likely they are to be under scrutiny in these areas. The candidate has already demonstrated their competence to fulfil a role requirement.
Confidence, self-awareness, self-belief, curiosity, combined with a desire and willingness to lead and inspire are what will make the difference. These are the qualities that mark out our leaders. Ambitious leaders need to continuously assess and refine these early on their leadership journey.
If you want to talk in confidence about a leadership role, please contact Catherine Tempany at firstname.lastname@example.org