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Most people I know in business begin by capitalizing on technical strength or passion for change, such as engineering, or focus on saving the environment. They don’t realize that it takes more to succeed in business or a career – it takes leadership skills to get people to follow you, including peers, a team, business partners, and customers. Luckily, you can learn needed leadership skills.
Of course, you can always ride on someone’s coattail, and let them do the leadership, while you do the hard work in the shadows. But I suspect you won’t find that very satisfying in the long-term, and you may never reach your ultimate goals.
I recommend a proactive approach to get you thinking and acting like a leader today, starting with a focus on these key strategies:
1. Push back on your fear of taking a leadership position.
Start now in building a vision of your future self as a leader, rather than a follower. Intentionally step outside your comfort zone often enough until the fear and discomfort goes away, and you develop a new mindset of enjoying the act of attracting others to follow your lead in new directions.
In my experience, the most common qualm of business professionals is fear of failure. Yet every successful leader will tell you that some failure is normal along the way and necessary for learning and growth. Own your mistakes and don’t make excuses.
2. Set achievement goals outside your current strengths.
We all tend to focus on goals around what we already do well, rather than ones that will force new learning, such as how to be a better leader. I urge you to force yourself to be a regular new learner, by tackling new problems, listening to expert mentors, and finding time for leadership books.
Also, it’s possible to turn your weaknesses into strengths by getting guidance from peers you trust who have complementary skills, hiring people with the expertise you lack, and overcompensating with excellent preparation. Count on the people around you to help.
3. Celebrate small successes in your leadership efforts.
Becoming a leader takes time, so it’s important that you recognize that it won’t happen all at once. You need to take credit for every small step in the right direction, and use that as motivation for tackling the next plateau. Don’t be afraid to ask peers and friends for feedback and progress reports.
Sometimes aspiring leaders forget to break their big goals into a set of smaller ones for the short-term, so they see no progress along the way. As a result, I’m convinced that many of you will never see that magic moment when you finally feel success as a leader.
4. Accept leadership roles in safer non-business roles.
There is always a need for someone to take the lead in your favorite charity, community service, or family event planning. These will raise your confidence, assist your learning, and give you practice in improving your leadership skills that you can bring back to the office or business.
As another example, many entrepreneurs I know enhance their leadership skills by taking on roles mentoring college students and younger peers. Soon they find themselves more confident in building and leading a team in their own business or career.
5. Actively broaden your business network to new domains.
Take the initiative to meet new leaders in your domain and related ones, at business conferences and networking events. New people will give you new perspectives and challenge your own. Look for leaders that can be your role models for areas that are not your current strength.
6. Redefine your job as leadership versus delivering results.
As your business or career matures, you need to progress from doing the job to a focus on strategy and leading. In reality, only you can make this happen. Many business professionals remain stuck in their current role, and wonder why they are never perceived as leaders.
I find that many business professionals and entrepreneurs are jealous of others in leadership roles, but are hesitant to make the step into that domain themselves. Hopefully, with the initiatives outlined here, you can allay your fears, and sharpen your leadership skills, to be able to achieve your potential as a leader. You too can achieve your dreams of business and personal success.