The workplace is on a new path forward and is changing at a rapid pace. While this unprecedented pace of change tests the abilities and determination of leaders, it also affords them opportunities to become trailblazers in devising solutions to transform the workplace. To blaze a trail in the modern-day workplace, leaders have to be really smart about the business, focus on achieving the strategic plan, find ways to be more efficient, and be on the lookout for promising innovations that fundamentally change how work is done. Emerging leaders have to be proactive and take ownership of their careers, early, to achieve success and accelerate their career in leadership. Having a strategy and roadmap is an essential first step to get recognized as a forward-thinking leader.
To get started, the emerging leader has to be mentally prepared to lead; a concept called mindfulness. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of the present. Mindful leaders have a deep personal connection to their inner-self and develop personal strategies to be resilient yet flexible in creating environments where teams are nurtured and energized, organizations innovate and flourish, and the community is supported. With the right environment to innovate and flourish, leaders need the leadership skills, methodologies, and structure to connect their team’s work to the organization’s strategies, manage the business, and seek ways in which the business can run better and achieve better performance.
Inspiring and leading teams who are on fire to think differently and push boundaries is a continuous journey of learning and growth for all leaders. Continuous learning and growth have three components: leadership development, coaching and networking. The base of development is maintaining perspective and staying connected to current affairs and trends in your industry. This is helpful when addressing the challenges leaders face, innovating and making a greater impact at work. By simply having emailed newsletters, following industry watchdogs on social media, downloading free white papers, watching webinars, and listening to podcasts on the drive home, leaders gain fresh perspective on issues impacting their organization and formulate the next big idea and innovation in the workplace.
In addition to having an awareness of trends and current affairs, leaders who have a legacy of influence, compassion and excellence understand who they are as a person (i.e. their personality, philosophies, beliefs, and values) and how they express themselves in their leadership style. Skills like emotional intelligence, executive presence, change management, decision-making, negotiating, and resiliency are necessary leadership skills that can be strongly influenced by your personality and leadership style. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to continue to master and refresh these skills. Often, leaders can develop these skills through their organization’s home-grown leadership development programs. However, where these programs are not available or when a leader wants to supplement these programs with more advanced development programs, coaches offer premier programming for developing leaders.
More than the personal investment in development, and arguably the most important to career advancement, is the investment others make in developing you. A strong professional network, that becomes your own personal “board of directors,” are tremendous support structures in advancing a leader’s career. Leadership is a long and winding road, with many bumps, speed traps, and unexpected turns. A network of trusted colleagues are guides that point the leader in the right direction, help to keep things in perspective, offer support when times are tough, and get a leader back on track when they veer off-course. Building a network can be a bit more difficult since the first step to building a network is “networking.” Networking is not easy for most and can be quite fearful for some. What is often the easiest way to build a network is to start by making a few personal connections with members of local networking groups. Attending virtual coffee clubs is an easy way to get to know other local professionals and have some familiar faces in the room when attending educational programs and social events.
In addition to a network of trusted colleagues who are important in a leader’s journey, emerging leaders also need the support of their supervisors and superiors who offer additional opportunities to gain expertise and learn new skills. Important skills all leaders need to have include business acumen, strategy deployment, and process improvement, but opportunities to master these skills aren’t always abundant in early leadership positions. Taking on stretch assignments and obscure projects is a way a leader can learn how to “run the business” better. There are so many initiatives, so few people, and so little time that there is always an opportunity to take on “stretch assignments” that can help an emerging leader to learn new aspects of a complex system and acquire new business management skills. To get assigned to these stretch assignments, supervisors need to know the emerging leader’s career goals and aspirations to advance in the organization. It’s imperative for emerging leaders to share their goals and aspirations with their supervisors. Speaking up, to make sure superiors know that you aspire to grow as a leader and being open to taking on new tasks or special projects will accelerate advancement.
The pace of change in the workplace calls for strong leaders with grit and determination as well as the skills and abilities to advance the much-needed disruptive transformations. Continuing to develop and getting to the next point in a leader’s journey takes more than just showing up for work every day. It takes preparedness, advocacy, and continuous development.