“Do it until you do it.” This advice may have helped previous generations climb the corporate ladder, but in today’s data-driven and continually disrupted world of work, pretending your way to the top isn’t working – and it wreaks havoc on your confidence level, not to mention your stress level.
In the age of transparency, people tend to see through bluff and bluster. In addition, you must be able to make solid and safe decisions. The only way to do that is to gain real-world leadership experience.
Below are some tips on how to build the skills and confidence to stand out as a prime candidate for a management promotion. Remember: you don’t have to wait for someone to give you a chance. You can make your own “luck” by being proactive and looking for development opportunities.
1. Get yourself a hands-on leadership practice.
The best way to learn an activity is to do it yourself. You can read all the books and articles on leadership in the world. Yet you won’t know exactly what to do in situations until you can apply what you learn.
Unfortunately, remote and hybrid work environments have made it more difficult to gain additional experience in the normal course of business. Instead, you may need to find unique strategies to develop your sense of leadership, such as volunteering to manage projects remotely or being the one to assess what would be the best format for upcoming initiatives.
Depending on your industry, your company may also offer contextual simulations online. Willem Pennings, vice president of global professional services company BTS, explains that “the only way to really understand something is to do it”. His company works with companies to create simulations that mimic their business challenges. Simulations can require up to 100 different moments of problem solving, all of which lead to an end result.
Either way, you can always build your own “simulations” by evaluating the leadership decisions your managers make frequently: Would you do anything differently? If so, what would it be? How would that potentially play out? Mapping out various possibilities will help you hone your strategy abilities.
2. Embrace the practice of micro-learning.
When authors and executive education experts Julian Birkinshaw, Maya Gudka and Steve Marshall explored today’s best learning models, they realized that old school setups just didn’t work well more. As a result, their recommendation for training tomorrow’s leaders is through iterative sprint-style learning.
Choose a micro-topic that meets a clear need of your team. Is there a recurring pitfall in your communication plan? Or a feature in your software that would improve efficiency, but no one else wants to take the time to figure out how to use it? Don’t just be the problem solver; leadership is also about learning how to learn, using best practices. Learning a concept and applying it immediately helps you retain more information. It can also allow you to receive instant feedback on whether you really understand what you have learned or whether you need to study it further.
Again, your employer may not offer micro-learning tools such as mini-modules available in a centralized learning system. Its good. You can still find information online once a week and incorporate what you find into your work. For example, you can spend an hour or more exploring ways to be empathetic. You can focus in the coming days on integrating more empathy into your relationships with your colleagues or even with your clients. Little by little, you will train yourself to be the type of leader that businesses need now.
3. Ask for side missions and do an outstanding job on them.
It’s not just about taking on more work (it’s a fast track to burnout). It’s about being strategic by taking on projects that are just outside your wheelhouse but play an important supporting role in the team’s overall success. These do not have to be leadership assignments per se. But they should expand your comfort zone so you can explore untapped abilities.
What if your boss is a little stingy about empowering people? Executive Coach Heather MacArthur suggests creating an informal business plan. In your plan, explain how you will juggle your current responsibilities and how giving yourself more projects, which are highly focused and unloaded, will help your team. MacArthur goes over some of the key questions to ask yourself during this planning process, including, “How would you do this new job to save or earn money?” and “How could this boost morale or build relationships?”
Your manager might be hesitant to give you too much at once. Just accept what you can, do a great job, and ask for more. Doing great, consistent, and beneficial work will show your desire and commitment to aiming higher. The more proficient you become, the more confident you feel.
Becoming a full-fledged leader isn’t just about dressing up for the role or acting like you know what you’re doing. To climb the ranks, you must take ownership of your progress and reward yourself each time you reach a new level of true strength.
William Arruda is keynote speaker, co-founder of CareerBlast.TV and creator of 360Reach personal brand feedback survey that lets you get the real scoop on your professional reputation from those who know you.