Six Strategies to Position Yourself as a Leader
Global business is on the cusp of a massive sea of change—but the good news, to continue the nautical metaphor, is that we’re entering a time in which the rising tide will indeed “lift all boats.” Within the next 10 years, Boomers will have all but handed over the reins of corporate leadership to succeeding generations. And, whether you’re running a family business or joining the ranks of a public enterprise, more than 75% of the workforce will be Millennials.
This is likely the biggest leadership handover the corporate world has seen to date, and companies large and small are wisely making preparations. Larger companies like Deloitte have launched programs (theirs is called NextGen) to identify and cultivate leadership potential amongst their teams. On the succession planning keynote speaker circuit, I’ve been working with my clients to create unique strategies that work within the realms of their family businesses. But it’s also the perfect time to tap into the DIY mindset of the succeeding generations. Here are six strategies on how to stand out as a leader.
1. Be a “Big Picture” Asset
We’re about to enter an age dominated by a generation who learned how to do just about everything, from making a sourdough starter to dressing for an interview or fixing the garbage disposal, on the Internet. Which isn’t to say you should necessarily consult a YouTube Influencer for leadership tips—but you should take it upon yourself to become an expert on your business.
Look beyond your immediate role, or even your department’s larger function in the company. Approach this process as if you were researching the company for the interview of a lifetime; dive into the most recent annual report and read up on recent press releases if you haven’t already. Then, make plans to learn from subject-matter experts throughout your company about various aspects of the business—supply chain management, human resources, finance—even if, on the surface, they don’t impact your specific role.
Not only will this self-education be a smart move in terms of optics; it will also give you a greater understanding of the business that can only positively impact your own work.
2. Be a Source of Solutions
The first strategy leads directly into the second—and knowing your way around multiple facets of your company’s business will naturally give you an advantage when looking for ways to improve your company’s performance. Because while it’s great to be the kind of employee who can quickly diagnose a problem across multiple sides of the business, it’s even more valuable to stand out as a leader by bringing multiple solutions to the table.
As I often see in my succession planning keynote speaker circuit clients, it can be more difficult for family businesses to think outside the box, particularly when there are still leaders on the team saying “but we’ve been doing it this way for years—why fix what’s not broken?” But ultimately, it’s these 360-degree viewers and solution sources who will determine where the company is going next, and how successful it will be. Showing your bosses that you’re in this category automatically positions you as management potential in their eyes.
3. Be a Culture Purveyor
Every company, regardless of size and industry, has a culture—and on some level, the degree to which you align with this culture will determine the degree of your success. Not only are you more likely to have a long tenure with a company whose values and vibe you share; studies show you’re also more likely to stand out as a leader and attain authority.
With just six full time employees on the roster my current company tends to be very entrepreneurial and agile in our decision-making process. Not so at my former dealership business, which employed 360 people and was much more traditional and hierarchical in structure—and therefore slower-moving about all decisions and especially important ones.
If you’re unsure of your company’s culture, it’s best to dive in sooner than later! Consider adding a series of staff interviews to the process outlined in point #1. If you can, talk with a range of current and former employees, as current staff may be reluctant to voice negative opinions. If done thoroughly, a culture audit should yield 5–10 common cultural attributes that define your company. These will not only help you determine your degree of fit within the organization—but will also help you adapt your own business style if necessary.
4. Develop Your Personal Brand
We’re all familiar with the idea of good branding; companies like Apple, Nike and Starbucks have been occupying top spots for general awareness and overall retail value for years. But did you know: it’s important for business leaders to have a strong personal brand, too?
In an age dominated by one’s digital footprints—particularly the impressions our social media accounts leave behind—people are formulating opinions about you before they’ve ever looked you in the eye. It’s important to not only be aware that this is happening, but to work actively to control your image. It’s almost as if you’re acting as your own PR professional.
Certainly, the best time to develop one’s personal brand is prior to applying for a job. But even if you’re already entrenched in your company and you’re starting to take steps towards a leadership role, it’s never too late to start! Once you’ve developed your personal brand mantra using the link above, download this free personal brand workbook created by the experts at Price Waterhouse. This process will mirror the interviews and auditing I mentioned earlier, but with YOU at its center—helping to identify strengths, weaknesses, passion and purpose.
As a longtime member of Entrepreneurs Organization and other leadership forums, I have also found that peer-to-peer experience sharing can be invaluable for ongoing personal and professional growth. Once you have dialed in your personal brand and feel good about its authenticity and strength, having an ego-free environment in which to learn and progress is a solid next step.
5. Lead by Example
It may sound like a cliche, but there’s a reason this phrase has become such a recognizable part of the vernacular: it’s one of the most important things a leader can do. Sometimes, the smallest things can put your leadership potential in the spotlight—volunteering to lead your daily virtual standups, offering to help a team member with a difficult project or even taking on an extracurricular work duty, like taking the helm of your company’s volunteer corps.
When I was selling cars in the 1990s, I regularly helped other sales executives to close their deals. I always learned something in the process, and I was able to show that I was capable of helping others grow, and that I wasn’t just worried about my own performance. And, while it can be tempting for younger or less experienced to strive for a promotion, it’s important to remember how you stand out as a leader isn’t about your title—it’s about putting intention into action.
6. Fake it ‘til You Make It
Have you noticed a common thread running through all of these strategies? Even more than gathering information and deepening your understanding, it’s about conveying certainty in and standing out as a leader. People won’t follow uncertainty; they want confidence and reassurance. And, at certain times during your journey up the corporate ladder, this may be about faking it ‘til you make it.
Now, what this doesn’t mean is conducting yourself with arrogance or condescension. It also doesn’t mean offering your “expertise” in an area you know very little about. It simply means conducting yourself with authority, authenticity and professionalism—regardless of your current role or the relative insignificance of whatever you’re working on. Remember: somebody’s always watching. Make sure everything they see is worthy of praise.
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