A large portion of my time is spent coaching CEOs on growing their businesses. It’s no surprise that developing leadership talent is one of the biggest things they struggle with.
In fact, it’s one of the biggest things all business leaders should be struggling with. Leadership expert Jim Collins writes that “leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
What if you’re on the other side of that question, though? You’d like to get your seat on the leadership bus–or maybe move up a few rows. How do you improve your odds of getting a promotion?
From my work with CEOs, I’ve discovered three skills that make a prospective leader stand out:
- Think strategically, not reactively. What makes you great at non-leadership roles may hinder you as a leader. You may be great at responding quickly to requests and getting things done efficiently and effectively. That’s good. You’ll stand out, for sure. But it’s not enough if you want to be a stand-out leader. The more responsibility you have to lead, the farther ahead you need to be working. Just responding to today’s events is not leading. As Wayne Gretzky would say, “You need to play where the puck will be.” Want to start thinking more strategically? Start here or subscribe to my weekly Strategic Latte.
- Accomplish meaningful things. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Never confuse motion with action.” Many leaders are busy. Few are doing meaningful things. Be the one that stands out because you are accomplishing meaningful things. What’s meaningful? It’s not usually that hard to discover. Ask your boss what’s important. Listen to other leaders and observe the challenges they are grappling with. Then find a way to make their jobs easier. You’ll always have urgent stuff to do, but stand-out leaders pay attention to those things that are business-critical. Want to accomplish more meaningful work right where you are? Read Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
- Actively develop other people. As you grow as a leader and climb the career ladder, you shift from doing tasks to developing people: the greatest resource available to your organization. Stand-out leaders see this as their most important contribution. They’re great at developing other people, not just themselves. Want to start developing other people more intentionally? Here’s 4 ways to do just that.
Is there a promotion in your desired future? If so, ask yourself these questions (or better, ask someone who knows you): Am I reactive or strategic? Do I work on important or meaningful things, or toil after what feels urgent? Am I able to extract the best from the people around me, while at the same time building others up?
Perhaps you’re quite content where you are, no promotion necessary. Developing these skills will set you apart as a colleague and employee, regardless of where you’d like to end up on the career ladder.
Comment below: What other skills do you think are necessary to cultivate or improve your chances of being promoted?
What gets you promoted early in your career may not necessarily be an asset as you move into senior leadership. Fire fighting is a critical skill when you’re on the front lines. Identifying and eliminating the root cause of the fire and putting in place preventive or corrective measures is a leadership skill developed early that will stand you in good stead down the road. You’ll also do well to develop relationships with others who share your values. Whether or not this gets you promoted is beside the point. You’ll find that these relationships will help in later life / career situations unrelated to your current role.