Worried about a leadership shortage? Gazing at a thin management pipeline? Wondering how to get the most out of the talent you have?
It’s time to expand and amplify your organization’s leadership by looking beyond your proven superstars and management-track talent.
Young professionals and experienced individual contributors need to be part of the leadership equation, too. These overlooked leaders are the people who are working on project teams, influencing others and taking on ever-larger and more complex assignments.
Consider the role of highly experienced professionals. As individual contributors, they play critical roles as engineers, designers, medical professionals, marketing or logistics experts, and so on. They are expected to take on project-management roles and be key players on cross-functional teams. As their role expands and they increasingly work with others, subject-matter expertise is no longer a guarantee of their success or effectiveness.
Meanwhile, early-career professionals are looking for ways to engage, interact and gain skills. As they navigate their work and your organization, they have many opportunities to lead, even before they step into formal management roles.
Both groups are in the right place to leverage leadership skills, but they need the nod from you. So, here are four messages that you – and your fellow leaders – can send to the skilled experts, up-and-coming professionals and, in fact, the entire organization.
1. Think “process,” not “position”
Leadership is a process, not a title. It’s about leading with others in ways that establish direction, create alignment and build commitment. Rather than looking for someone else to be a leader, individual contributors need to ask themselves: “What am I bringing to the leadership process?” “How can I better facilitate the process of effective leadership in my group or in my project team?”
2. Understand your leadership brand
Your leadership brand is created by the ways you behave, react and interact. It affects your network, and it is linked to your effectiveness.
Like it or not, you already have a leadership brand. You have a reputation based on how you get things done and how you interact with others. To leverage your leadership brand or to steer it in a different direction, you need to get a clear picture of how others perceive you today.
Start paying attention to how you work — not just what you know or what you accomplish. How do you learn? How do you share information, make decisions and influence others? How do you build and nurture both day-to-day and strategic relationships? Just by paying attention to these questions, you’ll gain some insight. You’ll also want to check in with peers, a mentor and your boss — or seek out opportunities for formal feedback or a leadership development program — to gain a better picture of your leadership brand.
3. Take control
You are in charge of your leadership brand, so invest in your learning and development as a leader. Your boss or your organization may not always tell you exactly what is needed or hand you the tools and experiences that will boost your effectiveness.
Take time to think about your current job and future career. Begin by focusing on your No. 1 workplace challenge. How does your leadership brand support your work today? What would happen if you could be more effective? How could improving your own leadership ability help get you there? What do you need to learn or change to improve your leadership skills and hone your leadership brand?
4. You are seen, heard and valued
The company needs you to be as effective as you can be. Your co-workers do, too. Even though you don’t have “manager” in your job title … or don’t have direct reports … or are new to your career, your leadership abilities are critical both to your own success as well as your company’s.
When you send these messages — clearly and consistently — the people in your organization will see that they can contribute to something bigger than themselves: the process of leadership.
Stephanie Lischke and Joel Wright work with young professionals and experienced individual contributors in the Leadership Fundamentals program at the Center for Creative Leadership.
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