Times are hard. You don’t need me to tell you that. So you’d be forgiven for putting any leadership ambitions on hold, just for now.
But that could be the wrong call. Why? Because testing times like these bring out the best in potential leaders. So if you secretly feel you have a leader inside you, now is actually the perfect moment to turn that potential into practice.
Here’s my five-step guide to doing just that:
Make a list of, say, seven key skills which you see as embodying leadership. For me, these would include listening, learning, and being a source of inspiration. Others will no doubt occur to you.
Then honestly score yourself out of 10 for each one. A 10 would be ‘I totally rock at this’, while 0 means ‘This just isn’t me, sorry….’.
Now, decide which you’d like to work at. We tend to make cracking progress when we build on our strengths rather than trying to tackle our weaknesses, and your unique leadership style will ultimately emerge triumphant from what you do best and what you love doing – so let’s start there. Choose three where you score highly: where you feel you have the greatest potential. And then…
Look for opportunities at work to practice these skills. If you’re furloughed, or you are job searching, find some in your personal life. You may have to think creatively, but it’s not impossible (and creative thinking is a leadership skill in itself). It could be taking charge of some long-delayed home improvements, for example.
Then work on honing those skills that you feel positive and excited about. And that means…
Get learning. Fine tune your stand-out skills and aptitudes. There are so many ways of building knowledge and understanding of what makes a great leader. As well as the obvious, like books and blogs, try some TED talks and podcasts. Check out Audible and Blinkist (which breaks books down into short blinks so you can ‘read’ the essence of one in 15 minutes. Phew!). Two of my favourite leadership stars are Brené Brown and Simon Sinek. Both have done inspirational TED Talks and written ‘go to’ books.
It can be tough to find the time for learning, I know, but there are usually some moments in the day which you can harness for the purpose. How about using your usual commute to set yourself a learning schedule? Or that brisk walk to get you out of the house when working from home? Give it half-an-hour a day, and you’ll soon have built some solid leadership knowledge.
But learning isn’t just a solitary activity…
Ask someone you trust and value for insights on how you’re doing. Invite them to give you detailed, but loving, feedback on a particular performance in a meeting or other experience at work, or in your personal life. Feedback can be tough to hear and we are generally reluctant to ask for it, let alone be willing to take it on board. But it’s absolute gold dust if it’s offered in a warm and supportive way. Specific advice on how to do better from a trusted ally. Wow! How useful is that as you progress on your leadership journey?
Try a little make-believe. Challenge yourself to act and think as if you were a leader already. This is an absolute game-changer, I promise you. I encourage those I coach not to wait until they have landed a leadership role, but to start thinking and behaving like a leader right now. So, how about asking yourself in any moment: what would I do if I believed that it really mattered what I did?
Here are some suggestions. Speak up with your innovative idea. Start a blog. Find someone to mentor. And get some peer support. I run a regular virtual (for now) meet-up, Leaders Who Brunch: an early morning gathering of leaders, and those who aspire to be one. You could come along to that – it’s all about learning together. And it’s a lot of fun!