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5 ways to prepare for leadership

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Posted about 1 month ago by Alan Miller, ICAEW member, leadership specialist and founder of coaching website Lightning Smart

Tips on preparing for a leadership role and positioning yourself effectively to seize opportunities as they arise.

If you’re good at your job and keen to develop, there’s a good chance that you’ll be offered the chance to move into a leadership role at some point. Or maybe you’re actively looking to become a leader, but not sure how to best position yourself for success.

While the perks and opportunities are appealing, the idea of leadership can be daunting. But by preparing yourself ahead of time you can make a confident move up the career ladder when the time is right.

When I was promoted from Financial Controller to General Manager, the shift felt huge. I went from being an experienced finance specialist where I knew my stuff, to being thrown into managing a team of people and expected to influence senior colleagues across the whole organisation. I felt like I had so many new skills to learn – it felt a bit like starting all over again.

With that in mind, here are 5 things you can do to help prepare yourself for leadership.

  1. Be proactive

Take a course (such as one of ICAEW’s leadership CPD courses), listen to podcasts, read an inspiring book or watch coaching videos to find what works for you. Try making learning about leadership a habit by spending even just half an hour each week developing your leadership skills and knowledge.

Also, take a look around your organisation and see who inspires you as a leader – what is it about them that makes them so great at their job? How could you imitate those qualities?

Then consider how you can take what you’ve learned and put it into practice in your day job.

Without realising it you’ll begin to behave differently at work, positioning yourself to be noticed. And if you want to lead, don’t forget to let your others know you want to progress so they can help you get there. 

  1. Develop your people skills

Influencing and managing people is what leadership is all about. But it’s also the area that many new leaders have little experience in.

Leading with empathy rather than forceful authority will gain you the respect of your team and peers, so it’s worth examining your interactions with others.

Listening is one of the most important leadership skills to develop. Leaders rely on their team’s expertise to get the job done, but they will turn to you when they need a problem solving. Hear them out before offering your opinions. Or, even better, find ways to empower them to solve their own problems – this coaching technique will show you how.

  1. Reflect on your experiences

Self-awareness is a key asset of a great leader. Spend some time getting to understand your strengths, what causes you stress and how you react under pressure. You’ll then know what you need to work on and you’ll be aware of what’s going on when you stumble upon your triggers.

Another great development trick is to think back on times when you’ve failed. Why did you fail and what would you do differently if you were to do it again?

Everyone fails, and when you’re starting out as a leader, because you’re doing new things, you’re going to fail a lot. And that’s OK. Think of each failure as an opportunity to learn and find ways to improve for next time.

  1. Look for opportunities

The more you lead, the better you’ll get at it.

Start small by taking any opportunities that arise to lead projects. As a project manager, you’ll learn essential leadership skills such as people and resource management, planning, communicating and directing.

When your boss goes on holiday, offer to act up and take over their responsibilities while they’re away so you can put your leadership skills into practice. It’s also a great way to show you are ready and capable to take on more responsibility.

  1. Find a mentor or coach

If there’s someone you particularly admire within your organisation, or even someone outside of work, why not see whether they would be willing to mentor you.

Coaching is another option to consider and I’m a great believer in the power of quality coaching like the ICAEW Leadership Development Programmes. A good coach will open up your thinking, help you find new opportunities and build your confidence in areas you feel you need to strengthen.

If you’re not sure what coaching is about or how it could help you, dip your toe in the water and pick up some leadership techniques for free at lightningsmart.co.uk.

Good luck on your leadership journey!