Rialto is frequently asked: “how can I become a leader?” There is, of course, no single – nor simple – answer to this question. The path to senior leadership has always depended on a range of factors and the complex backdrop against which business operates these days has further altered the ideal journey to the top.
It depends on sector, size of company, market demands as well as external factors impacting not only the respective industry but also trends in leadership and management. Rialto carried out a bank of research for its Supercharge your leadership skills for the future which found that three-quarters (74 per cent) of leaders are looking to move into a more senior leadership role within the next two years but less than one quarter (23 per cent) have taken steps to identify what action they need to take to develop the future skills required.
Moreover, a quarter of leaders in the Rialto survey admitted that they lack confidence in their skills as future leaders and this stems from a range of factors including insufficient support, lack of relevant experience and a lack of opportunity to develop capabilities.
There are some common goals and attributes and skills though for all potential leaders. First-off, it is vital to have a desire to learn and continually invest time in your own development. As well as formal leadership and management programmes, this could involve coaching, finding a mentor or undertaking an assignment or project work. The most effective leaders retain an appetite for learning and desire for new experiences throughout their careers and in the today’s fast-moving business climate it is vital to ensure skills remain relevant and up-to-date.
It is never too early to take ownership of your own career development. While employers might dictate what you do early in your career it is important to be proactive in identifying what skills and expertise are going to stand you in good stead. Rialto works with leaders to align development with an individual’s overall career aspirations as well as market requirements which have drastically changed in the digital era. We’ve often identified major perception gaps in terms of what people think modern leadership demands and what is required.
The leadership path is no longer linear and sometimes a lateral move can be the most effective way to gain skills in a new area. For instance, future senior leaders need to have a far deeper understanding of the customer than previously so non-customer-facing professionals might wish to consider a move or secondment to customer service. Indeed, any cross-functional experience that broadens the overall understanding of business is of value to anyone heading for the top tier.
Unless the decision is made for them, some individuals find it hard to identify when they are ready for their next leadership position. In our experience, one of the best indicators is as soon as you become too comfortable in a role and it no longer represents a challenge. This marks a good time to start exploring that next move although obviously personal and lifestyle factors should be taken into account.
Networking plays an important part in hearing about and appearing on the radar for leadership positions. For millennial leaders, online networking and relationship building via social media is second nature but there is far more to networking than merely reaching out to people on Linkedin, as valuable as this and other professional networks can be. This should be something you build to supplement face-to-face networking.
Aspiring leaders must make time for attending events such as conferences, seminars, briefings and workshops. Look out for targeted events such as the Rialto leadership lunch events, where you could meet like-minded people who turn into valuable future contacts for the business and your career. Networking, online or in person is far more meaningful if you have a powerful personal brand that helps to mark you out from the rest and makes people remember you.
Indeed, building a strong personal brand depends on far more than leaving a calling card and an invitation to get in touch. Google your name to find out what digital footprint people find if they have an interest in you and consider what this says about you. If it is little more than a biography on the company ‘about us’ page and a Linkedin profile, it indicates you need to step up your activity. Consider writing blogs or thought leadership pieces for the company, cultivate links with journalists and lead the discussion in online forums.
Finally, becoming a leader is also about being yourself. Much is written about authentic leadership and, while a cliché, employees want to follow people they trust and believe in as well as like and admire. Trying to be someone you are not will simply not cut it and leaders succeed and fail by the behaviours they exhibit every day.
Modern employers often talk about encouraging their people to bring “all of themselves” to work because they believe that ultimately this means they will also perform better and bring more to their role. And this is no different for leaders.